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Practice Report: Royce Freeman getting his ‘groove’ back, Cristobal says offensive line ‘progressing well’



As Oregon passed the halfway point in its spring practice schedule this week, players have continued to put their best foot forward in an effort to stand out and learn new schemes as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday, co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal said the team has progressed in his area of expertise: the offensive line.

“Progressing well,” Cristobal said. “I think the emphasis on being physical, being tough, making sure that the communication is perfect on every single play. They understand that if we are going to be successful it’s going to have to start in the trenches and it’s got to finish in the trenches. Overall, we’re progressing but we still have miles to go but we will get there.”

It’s no mystery that the Ducks struggled mightily on defense last season. But Oregon’s offensive line also took its knocks, allowing 24 sacks in conference play. A lot of blame for that fell upon the shoulders of the extremely young front line. When then-junior Tyrell Crosby went down with a season-ending injury after only playing two games, Oregon was left with a lack of upperclassmen upfront.

But with a year of experience under their belts and a new, talented offensive line coach by way of Alabama, Oregon’s offensive linemen appear to be coming into their own. Cristobal is excited about what he has to work with.

“They all are [standing out],” Cristobal said about his young group. “Now, who is going to be the first five? We’ll figure that out day-by-day.”

Running backs Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit, both seniors, also addressed the media and talked about how their unit — dubbed “The Three-Headed Monster” by Benoit — has matured over the years.

“We get to feed off each other and I get to play with one of the best backs in the country,” Benoit said in reference to Freeman. “We all try and make each other better. So, I think overall, it’s improved everyone’s talent level at the competitions.”

Freeman agreed.

“[We just bring] the best out each other, I guess,” Freeman said. “The reason we were recruited here is to compete and I feel like we thrive off of one another or we are successful because we compete with each other every day in practice and we make each other better.”

The duo also talked about how this coaching staff has differed from their previous Oregon coaches. Benoit noted that this staff has taught the backs about how to recognize different defensive schemes and how to beat them. He said that it’s been a beneficial change and that it has helped the entire core with seeing windows and openings in the defense.

“I’d say that before we weren’t really taught fronts and blocking schemes and that’s been a big emphasis that Coach Pimpleton has been making, is making sure the running backs know the defense,” Benoit said. “That helps us run a lot better knowing where our lanes are, where the holes are going to be.”

Freeman also added that he feels healthy and “blessed” to be back and playing again. Benoit has noticed his change in attitude already.

“I see that groove coming back and that talent level coming back,” Benoit said. “He’s right where he needs to be.”

Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris

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Gus Morris

Gus Morris

Gus Morris covers Oregon football, basketball and women's golf for the Emerald. Caffeine addict. Lover of Bay Area sports. I know words, I have the best words.