Ducks Wrap Up Practice In Eugene
A "Fast Friday" style workout sent the Oregon football program into its brief holiday break Monday, as the Ducks held their final practice of the year in Eugene before reuniting Saturday for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
Monday's workout was the last of eight bowl practices at home for the Ducks, who enter the Alamo Bowl at 10-3 after winning the Pac-12 North division. Interim coach Bryan McClendon has been at the helm of the program since Mario Cristobal's departure, the biggest of several potential distractions for Oregon to deal with this month.
"Regardless, December 29th they're teeing it up and we're kicking it off," McClendon said of the Ducks' bowl matchup against Oklahoma. "So we've got to go out there and make sure we're ready for that point in time. That's what we've been working all year to do. We earned this opportunity, and we need to make sure we're doing everything we need to do to take advantage of it."
Since Oregon's Pac-12 Championship Game loss to Utah, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, cornerback Mykael Wright and receiver Devon Williams opted to bypass the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. A handful of other teammates entered the transfer portal, and some assistant coaches have agreed to jobs elsewhere for 2022, including offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as head coach at Akron and linebackers coach Ken Wilson as head coach at Nevada.
When the Ducks gathered for their first meeting with McClendon as interim coach, on Sunday, Dec. 12, his message was about staying on task and finishing the season right, regardless of the fluctuating personnel situation. Eight days later, McClendon said Monday he's been happy with the team's focus.
"I've been really, really pleased with the guys in that aspect," he said. "I challenged those guys in the first meeting I had with them, that the programs that handle this the best is the programs that have the best chance to do well. I feel like guys have been able to keep the main thing the main thing."
Oregon's bowl opponent, Oklahoma, is in the same situation after head coach Lincoln Riley left for USC. The Sooners are playing under interim coach Bob Stoops, and reportedly have had four defensive starters — defensive linemen Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey, and linebackers Brian Asamoah and Nik Bonitto — opt out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the draft.
"They're going through the same stuff we're going through — that a lot of teams right now are going through in college football," McClendon said. "You're going deep into the film, trying to see every nook and cranny of who could potentially be stepping in at certain spots."
For the Ducks, Dontae Manning and Trikweze Bridges are now the most experienced cornerbacks on the roster. Avante Dickerson looks like the next man up, and has been a standout in bowl practices. Freshmen Darren Barkins and Jaylin Davies provide depth.
At receiver, the Ducks are currently without Williams, injured veterans Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd, and also Mycah Pittman, who intends to transfer to Florida State. Stepping up in their absence have been Kris Hutson, Troy Franklin, Dont'e Thornton, Seven McGee and Isaah Crocker.
"You're going into your depth a little bit," said McClendon, the position coach for those receivers. "That's what college football is right now, at this point in time in the year."