Oregon Football Spring Practice opened this week in Eugene and after watching just a couple of practices, it’s easy to see the Ducks are already in good hands.
With so many off-season coaching changes, I was curious to see just how things were going under new Head Coach, Mario Cristobal. After the foundation Willie Taggart and Co. laid last year, I wondered just how much of the new “swag” culture would change and more importantly, would the change be better?
It’s early of course, but my initial impression is that the Ducks may have struck gold with Cristobal.
If I’m being honest, I was more impressed with Cristobal last season than I was with Willie Taggart. I will give credit to Taggart for bringing energy (and a great staff) to the program but it was always Cristobal who stood out (to me) from day one. His solid football IQ was beyond impressive and his focus on fundamentals was obvious. He seemed to have high standards and that smash-mouth style and demand for excellence, likely gained while coaching in Alabama, was on display.
Much of Taggart’s fun, energy and “swag” seems to have been replaced with Cristobal’s discipline and focus on the small details-something that could quite possibly propel the Ducks back to the top in a very short time.
“There are times for fun and we are going to have fun,” Cristobal said. “But there’s a lot of work to do be done.”
Right now, from the outside looking in, it seems to be all business on Kilkenny Field. There is energy, especially with Strength and Conditioning Coaches, Feld and Fyle, shouting and hyping things up all around the field but all in all, players and coaches are very focused. I ended up inadvertently capturing a perfect example of this as I recorded new Running Backs Coach, Jim Mastro, teaching the running backs some new drills. One veteran running back was first up and asked Mastro if he “made these drills up in his head?” Mastro apparently wasn’t amused and said running back quickly responded, “It’s a joke,” before quickly running the drill.
All business. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Though the Ducks were much improved in many ways last season, there is still a long way to go. After all, they did rank 129th last year in penalties at least 109th in turnovers.
To address these issues, Cristobal has implemented “technical periods” and practices now start with tackling and ball security periods. He also plans to have officials present as much as possible to help the team clean things up as much as possible.
It’s of course easy to point out the team’s deficits, but what has impressed me about Cristobal is that he has no problem laying out the solutions, not in cliché’ terms but by explaining his plans point by point. At the end of the day it all goes back to creating what Cristobal calls “A culture of excellence.”
”It’s important to our guys to make being a Duck a very important,” Cristobal said. “A very difficult club to be a member of.”
If you ask me, Cristobal seems to be the right coach to initiating guys into that club. He may just be what the Ducks needed to go from good. . .to elite.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl