The Ducks still have some fine-tuning to do before the opener.
But after getting through two padded “heavy workload” practices this week, coach Mario Cristobal said No. 24 Oregon is ready to play Bowling Green on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“They’ve embraced it,” Cristobal said of the physical Tuesday and Wednesday sessions. “It’s a different kind of practice for them, but it’s one that, when you leave here on Wednesday, you should be fully confident that come Saturday you are as prepared as you possibly can be for the game.”
Justin Herbert and the offense still go up against a scout team unit mimicking Bowling Green’s defense. Same story for Jim Leavitt’s crew against a scout team offense.
The noticeable change from Willie Taggart’s in-season practice regimen is that Cristobal carves out a few “good on good” periods every day in which the first-team offense competes against the first-team defense.
“The whole iron sharpens iron mentality and philosophy,” Cristobal said. “It’s a little bit different than we did last year, but it’s important for our guys to work speed on speed, our best players against our best players, every single day, even if it’s not the same scheme. …
“It’s good to have Jake Hanson and Jordon (Scott) get after it. It’s good to have Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins go against Calvin Throckmorton and test themselves and push themselves on a daily basis.”
Herbert said the offense is ready to face a defense not coached by Leavitt.
“Just a few periods each day, but I think those periods are huge, just going a against a defense that flies around and is well coached by coach Leavitt,” Herbert said. “They’re very valuable reps, so whenever we go in there we realize that’s a really good look and it helps us a bunch.”
The Ducks aren’t planning to punt Saturday, but if the Falcons’ rebuilding defense makes a stop or two, Blake Maimone will be ready.
The junior from Thousand Oaks, Calif., beat out freshman Tom Snee for the starting punting spot during fall camp.
“I’m very excited, really looking forward to hitting some big balls and making a difference,” Maimone said. “You’re always nervous on every single kick. It’s just kind of being able to take the nerves and use it for you, get the adrenaline pumping, and it allows you to kick it even more.”
Cristobal jokingly said he would like to see the 6-foot-6, 227-pound Maimone running routes at tight end. Maimone was a quarterback in high school but focused on punting full time after getting beat out during his senior season.
After being invited by Mark Helfrich to join the program as a preferred walk-on, Maimone redshirted in 2015, did not see any game action in 2016 and finally got on the field for eight games last season as a holder.
“Blake worked really hard during the offseason,” special teams coach Bobby Williams said. “He got some personal training and worked on the things that coming out of the spring we said he needed to improve. He's done a tremendous job to this point working on those flaws he had last year.
“His hang time has been impressive, his direction, all those type of things. We always tell him that the punt is the first-down defense. Anytime you can flip the field, it really helps the defense.”
Placekicker Adam Stack did not participate in drills Tuesday or Wednesday during the portion of practice open to the media. If the sophomore is unable to play, walk-on Zach Emerson is listed as the backup.
Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, who is expected to have a breakout season as one of Herbert’s favorite targets, left practice with an “upper body” injury Tuesday and was wearing a red non-contact jersey Wednesday.
“We don’t think it’s anything serious,” Cristobal said. “So we expect him to be full go on Saturday.”
Junior defensive lineman Gus Cumberlander and freshman wide receiver JJ Tucker were the other scholarship players rehabbing injuries with Stack during Wednesday’s practice.
Cristobal was displeased with the effort the offensive line was giving during the early portions of practice and let his big guys know about it in no uncertain terms.
“Nothing less than your very best is going to be good enough. It’s just not,” Cristobal said. “We have to have that mindset and we’re not going to accept anything else. Practicing good or just practicing better, it’s still not enough. So we want to make that clear. We want to make sure we coach with intensity and passion. That’s not going to stop. And I think our guys do get it.”