Oregon football coach Willie Taggart and the Ducks began the week by focusing on execution in the red zone. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Ducks focused on positives, learning Taggart system

EUGENE — Oregon has been known for its tempo in practice and speed on the field.

But Willie Taggart doesn’t want the Ducks to be in too much of a rush as they learn his version of the spread offense or Jim Leavitt’s 3-4 defense.

The first-year coach has barked at players about finishing plays, but mental and physical errors are a part of spring practice with a new staff.

“All of them want to learn, all of them want to do right, all of them want to please the coaches,” Taggart said before Monday’spractice in the Moshofsky Center.

“That’s all you can ask for as a coach is for them to give great effort and not worry about making mistakes. Those things are going to happen, and we have meetings where we can correct those things. But we want them to go all out.”

Oregon began the week by focusing on execution in the red zone. The offense was tied for 79th last season converting inside the 20-yard line, and the defense was 99th in stopping opponents from scoring from inside the 20.

The team will work on third-down situations during today’s practice. The offense was 79th in converting third downs, and the defense was 122nd in getting off the field on third down in 2016.

The unflattering 4-8 season is in the rear-view mirror as far as Taggart is concerned.

“I think we’re kind of over last year as a football team,” he said. “We talked about that. We’re not just going to harp on last year. If anything, we’re going to build off it, learn from it and get better.”

The gradual installation of Taggart’s schemes will continue throughout the spring. Fans can get another glimpse of the process when the Ducks conduct a situational scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jesuit High in Portland.

“We’re not going to go in and throw it all at them right now,” Taggart said. “It’s new, and we want them to gradually learn. If they learn the basics then we can throw anything at them later and they can take off with it. If we try to do it all now then they won’t even learn the basics of it all.”

Apelu continues to impress

Kaulana Apelu has a habit of making a strong first impression on new coaches.

Last year the aggressive linebacker from Aiea, Hawaii, went from walk-on to starter on defensive coordinator Brady Hoke’s injury-riddled unit.

Now Apelu has caught Taggart’s eye during the first week of spring practice.

“I’ll tell you the one kid that I’m excited about is Kaulana,” Taggart said, unprompted. “He’s been all over the place. Very, very impressive. Sometimes I have to tell him to slow down. I’m afraid he might hurt someone. He has been very, very, very impressive throughout the last couple days.”

Apelu made 29 tackles and had an interception in nine games in 2016.


True freshman Darrian McNeal fielded punts during special teams work. … Two players, offensive lineman Zach Okun and tight end Ivan Faulhaber, left the field with injuries during the first 30 minutes of practice open to the media. … Taggart asked Marcus Mariota to speak to the team on Monday.


“If you think Coach T has some juice now, whew!” Taggart on his family arriving in Eugene from Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. “Boy, I can’t wait.”

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