Breaking Down the Oregon Ducks Spring Football Practice

Breaking Down the Oregon Ducks Spring Football Practice

Last Friday, as part of the Oregon Football Coaches Clinic, I attended the first spring practice in pads. This site is focused on the Wing-T for youth football – what can we all learn from a spread D–1 FBS team practice? Well, there are elements of the practice structure that are very relevant to youth coaches. Hence, I provide you with this breakdown of their practice.

The weather was brisk but clear, so the team was practicing outdoors at their amazing side-by-side full football fields with field turf. We had the freedom to wander the sidelines and observe everything going on, with a few restrictions:

  1. No photography or video
  2. Visitors had to stay out of the sideline area between the two fields for safety reasons. Players are frequently running back and forth through that area between sessions.

My tiny notebook in hand, I observed and recorded as best I could. The timings I marked down for each session are not going to be 100% accurate but they will be close. I really wish I could have gotten my hands on one of the printed practice plans I saw floating around.

First, some general observations:

  • There are about 18 coaches on the staff, including graduate assistants and interns
  • I counted roughly 40 to 50 other helpers of some sort around the practice, including the best ball boy to ever set foot on a football field.
  • I believe there were three different video cranes filming the practice. There might also be someone filming from the building that borders the east side of the fields.
  • At opposite ends of the facility (east and west ends) there are large digital count-down clocks that show the time remaining in the current segment.
  • There’s a, ahem, robust PA system that not only pipes music (I heard classic hip hop, Queen, heavy metal) but also announces in a computer-generated voice when a session is ending and the next session name. For example, “Next segment, 18, teaching”.
  • Everybody, players included, seemed to always know where to go during the session transitions. Now this is a spring practice with returning players, so I guess everyone out there has experience in the environment. Would be interesting to see what summer camp looks like after the new arrivals show up.
  • The practice lasted from 8:30am to 11:00am.
  • I heard very little yelling or negative criticism during the practice. Certainly there were corrections being given; the players were always being coached. Mark Helfrich said in his talk (I’ll write that up later) that they “praise the name, criticize the position or number”. When they have positive feedback they make a point of yelling out the player’s name. When they have a criticism they will yell “hey, #63, were you aligned properly on that play?”
  • Offense were in white jerseys, defense in green. QBs had red shirts with white numbers, and there were other players with red jerseys that I suspect might be red-shirt kids or those with duplicate numbers.
  • There were never water breaks. Hydration was built into the practice periods. For example, when they would go team you might have 1st string on, backups off. Backups would have support staff giving them water while off the field, then when starters came off they would get water.
  • Kickers were working off the main practice fields in the far west grass area.
  • Very little on-field teaching going on, focus is on reps and pace. I get the sense the talking happens only during a few “teach” sessions below, plus in the classroom and before/after practice.

Here’s my breakdown of their practice. The times don’t exactly add up to 150 minutes, but I probably missed a segment or two and some of the 5 minute segments may have been 10 minutes.

No. Title Duration Comment
0 Pre-practice work 0:05 Looked like form/fit, bird dog type work in position groups. Music on.
1 Walk-through 0:05 Game simulation, no contact, hurry up with sideline signaling. Music off.
2 Forms 0:05 Indy period by position group, e.g. offensive line working on specific block technique. Music off.
3 Dynamic Warm-Ups 0:05 Started with slow dynamic stretching / lunging, moved into fast sprinting / burst work. No clapping, each line goes as fast as it can. Skill players carry a ball with them throughout the warmup. Clossed with team coming together in formation through a progression (“one perfect jumping jack”, “two perfect jumping jacks”, etc.). Music on.
4 Team Thud 0:05 Full team live offense, thud level contact. Music on.
5 Oklahoma 0:05 Oklahoma type drill, competitive offense vs. defense. RB going through three levels, o-line blocking d-line, player blocking LB, WR blocking D-back. Music on.
6 Kickoff 0:05 Offensive line was off on their own, presumably because you are never going to see those guys on kick coverage or return. Returners were back fielding simlated kickoffs, but drill focus was on kick coverage. Music off.
7 Indy 0:05 Back in position groups, working through individual drills. For example, WR working on back shoulder sideline catching. Music on.
8 Indy 0:05 Still in position groups, watched o-line and TE doing sled work. This was a great drill - single player on a single sled, starting about 50 yd line working towards end zone. Coach is running behind player and calling a specific play for that player and he had to execute the proper block technique and drive sled about 10 yds. Then next player goes, etc. then they flip at end zone and repeat. Even though only one player at a time, pace was very high so plenty of reps for each player.
9 Group 0:05 Starting to see group work, in this case QBs and WR/RBs together for passing progression.
10 Group O/D 0:08 Competitive group drills, for example the same passing with QBs/WR/RBs but with defensive secondary involve in coverage.
11 Kickoff 0:10 Extending the kickoff coverage work they did earlier, this time with a scout return team.
12 7 on 7 0:05 Typical 7 on 7 work, also include 3 ball boys / managers wearing a contraption on their shoulder to simulate pass rushers with hands in air.
13 Team On Air 0:05 Offense and defense still separated, but with offense the backups / scout players are playing defensive positions so that they can reinforce blocking assignments.
14 Team Thud 0:05 Offense vs. defense, thud level contact.
15 Punt 0:05 Punt team work, focus on protection
16 7 on 7 0:10 At the same time, offensive line and defensive line are doing competitive team work together.
17 Teach 0:05 I think this was called “Teach”, and was the only time you saw things slow down a bit with deliberate instruction from a coach.
18 Team Thud 0:10 Offense vs. defense, thud level contact.
19 Teach 0:05 Another 5 minute teaching period.
20 Team Red Zone 0:10 Competitive red zone drill, 11 on 11
21 Team Meeting 0:10 Very brief comments from Coach Helfrich. They introduced 4 or 5 recruits, including two local class of 2016 recruits from Portland. The practice ended with every Duck player shaking hands with every one of us coaches at the clinic - very classy and respectful.