Oregon will conduct its first scrimmage of spring football on Saturday, and Mario Head Coach Mario Cristobal already has his plan set in place.
Saturday's practice will be split into two parts, the coach said, with the first half being heavily focused on technique, fundamentals and a variety of in-game situations. The second half of the day will be "live ball," concluding with a two minute drill.
As for the quarterbacks, Cristobal is sticking with what we've seen so far. Anthony Brown will work with the one's exclusively, and the remainder of the quarterbacks will rotate with the the two's.
The Ducks were not the same dominant force at the point of attack that fans saw in 2019, and Cristobal said trench play will be a main focus Saturday.
"For us a really big point of emphasis is stopping the run. Last year we dropped almost 50-60 spots against the run game," he said of the defense. "That's not us. That's not our brand of football."
What's he expecting to see in order to gauge his team's progress? Well, a number of things.
"You're gonna see more grit, you're gonna see better technique and pad level-- better coaching, better use of our hands, better alignments. I think it all starts with giving your players the best chance possible to be successful," Cristobal said.
A big part of engineering this turnaround in the trenches and giving players the best chance to be successful has been creating difficult situations in practice that the team will face in the heat of Pac-12 play. That includes a variety of loaded formations and sets, with particular attention to schemes and play styles that gave the team fits a season ago.
The head coach sees the improvement, and that energy is flowing throughout the rest of the program.
"We're putting it together and there's just a lot of real deal excitement about it because we see the progress, we see the momentum that's being gained by that defensive unit, and it's exciting," Cristobal said.
In a similar vein, the offensive line is looking to re-establish itself as the top group in the Pac-12 and impose its will on any teams obstructing a championship. Cristobal referenced continuity as a factor aiding the improvement, as well as facing high level talent in practice.
"There's also the whole iron sharpens iron mantra around here," he said. "They're going against some really good players on defense and they're seeing a lot of different things, but there's maybe nothing as valuable as experience and time."
The iron sharpens iron mantra holds especially true for the offensive line, as blockers go toe-to-toe against truly dominant forces like future first-rounder Kayvon Thibodeaux and 2020's Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year Noah Sewell. That of course goes without mentioning linebacker Justin Flowe, who was the most physical linebacker in the country from the 2020 class and is close to being a full go.
Cristobal mentioned all of the returning starters as players who've taken hold of improving the group and pushing others forward.
In recent years we've seen the Ducks morph into a team that prides itself on physicality and dominance at the line of scrimmage, and that attitude hasn't gone anywhere.
"It's a hell of a culture. It's one of a kind," Cristobal said of the offensive line. "There's a tremendous amount of commitment to the line of scrimmage and developing those guys, and it's their time to take that next step."
Three Morris Trophy Award winners in the last four seasons serves as crystal clear evidence of the monster Mario Cristobal is building.
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