It was about 45 degrees and sunny when Oregon football players exited the locker room around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday for the first practice of the spring.
The Ducks walked past the practice fields at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and into the Moshofsky Center where the temperature had been turned up a bit.
“We wanted them to be in some type of uncomfortable situation,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said following the practice. “It is not super uncomfortable in there, but not as nice as it is outside. … Guys are sweating. When you turn up the temperature a bit and make sure they have to keep a high tempo, now they are sweating and being pushed and when you run extended-play drives, it tests their conditioning.”
Sixty-four days after celebrating a 28-27 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks were back on the field.
“It’s on,” Cristobal said. “The 2020 Ducks. First impressions? The physicality of our team is always a point of emphasis and it showed. Our conditioning showed up and we looked faster.”
The Ducks will have five practices, including one at Hillsboro Stadium on March 14, before taking two weeks off for spring break. Oregon has nine additional practices after the players reconvene before the spring game for April 18.
“We want to turn it up right away,” Cristobal said of both the temperatures inside the Mo Center and the intensity of practices. “We have five practices before spring break and we are not trying to make them miserable by any extent, but football means a lot here and spring football means everything to us. It is a betterment period so we don’t waste an opportunity. We steal reps whenever we can and that is another session in a climate that will be more like we see in the fall.”
The first practice of the spring came exactly six months before Oregon opens up against reigning FCS champion North Dakota State on Sept. 5 at Autzen Stadium. Ohio State arrives the following Saturday.
“We always start with culture, how to handle success,” Cristobal said. “It has been a little while since the Rose Bowl and all you see and hear are T-shirts and hats and highlight videos. Staying hungry, humble and driven and making sure our technique, fundamentals and relentless effort and execution is at the forefront of what we do.
"It is all about Oregon right now. Not any opponent, but understand that everything we do now will have a direct effect on how we show up against North Dakota State on opening day and the rest of the season.”
The most-anticipated position battle entering the season comes at quarterback where sophomore Tyler Shough is the favorite to follow Justin Herbert. Redshirt freshman Cale Millen is healthy after sitting most of last season following surgery and true freshman Jay Butterfield graduated early from high school to join the Ducks for spring practices.
New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead got a first look those guys in uniform on Thursday.
“I see guys that have been working and it is their time,” Cristobal said. “I know coach Moorhead seemed real pleased with the guys on day one. They can sling it and are smart. They have good command even though it is a new system. They have a great presence about them in the way they handle themselves and carry themselves amongst their teammates and on the line of scrimmage. I was really impressed for the first day and I expect them to get better exponentially as the spring goes on.”
The quarterbacks return a veteran receiver with tight end Cam McCormick back on the field after missing almost all of the last two seasons due to injuries.
“Awesome having Cam out there, that was beautiful to watch,” Cristobal said. “He looks great and he’s running great. We know what kind of player he is and we missed him a bunch last year.”
Junior D.J. Johnson has moved from the defensive line to tight end and switched from No. 7 to No. 89. Sophomore safety Steve Stephens took Johnson’s former number after wearing No. 10 the past two years.
Sophomore Andrew Faoliu also made a position change from the defensive line to outside linebacker.
“I think we have to find a role for him,” Cristobal said. “He’s a really good football player, tough and physical. He’s got great natural pass rush ability and uses his hands well. When he stands up, he’s pretty effective. Moving him around and tinkering with his technique during the winter conditioning program, we saw a lot of natural ability there. This gives him an opportunity to compete and maybe get more playing time. We want to find ways to get him on the field.”