Late in Oregon’s practice Tuesday, a quarterback dropped back to throw, saw a receiver running an intermediate route and lofted a pass of 15 or 20 yards.
The ball was about halfway to its intended receiver when a defender camped out underneath the route leapt into the air and deflected it. That defender: Kayvon Thibodeaux, a pass-rushing terror at defensive end the past two years who is expanding his role as an outside linebacker this spring.
Soon enough, Thibodeaux said, he won’t just be deflecting passes. He’ll be picking them off.
“That time,” he said after practice Tuesday, “is coming.”
Playing in new coordinator Tim DeRuyter‘s scheme, Thibodeaux said he has yet to put a hand on the ground in a three-point stance at the line. Instead he’s learning to defend pass routes this spring, and different techniques out of a two-point stance.
“There are instances where I still do play defensive end, and I still play the ‘B’ gap or the 4i (technique),” Thibodeaux said. “But for the most part I’ve been learning more coverages and the pass-rush side of it.”
Thibodeaux said his goals for the 2021 season include no less than winning the Heisman Trophy. That’s a tall order for a player in the defensive front seven.
But he thinks he’s up to the task. And he thinks he’s playing the perfect position to suit his diverse skills.
“If you could give me any position,” he said, “this is what I want to do. Because you can have the most impact on the game.”
Practice highlights: Verone McKinley III also met with media after practice, and immediately upon sitting down for the interview said, “We had fun today.” Why? The defense, which is looking to be more disruptive in 2021, was exactly that on Tuesday. McKinley is engaging in a back-and-forth with first-string quarterback Anthony Brown this spring, and McKinley on Tuesday was able to win a round, intercepting a pass in a late 11-on-11 period. Trikweze Bridges and Dontae Manning forced fumbles in that same period, and an earlier team period included an interception by Steve Stephens IV. …
DonJ’rael Brooks had an interception in 1-on-1 drills, and he nearly had another in 7-on-7 but the ball popped out as he hit the turf. … Stephens broke up a pass in the 1-on-1 period, and Bridges and Manning both locked up receivers so well that the QB didn’t force a throw. … Kristian Williams was really disruptive in a 7-on-7 run-game drill, getting into the backfield a couple of times.
Other observations: Tuesday’s practice was the first this spring in shoulder pads. “It was awesome,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “It was a really intense practice.” … With more physical hitting allowed, players also had to toe the line between wrapping up and not tackling to the ground, for the sake of avoiding injuries. … The cat-and-mouse between the offense and defense that usually develops over the course of camp is already readily apparent. The offense is trying to get the defense to jump offsides, the defense is working hard to disguise what it’s doing — it’s already a very, very competitive environment out there.