- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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"Lockdown corner" isn't a title. It's a reputation. It’s something that is earned -- not very easily, mind you.
For the player in question, "lockdown" corner isn't a position. It's a state of mind. An underlying confidence that whatever ball gets thrown his way is his for the taking.
Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a lockdown corner -- in reputation and in mind.
“To be a successful defensive back, you obviously have to have a short memory and be able to move on to the next play,” he said. “That’s why we focus on everything in practice. Everything we do is designed to make us a better player. And when someone makes a catch on me, I consider it a mistake on my part. And I learn from that and try to do better when the next opportunity comes along.”
Last year, there were plenty of opportunities for Ekpre-Olomu to make mistakes. But he rarely did. Instead, he emerged as one of the premier defensive backs in the league, earning first-team all-conference honors along the way. Twice he picked off Arizona quarterback Matt Scott in the Ducks 49-0 win over the Wildcats, returning one 54 yards for a score. That was his "hello-world" game. He finished 2012 with four interceptions and a league-high 20 passes defended.
As a true freshman, he showed great potential with 34 tackles and eight passes defended. But heading into 2012, Terrance Mitchell was the cornerback most of the league feared. So Ekpre-Olomu was challenged often. And he usually made teams regret their decision.
Now he and Mitchell make up the top cornerback duo in the league. And there is plenty of depth behind them -- making the Ducks secondary its strongest defensive asset. Not a bad thing in a quarterback-driven, pass-happy league.
“I never really looked at it like people weren’t throwing to Terrance or that they were challenging me,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “I was just trying to do my job and make the most of my opportunities. And I feel like I’m going to get a lot more opportunities this year because we have such a great secondary. You can’t really go after one person or throw away from another person. We have returning starters at every spot.”
What they don’t have is the head coach who helped spring the Ducks into national prominence. No worries, Ekpre-Olomu says. After getting over the initial tremors of Chip Kelly departing for the NFL, the transition to Mark Helfrich as head coach has been smooth sailing. And being on the defensive side of the ball, Ekpre-Olomu said he hasn’t noticed any real difference as the Ducks head into their final week of spring football.
“I think at first we were all a little shocked,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “We all thought it would be after this year. When he did leave, it was different at first -- it took a little time adjusting to something new. Now, I feel like this is how we’ve always done it. It doesn’t feel new or different.”
For a 2013 encore, Ekpre-Olomu says it’s more of the same. He’s spent this spring refining his already outstanding skills -- a quicker break, better technique in his backpedal, more flexibility squaring his hips.
“I feel like I can get better at everything,” he said. “We lost a lot of leaders -- and I don’t think one person can replace all of those guys. So it’s up to all of us to step up and be leaders. I’m trying to get better at that also.”