Practice No. 1 Takeaways
Football is back! I repeat football is back!
It felt like no time had passed from last season at Autzen watching the Ducks play football. But in reality, a lot has changed for the program; a complete overhaul of the coaching staff, Royce Freeman, Tyrell Crosby and Charles Nelson graduating, new players stepping into leadership roles and new players suiting up for the Ducks.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the first day of spring practice…
The new strength and conditioning team got to work quick
Before practice started I got the opportunity to talk to Tony Brooks-James, as well as Johnny Johnson and Justin Herbert who all had nothing but good things to say about the new staff. Starting with TBJ, he reported losing fat and putting on 5 pounds of muscle saying, “(My biggest goal for this year) to replace Royce Freeman’s production and get stronger”. Possibly the biggest change in the offseason was Johnny Johnson, the sophomore wide receiver, who said through S&C and a new diet of more fruits and vegetables lost 16 pounds. He claims to be at 190-93 with a lot more muscle compared to last season playing at just over 200. He says he made the change after watching his film and comparing himself to receivers in the NFL like OBJ, or Amari Cooper and says he feels a lot smoother now. Finally, Justin Herbert says that he has put on 10-15 of muscle over the offseason. Aaron Feld and the rest of the S&C team sure looked to have made an immediate impact within the football program and I can’t wait to see what else they do.
Replacing Royce Freeman
I touched on it a little in the last point but one of the biggest questions going into this season for the Ducks is who would step up and replace Royce Freeman. Who will the Ducks hand the ball of to when it’s 3rd and 2? Right now, on the depth chart TBJ is at #1 when he was asked how he felt about that he said, “I feel the pressure to stay on top”, going on to talk about how they have a lot of talent at the RB position this year. Another name who came up a lot as an answer to the question was CJ Verdell. Johnny Johnson when asked about players to look out for this season responded first with CJ Verdell saying he going to have a “big impact on the game this year”. Another name that came up was Darrian Felix with TBJ saying, “Felix has a lot of talent and good vision”. Finally, and one of the more important people to weigh in on the question, Herbert talked about how it still felt weird not handing the ball of to Royce but said the other RB’s are stepping up and are ready for the challenge.
All of the players interviewed by the media today were asked about their new head coach and the differences in the program. Everyone knows the special connection these players have with head coach Mario Cristobal when the majority of the team signed a petition for him to become their new coach. But you could just feel the love they have for him today. Some of the quotes about him included, “Cristobal is an awesome leader”, “(Cristobal) is more transparent, I can go and talk to him about anything”, “We all want to work hard for him”, “He is the guy that you would run through a wall for”. It is clear that this team loves and respects their new head coach.
Justin Herbert is back and feeling as good as he ever has and the Ducks have a new highly anticipated freshman QB in Tyler Shough. Herbert chose to stay in Eugene this summer and work with his team instead of going to a camp and says that this year they have a lot of playmakers that will make his job easier. When asked about Shough he said, “Tyler is really hard working, he is always in the film room, always asking questions… he’s gifted”, and when he was asked about Braxton Burmeister he said, “Braxton has adjusted a lot since last year, we have become really good friends”. The most interesting thing that Herbert said is when he was asked to respond to something Cristobal told the media about how he has played great so far but wants to see Herbert be more dominant. Herbert responded saying, “I don’t think I have done much here” continuing, “so yeah I think he is right I need to become dominant”. I am excited to see what Herbert and the rest of the offense have in store for this season.