PORTLAND — A crowd of about 3,000 showed up to watch the Ducks’ football situational scrimmage Saturday at Jesuit High.
They were treated to two things they haven’t seen in a while: Bright sunshine and signs of life on the Oregon defense.
On the first snap of the afternoon, Justin Herbert threw a deep pass down the middle of the field that was intercepted by senior cornerback Arrion Springs. The fans roared but the defense was quickly stiff-armed out of the spotlight.
Royce Freeman broke through for a long touchdown run on the next series for the No. 1 offense, a testament to the veteran running back’s skills and a reminder that defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt still has a lot of work to do.
“There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of penalties we have to get cleaned up,” first-year coach Willie Taggart said after signing autographs and taking selfies with the fans who lined the chain link fence around the field. “But for our first scrimmage, I thought it went well. I like touchdowns and I like when our defense takes the ball away from the offense.”
It was Oregon’s first spring practice since quarterback Terry Wilson announced Friday that he is transferring out of the program.
Travis Jonsen continued to run the No. 2 offense, but Braxton Burmeister made a strong case for another depth chart shuffle. The true freshman faked linebacker Kaulana Apelu out of his cleats on a touchdown run and threw a couple of crisp touchdown passes to Malik Lovette.
“I wish him nothing but the best,” Taggart said when asked about Wilson’s departure. “All three of those guys are doing some really good things. I’m really loving that competition, especially the last two days. Those guys have been getting after it and doing some really good things. …
“That’s what we’re looking for is guys that want to compete.”
Darren Carrington and Thomas Graham have been engaged in an entertaining battle this spring.
Carrington caught a one-handed touchdown with the true freshman cornerback draped over his shoulder, but later in the scrum Graham knocked a nicely thrown deep ball from Herbert out of the senior receiver’s grasp.
With Brenden Schooler nursing an injury, Brady Breeze was also running with the first-team defense. The redshirt freshman safety, who played at Portland’s Central Catholic High, stood up the powerful Freeman with a textbook form tackle.
“They’re taking it and running with it,” Taggart said when asked about Graham and Breeze having an immediate impact in the secondary. “They also understand they have to play that way every single day in order to keep their jobs.”
Doug Brenner, one of three Jesuit High graduates on Oregon’s roster, played right guard on the No. 1 offense with Jake Pisarcik out with an injury.
“It’s good to be back,” Brenner said. “Oh man, so many memories on this field. There’s three or four Jesuit guys on our team, and we’re so excited to get back out here. This is an awesome thing.”
Springs got a hand on another pass by Herbert, and cornerback Ugo Amadi broke up a pass intended for Carrington.
Defensive tackle Jordon Scott, another freshman running with the ones, helped the defensive line stuff some runs during the early drives, but eventually the unit wore down.
Freeman and Kani Benoit ran into little resistance in the red zone, and Herbert found tight end Jacob Breeland open in the end zone whenever he wanted.
“Our guys have got to understand we can’t get tired. We have to play at a high level even when we’re tired,” Taggart said of the defense. “I thought they started off strong. At the end, fatigue stepped in, and we can’t allow that to happen.”
The Ducks have seven more practices before the spring game April 29 at Autzen Stadium.
“We’ve gotten a lot better over the short two weeks we’ve been out here, really executing well on offense and defense,” Herbert said. “I think things are looking good.”