Oregon confident in secondary this spring
April, 24, 2014
By Chantel Jennings | ESPN.com
The life of any coach is a balancing act in which he tries to push his players and give them as much information as possible while trying to figure out where each individual, and the position group as a whole, can exist and perform at its best.
But that's what makes the spring so great. There really is no balancing act.
For Oregon secondary coach John Neal, it’s simply teach, teach, teach and ... teach. And the result is that with more than a week left in the spring season, the Ducks' secondary has installed its portion of the defense.
“It’s not detailed perfectly or anything like that, but there’s a pretty good understanding of what we want,” Neal said. “Now we can work from there, and all we have to do now is scale back from what we have.”
The Ducks won’t scale back until a few weeks before their season opener on Aug. 30 against South Dakota. But the fact that there’s at least a baseline of everything Neal wanted to get through this spring -- with time to spare -- is pretty impressive for a group that doesn’t have a ton of game experience.
Steve Conner/Icon SMISenior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is seasoned, but the rest of the Oregon secondary is lacking in experience.
Neal said he does feel like he has a group of veteran guys who’ve been good leaders for the secondary in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis.
Ekpre-Olomu is the most experienced of that group (84 tackles and three interceptions in 2013), but Neal said that Dargan has also had a very good spring, saying that the redshirt senior “could play any position -- he could play defensive tackle. He knows the defense that well.”
But even with that experience, there are still a lot of reps to be had by new players. Between last season’s three departing seniors, the Ducks will need to replace a lot of production. Terrance Mitchell, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson combined for 210 tackles, eight interceptions and 16 pass break-ups in 2013.
But Neal is confident that there’s talent in the Ducks defensive back meeting room to fill the void left by graduating seniors.
He pointed out that redshirt sophomore Reggie Daniels, redshirt freshman Juwaan Williams and junior college transfer Dominique Harrison as guys who’ve made big strides through the spring. Neal said he has been impressed with how they have “done a lot of good things in terms of how much work they’ve had to learn.”
For Neal, this is one of the most fun and most stressful times of the year. It’s fun because the pressure is lower, and that allows the coaches to continue installing -- even when everything isn’t perfect. But that lack of perfection leaves Neal wondering how much he’ll need to scale back in August.
In general, the feeling is pretty positive in Eugene. The Ducks believe that even though the secondary lost several key components in a unit that led the nation in defending passes of 10-plus yards, they will be able to be just as talented this fall with a mix of older players and younger blood.
“I feel pretty good about it at this point,” Neal said. “We’ve installed a lot of defense for four or five guys having not played a lot of football here. ... It’s not great. It’s not perfect. There are still a lot of details, but at least we’re getting it in.”