For the Oregon football team, the defensive side of the ball is often overlooked and under appreciated. Due to the Ducks fast-paced offense, the Oregon defense has to be on the field for longer periods of time, and prevent against teams trying to hit a big play to keep up with the Ducks offense – this puts added pressure on the secondary. Over the years the Oregon Ducks have had a strong and play-making secondary, frequently leading the nation in interceptions and defending passes of 10-plus yards. However, three of the four starters from last season are gone, leaving room for new players to make a name for themselves.
As mentioned above, three of four starters in the secondary are gone from last season; All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the only returning starter from 2013. Senior safeties Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson both graduated, and Junior cornerback Terrence Mitchell left early for the NFL draft. To put that in perspective, the Ducks lost 210 tackles, 8 interceptions and 16 pass break-ups from last season. With so much production gone, how will the Oregon defense respond?
When a team loses three of four starters in the secondary, typically there is a drop off in production in the next year. However, with a mixture of old and young reserves ready to step in, the Ducks should be just fine in the secondary. Looking at the corner opposite Ekpre-Olomu, both players fighting for the starting spot are redshirt seniors. Troy Hill and Dior Mathis both have been in the system for five years now and understand the defense and Oregon’s style of play. Hill and Mathis also have seen a good amount of playing time over the years, and their experience will only help the Ducks fill the hole at the number two corner position. Other younger players add depth, but it seems that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill, and Dior Mathis will see the majority of reps at the cornerback positions.
The biggest hole to fill for the Ducks is at safety. Both senior starters from 2013 are gone, and so is their experience and play-making ability. 2014 is finally the year that redshirt senior Erik Dargan will get his chance to start. Dargan has played in key moments for Oregon in the past, and started games when Avery Patterson and or Brian Jackson went down with injury; he knows the defense extremely well. Oregon’s secondary coach, John Neal, was quoted after spring practice, saying, “[Dargan] could play any position — he could play defensive tackle. He knows the defense that well.” So Erik Dargan should be the starter at one safety position in 2014. But what about the other safety spot? It seems that youth could shine alongside Dargan.
With redshirt senior Erik Dargan filling one hole at safety, this could be a good opportunity for a younger Duck to step in. Word after spring practices is that redshirt sophomore Reggie Daniels and redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson are both in contention for the other starting safety spot. Both Daniels and Robinson have the size (Daniels is 6’1″ 205lbs and Robinson is 6’4″ 200lbs) and athleticism needed to play in the Oregon secondary, but the experience of Daniels could be the difference maker as Daniels saw action in nine games last season while Robinson redshirted. Most likely, the starters wont be known until opening week, but Daniels and Robinson should get plenty of playing time next season. Also, the Ducks have been known to rotate players in and out frequently, so look for Erik Dargan, Reggie Daniels, and Tyree Robinson to hold down the safety position in 2014.
Overall, 2014 should be another productive year for the Oregon Ducks secondary. With experienced starters and reserves filling the roster, there should be no lack of leadership in the back half. If the three experienced starters can help the newcomers get up to speed and get confident early in the season, Oregon could have one of the best secondaries in the nation. Young players have stepped in and shined for the Ducks before, so why not in 2014 as well? If the Oregon offense keeps scoring, the defense will have to keep defending the pass, which is something the Ducks thrive at.