Arrion Springs

Oregon cornerbacks Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi vital to an improved defense

Oregon cornerbacks Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi vital to an improved defense

EUGENE  - Oregon senior cornerback Arrion Springs intercepted a pass thrown by sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert during the team's scrimmage Saturday at Jesuit High School and began to run it back. 

Alas, he said fatigue prevented him from taking the pick all the way to the end zone, plus he couldn't resist making contact with a good friend in pursuit - wide receiver Charles Nelson. 

"I should have cut it back but I was too tired," Springs said following Monday's practice. "Then I saw Charles so I had to take advantage of the opportunity to stiff-arm him."

By all accounts, Springs is taking advantage of opportunities this spring to finally reach his potential. The same could be said about junior cornerback Ugo Amadi. They'd better because each is staring the future of the position in the face, and that future could be now. 

Oregon freshman corner back Thomas Graham has received great reviews during spring practices from players and coaches. He indeed sounds like he is going to be an impact player. Yet and still, he alone can't change the fortunes of UO's much-maligned secondary and defense. 

For that to happen, the Ducks need Springs and Amadi, who have shown flashes of elite ability, to finally live up to the hype under new coach Willie Taggart.

For both, it's about being more consistent in everything they do on the field. Springs has gotten himself in trouble at times by not staying in the proper coverage and/or losing proper technique.

"Be more consistent, trust my technique a bit more and just make more plays on the ball," Springs said. 

Amadi has experienced similar setbacks. Consequently, both have been in and out of the starting lineup during their careers. 

Helping both improve, and the entire secondary for that matter, is the employment of two defensive backs coaches. Charles Clark handles the cornerbacks while Keith Heyward is coaching the safeties. It's a departure from having just one, John Neal, who coached the defensive backs for 14 seasons with mostly great success. 

Having two secondary coaches, Taggart said, should improve overall techniques and communication in the secondary. The first benefit is greater emphasis on technique by position. 

"Coach Clark is really good at focusing on, like, press techniques, so we've gotten a lot better," Springs said. "I feel like, individually, I've gotten a lot better than last year."

Communication problems in the past often led to some defensive backs simply not knowing what they were supposed to do in relationship to the rest of the secondary leading to blown coverages. 

Springs said defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is taking care of that problem. 

"He's putting a spotlight on guys so they can't just sit and hide anymore," Springs said. 

Amadi said communication has improved greatly because awareness has increased. 

"First off, you've just got know what you're doing before you can communicate," Amadi said. "When you know something, be confident in what you say."

Defensive players, Amadi said, know that they had better know their assignment if they want to play. 

"Now we have people dialed in who want to learn the playbook and want to get on the field," Amadi said. "Coach Taggart's thing is that if you don't know what you're doing we can't put you out there."

That brings us back to Graham. Physically, the four-star recruit and No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation coming out of high school, has been impressive, according to Taggart. Nevertheless, Graham still has a lot to learn, just like Springs and Amadi did as young players.

Both veteran players see the great potential in their younger teammate. 

"He's good," Springs said. "We've got to keep him calm at times. He gets a little ahead of himself...He's a lot better than I was my freshman year." 

Said Amadi: "He kind of reminds me of myself, coming in hot. You've just got to keep it rolling, be confident in yourself and keep making plays."

If he does, and Amadi and Springs finally reach their potential, the Ducks' cornerback situation could be the least of UO's problems on defense next season. 

UO Spring Notes: Freshman CB Thomas Graham makes strong impression

UO Spring Notes: Freshman CB Thomas Graham makes strong impression

One player who has certainly made an impression on new Oregon coach Willie Taggart is freshman cornerback Thomas Graham, a four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. 

During winter workouts, Taggart said Graham tore it up and displayed a level of both talent and passion for the game that could translate into great success. However, Taggart added that he wanted to see Graham perform in a true practice setting before passing judgment. Taggart has had a few days now to watch Graham in action and he's come away even more impressed. 

"He's stood out the last two days," Taggart said on Saturday. "He's really stepped up and made some plays for us."

Oregon returns its top three cornerbacks from last season: senior Arrion Springs, redshirt senior Tyree Robinson and junior Ugo Amadi. But it appears that Graham, the No. 12-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com, could crash that party. 

"He was working with the ones yesterday," Taggart said. "That was great. I'm sure you'll see more as spring goes on."

Taggart called Graham a "playmaker" and the Ducks could certainly use some of those everywhere on defense after extremely poor play in all areas in 2015 and 2016. 

Get lined up, kid: New systems bring new expectations that begin with the little things such as lining up correctly. However, one big aspect of how the former staff practiced remains. Taggart, like former coaches Mark Helfrich, Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti, wants his team to practice fast on the field then correct mistakes later in the film room. 

"First, we've got to be able to lineup," Taggart said. "First and foremost. But, more importantly - learning how to practice. Learning the way that we want them to practice. Practice at full-speed and not worry about making mistakes. Understanding that we can correct those mistakes on film, but we want guys flying around playing with a lot of energy and passion."

So far, Taggart says he is seeing steady improvement.

"We're not where we need to be, but it's good to see that we're making improvement," Taggart said. "We always talk to our guys about getting one percent better each day, and after two days I feel like our football team is two-percent better."

Darrian McNeal has been impressive: Oregon is in desperate need of some wide receiver depth and so far it appears that freshman Darrian McNeal, a three-star recruit out of Florida that Taggart stole from Arizona, could provide that depth. 

"For a guy that just got here last week, and come in and do some of the things he's done in the first couple of practices has been really impressive," Taggart said. "He's very athletic."

McNeal is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver in the mold of current senior receiver Charles Nelson and former UO running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas. 

Taggart has said that McNeal doesn't have the pure speed that Nelson and Thomas have, but he is as elusive in space. 

Oregon returns just two productive wide receivers: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile have a chance to start. After that, UO will look to a group of six incoming freshmen receivers for depth. 

McNeal, who enrolled early, is getting a head start at being an impact freshman. 

Opening practices to the media/public: In 2011, Kelly decided to create a fortress of solitude around his program by closing practices to fans and the media. His successor, Mark Helfrich, did the same thing when he took over in 2013. 

New coach Willie Taggart has loosened things up a bit, allowing the media to see the first 30 minutes of all practices, and by inviting fans and the media to view two full practices this spring.

"We always ask our fans to pay their money and come out and watch during the season, I think it's fair to allow them to come out and see their football team a little bit [during practice]," Taggart said. "Especially with a new staff, they want to see what's going on."

 

How Oregon's recruits fit in: DBs - Graham and Lenoir could push for instant playing time

How Oregon's recruits fit in: DBs - Graham and Lenoir could push for instant playing time

Oregon coach Willie Taggart last week signed his first recruiting class, which Rivals.com ranked No. 18 in the nation. Now CSN is taking a look at how each new recruit could fit into the Ducks' plans next season.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsWide receivers/tight endsOffensive line, Defensive lineLinebackers

Today: Defensive backs.

New Ducks: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (6-0, 175, Rancho Cucamonga H.S., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and safeties Deommodore Lenoir (5-11, 183, Salesian H.S., Los Angeles, Calif.), Nick Pickett (6-1, 187, Salesian H.S., Los Angeles, Calif.) and Billy Gibson (6-1, 185, Miami Southridge H.S., Hialeah, Fla.). 

Projected starters: Cornerbacks Arrion Springs, Sr., (5-11, 205) and Ugo Amadi, (5-10, 195). Safeties Brenden Schooler, Soph., (6-2, 190) and Tyree Robinson, RSr., (6-4, 205).

Key backups: Cornerbacks - Tyree Robinson, RSr., (6-4, 205),  Malik Lovette, RSo., (5-11, 200) and Jihree Stewart, RSo., (6-0, 182). Safeties - Khalil Oliver, RJr., (6-0, 205), Juwaan Williams, RSr., (6-0, 200), Brady Breeze, RFr., (6-1, 205), Mattrell McGraw, RJr., (5-10, 195) and Fotu T. Leiato II, Jr., (6-1, 200). 

The situation: Oregon's landed two potentially elite defensive backs in Graham and Lenoir. Both should push a secondary that certainly didn't play impressive football in 2016. 

Graham, a four-star recruit rated by Rivals.com as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation, has a chance to push Springs and Amadi for a starting cornerback job. Lenoir, a four-star recruit rated as the top athlete in the nation, definitely could start at safety or be moved to cornerback.

Remember when Budda Baker got away from Oregon in 2014 and landed at Washington? Lenoir is his potential equivalent as an athletic safety. None of Oregon's returning safeties is a lock to start. Robinson, Schooler, Williams and Oliver could all be surpassed by Breeze, who redshirted last season. Add Lenoir to the mix and new safeties coach Keith Heyward will have a serious mess to sort through. 

Gibson and Pickett, both three-star recruits, don't figure to be candidates to push their way through a crowded field of safeties, but one never knows for sure until they start practicing. 

At cornerback, Springs and Amadi are the favorites to start with Robinson potentially remaining at cornerback. Experience will heavily favor the returners but none have lived up to their potential as of yet. That will open the door for Graham to make a move, especially as an early enrollee.   

The verdict: The secondary battles are going to be fun to watch. Unless Gibson or Pickett turns out to be a big surprise, both should redshirt behind a host of capable and more experienced safeties.  It would be a disappointment, however, if both Graham and Lenoir do not at least see time as backups in 2017. 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DBs: Secondary will rise if Ducks' pass rush improves

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DBs: Secondary will rise if Ducks' pass rush improves

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsTight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers

Today: Defensive backs.

Key losses: Reggie Daniels was an impact player in 2014 before falling off later in his career.   

Projected starters: Cornerbacks Arrion Springs, Sr., (5-11, 205) and Ugo Amadi, (5-10, 195). Safeties Brenden Schooler, Soph., (6-2, 190) and Tyree Robinson, RSr., (6-4, 205).

Key backups: Cornerbacks - Tyree Robinson, RSr., (6-4, 205), Malik Lovette, RSo., (5-11, 200) and Jihree Stewart, RSo., (6-0, 182). Safeties - Khalil Oliver, RJr., (6-0, 205), Juwaan Williams, RSr., (6-0, 200), Brady Breeze, RFr., (6-1, 205), Mattrell McGraw, RJr., (5-10, 195) and Fotu T. Leiato II, Jr., (6-1, 200). 

What we know: Oregon's secondary has gained loads of experience over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, a lot of that involved chasing wide receivers into the end zone. 

But let's be fair. While there's no doubt that the secondary was atrocious in 2015, this group did demonstrate improvement in 2016. However, they were often hung out to dry by a weak pass rush. 

The 2015 defense, led by Pac-12 defensive player of the year, defensive end DeForest Buckner, ranked second in the conference with 38 sacks. The 2016 defense, led by true freshman linebacker Troy Dye, ranked tied for seventh with 25 sacks. A feeble pass rush, coupled with a horrible run defense that made life easier for opposing passing games, adversely impacted Oregon's secondary. 

Nevertheless, the overall pass coverage in 2016 was better than it was in 2015 when a young secondary was routinely exposed. Springs, Amadi, Robinson, Williams and Oliver all should benefit from experienced gained and be ready to take the next step. Factor in the emergence of Schooler and the potential of Breeze, and others, and the secondary could actually be quite good in 2017. On the other hand, improved play by the defensive backs won't be noticed unless new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is able to increase the heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Shifting from having one position coach (John Neal) to two, with Charles Clark coaching the cornerbacks and Keith Heyward handling the safeties, could help accelerate the secondary's improvement.

What we don't know: How this secondary shakes out will be interesting.

If Robinson starts at cornerback that would mean that either Amadi or Springs failed to take that next step or that another safety emerged as a player the coaches couldn't keep off of the field.

There certainly will be plenty of options at safety that could force Robinson to cornerback. Williams and Oliver have started there in the past. Breeze has a ton of potential while Schooler will enter spring drills as a starter.

Depth won't be an issue and could be bolstered by four-star cornerback recruit Thomas Graham, who will be on campus in time for spring drills. But be leery. Most freshman defensive backs struggle no matter how highly touted they are coming out of high school. 

Final word: We would have seen dramatic improvement from the secondary last season had opposing quarterbacks not had all day in the pocket. With improved play expected from the front seven (how could it possibly be any worse than what we saw in 2016?) this secondary could finally blossom.

That said, this group needs an attitude adjustment in some areas. Stories have become legendary of some diva tendencies within this group. That must change.

Position grade: C. This unit could earn a B if it matures both physically and mentally. The talent and the depth are there.

 

Oregon's defense has potential, for 2017

Oregon's defense has potential, for 2017

It's tough to believe, and difficult to sell, but there is a strong chance Oregon's defense will improve greatly over the next two seasons.  

The Ducks' defense is very young and banged up. While those facts might sound like convenient excuses the reality is that nothing derails a unit more than youth and injuries. On the flip side, nothing repairs those problems like experience and healing. 

Oregon (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12) has been forced to go with youth and inexperience on defense this season because of failures in recruiting during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 cycles that left the unit void of any adequate amount of impact seniors and juniors to lead the way. 

Picking up the slack are numerous players from the 2015 and 2016 classes that are nowhere near ready to carry the load without the leadership and savvy of upperclassmen guiding the team. 

On the positive side, those younger players are gaining valuable experience that should pay off down the line, assuming they continue to develop and learn from their mistakes. The Ducks are set to return 10 starters on defense next season along with a host of others who have made spot starts or have seen extensive playing time.  

It seemed almost inconceivable that Oregon's 2016 defense could be worse than the 115th-ranked mess the Ducks put on the field in 2015. 

Yet, here they are, ranked 127th while allowing a mind-blowing 43.5 points per game.

To put that into perspective, Washington and Stanford are each allowing 17.9 points per game. Oregon's 2014 team that reached the national championship game allowed 23.6 points per game.  

Last year, a young secondary let down a solid front seven. This season, a somewhat improved secondary has played behind an inexperienced front seven that generates little pass rush while also offering weak resistance to opposing running games. 

Next year? Well, the entire secondary returns and six of the regular front-seven starters. For the first time in three years the Ducks will have enough experience up and down the defense to expect improvement. 

How much improvement? Well, let's not get carried away. We're not talking about a run to the top 20 in the nation here. But even a defense ranked in the top 80 while allowing south of 30 points per game would give the Ducks a chance to turn things around in a hurry because the offense, ranked 22nd in the country with a freshman quarterback and four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen, will certainly be stacked. 

Experience leads to better play in most situations, and Oregon's defense should be no different. 

What do the Ducks have to work with moving forward? Let's take a look:

DEFENSIVE BACKS

This group hasn't been as bad as it might seem. A lack of a consistent pass rush in a league loaded with good passing teams has put the secondary in bad spots. Plus, the lack of a run defense has resulted in a relatively low number of strong down-and-distance situations for the secondary to operate under.

That all said, this group certainly has plenty to work on.  

The good news is that everyone playing will return next season other than redshirt senior safety Reggie Daniels, who fell out of favor this season to primarily become a backup.  

The 2017 projected depth chart:

Cornerback: Ugo Amadi, Jr., Tyree Robinson, RSr., Arrion Springs, Sr. and Malik Lovette, RSoph., Mattrell McGraw, RJr., Ty Griffin, Sr. 

Safety: Brendan Schooler, Soph., Khalil Oliver, RJr., Juwaan Williams, RJr., Fotu Leiato II, Jr., and Brady Breeze, RFrosh., Jihree Stewart, RSoph.

Position analysis: Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal has juggled his lineup in order to create depth and now has so much that he now has loads of budding talent to work with moving forward. UO will return seven defensive backs that saw extensive playing time this season.  On top of that, six of the top eight from 2016 will still be around in 2018.

The Ducks desperately need Amadi, a former four-star recruit, to finally reach his potential. Springs has loads of talent but can't seem to get out of his own way and stop making silly mistakes in coverage. Same goes for Robinson. If they can't get it together they could lose playing time to Lovette, and up-and-comer. 

At safety, Schooler appears to be a potential impact player. Oliver and Williams have been up and down during their careers, which could open the door for Breeze, a four-star recruit redshirting this season. 

LINEBACKERS

This position is a bit trickier than defensive back because the linebackers have been mediocre all season long, save for freshman Troy Dye. 

Oregon signed six linebackers in 2016 and will need many to rise up in order for this group to take the next step in 2017. Otherwise, it will be more of the same mediocrity next season. 

The 2017 projected depth chart:

Will OLB: Jonah Moi, RSr., Keith Simms, Soph., Kaulana Apelu, Jr., Eric Briscoe Jr., RFrosh. 

Mike MLB: Jimmie Swain, Sr., A.J. Hotchkins, Sr., Danny Mattingly, RSr.  

Sam OLB: Troy Dye, Soph., La'mar Winston Soph., Darrian Franklin, RFrosh. 

Position analysis: Simms and Winston, four-star recruits in 2016, have great potential. Dye, a three-star recruit, has played like a five-star recruit and future NFL draft pick. Franklin and Briscoe Jr., both former three-star recruits, are redshirting. Hotchkins, a junior college transfer, might grow after a year playing in the Pac-12. 

Most intriguing about Dye, Simms and Winston is that each is 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, and either is already packing 230 pounds (Simms) or have the frame to bulk up past that weight. They could form the first trio of starting Oregon linebackers to all be in the 6-3, 235-pound range in recent memory. 

Swain, after a slow start to the season, has been among the team's leaders in tackles the past few weeks. However, total tackles can be overrated when many are made after big gains by the offense.  Moi, now playing defensive end, came to Oregon as a junior college transfer but hasn't always played like an experienced veteran. 

Dye is going to be special. Heck, he already is. But he needs help. Where this group must improve the most is with its awareness. Each week we hear from coaches how mental errors hurt the defense. 

A year or two getting destroyed might help all involve accelerates their learning curve. 

DEFENSIVE LINE

This is the area of greatest concern. The defensive line has been a mess. So much so that UO has been forced to dig deep into the depth chart to find bodies and the results haven't been pretty.

Oregon has played 11 defensive linemen this season that will return in 2017. Eight will be back in 2018. Six could still be around by 2019. That speaks to the youth of the group as well as the room that exists for growth. 

While there are obvious upgrades coming at linebacker, defensive line is far more unsettled. Oregon has needed somebody, anybody to rise up and become a force, but nobody has. Yet, that doesn't mean someone won't. 

Former Ducks, Alex Balducci, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, all in the NFL, were not dominant as freshmen in 2012. Taylor Hart redshirted in 2009 before playing minimally as a redshirt freshman and then blossoming as a redshirt sophomore. He is now in the NFL. 

Oregon needs a couple of young defensive linemen to improve the same way. They don't have to become future first-round picks like Armstead and Buckner, but the Ducks need a few players to emerge with some semblance of NFL potential in order to put up resistance against Pac-12 offenses that right now are running wild on UO. 

The 2017 projected depth chart:

Defensive end: Henry Mondeaux, Sr., Hunter Kampmoyer, RFrosh., Gus Cumberlander, RSoph. 

Defensive tackle: Rex Manu, Jr., Wayne Tei-Kirby, Soph., Gary Baker, RSoph.

Defensive tackle: Drayton Carlberg, RSoph., Elijah George, RSr. 

Defensive end: Jalen Jelks, RJr., Justin Hollins, RJr., Bryson Young, Soph.

Position analysis: Oregon should actually be set at defensive end next season. Mondeaux (one sack) hasn't had the impact year many expected, but that's partly because he has had little help upfront. Jelks has the ability to become an elite pass rusher, but injuries have slowed him down this season. Young, a former four-star recruit, and Hollins are athletic but woefully undersized at about 235 pounds to play defensive end. They need to add bulk. So does the 245-pound Kampmoyer, another promising talent. Cumberlander is 6-6, 260 with a frame to add more pounds. 

Defensive tackle is a huge problem and one of the reasons why teams run at will on Oregon. Manu is solid, but not very disruptive. He needs to get bigger, stronger and quicker this offseason. Carlberg is intriguing as a Taylor Hart-time at 6-5, 290 pounds. Carlberg became a starter early in the season but injuries have limited him to five games.  

Tei-Kirby, a former three-star recruit, has ideal defensive tackle size at 6-3, 315 pounds. Baker, at 6-4, 315, is another potentially good defensive tackle. The Ducks need at least one, if not both, to emerge as a consistent player next season.

Right now, the best thing about this group of defensive tackles is that they are all going to be around for two or three more seasons, which means there is plenty of time for them to improve.

----

There is a possibility that all of these young players could fizzle out as did many of their predecessors from previous classes that didn't work out. But odds are against it. Oregon has received limited production from recruiting classes before but never in the past 20 years has it continued through a second set of juniors and seniors. 

Again, this season has been a disaster on defense. So was last year, save for a few games late in the season. But the byproduct is that plenty of young, talented players have received extensive playing time that will accelerate their development. 

That all could payoff as soon as 2017. 

 

 

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week. 

Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms. 

Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again. 

"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.

Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult. 

That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood.  Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season. 

This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense. 

“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”

That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary. 

“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.

A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others. 

On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play. 

"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said. 

Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge. 

“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.

Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion. 

“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.

Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up. 

"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "

Neal said tackling still must be improved.

“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”

Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program. 

Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills. 

UO game prediction: Five reasons to watch opener vs. UC Davis

UO game prediction: Five reasons to watch opener vs. UC Davis

No. 24 Oregon will obliterate UC Davis on Saturday. If not, cancel the season right now. 

So why should anyone watch? Well, let's countdown the top five reasons why watching the Ducks when the game kicks off at 2 p.m. won't be a waste of time. 

No. 5 - Don't remember the Alamo: It's opening day, and the last time fans saw the Ducks, well, they were imploding in Texas during the Alamo Bowl. What better way to help erase that horrific memory than watching Oregon look like Oregon again? The opening game for the Ducks is rarely ever about competition. It's usually more about simply celebrating the return of another season. In this case, it's also about finally starting the process of moving forward after one of the worst losses in program history. 

No. 4 - The new front seven under defensive coordinator Brady Hoke: We've heard so much about this attacking 4-3 scheme Oregon has installed and now it's time to see it in action. The Aggies, who averaged 22 points per game last season, shouldn't offer much of a challenge but that only means we should see at least 12 tackles for loss with about six sacks. Exotic blitzes, frenzied speed, mass confusion, quarterbacks fearing their safety, running backs faking injuries to exit the game.  Let's see if the Ducks can strike fear in the hearts of a vastly inferior team. Oregon has six new starters in the front seven including athletic freshman linebacker Troy Dye and maybe the next Dion Jordan in redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hollins.  Plus, Oregon supposedly upgraded at the middle linebacker spot with tansfer A.J. Hotchkins.  Finally, they will be turned loose. 

No. 3 - The UO debut of quarterback Dakota Prukop: The senior transfer from Montana State gets his first taste of Autzen. The savior. The next Vernon Adams Jr. The link between the Ducks and possible contention. Prukop has a chance to live up to all of those things if the dual-threat marvel out of the Big Sky Conference can adapt to the Pac-12. In 2014 he lit up the Aggies to the tune of 509 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. He could do the same on Saturday. What would it prove? Not much. However, he had a mediocre spring game and it would be nice to see if he can demonstrate some consistency within the offense that could pay off down the line in much bigger contests. 

[LISTEN: The Ducks Squad Podcast with guest senior right guard Cameron Hunt]

No. 2 - The defensive backs: Has there ever been a more maligned group of Oregon players in recent history? Probably not. They contributed heavily to the team ranking 116th in the nation last season while allowing 35 touchdown passes. All of the key players are back and they determined to make amends, and to prove that they learned from the extreme growing pains experienced last season. Again, UC Davis' offense is not a great measuring stick. But this is a secondary who looked bad last season against Georgia State. Watching them demonstrate some improved ability to play lockdown coverage and tackle consistently would be a good first step.  

No. 1 - Justin freaking Herbert:  Oh yes. Getting a chance to watch the true freshman quarterback in action will be worth the time spent watching this game simply because of the mystery surrounding the 6-foot-6 kid out of Sheldon High School. His performances in practice have had the entire team buzzing about his potential. It took him three weeks to vanquish redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and true freshman Terry Wilson Jr., who arrived last spring. Now we will get to see Herbert in action once Prukop's work is done in a sure blowout. Figure late third quarter. All signs point to Herbert being a three-year starter after this season, and it is very likely he could see a start or two this season should Prukop go down. On Saturday fans get a sneak peak at the future of Oregon's quarterback position. 

A quick look at the game:

No. 24 Oregon vs. UC Davis. 

When: 2 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Network.   

Betting line: Off

Records: Oregon went 9-4 last season while the Aggies went 2-9.

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (33-8); UC Davis' Ron Gould, former Oregon defensive back, (9-25).

Last season: The Aggies went 2-9 for the second consecutive season to finish tied for 8th in the Big Sky Conference. 

Aggies impact players: Oregon should only concern itself with senior running back Manusamoa Luuga. Last season he rushed for 613 yards and had seven total touchdowns. 

Senior quarterback Ben Scott  when healthy is sold. Last season he passed for 1,598 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions over eight games. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): Zero. 

Prediction: Oregon, 66-13. 

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

EUGENE - Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said Tuesday to expect to see a heavy rotation of defensive backs this season as he works to develop depth while keeping starters fresh in hopes of improving the overall performance of a secondary that struggled most of last season. 

"I'm going to play a lot more guys from the beginning to the end which gives me a chance to evaluate some critical guys that haven't played as much," Neal said. "If we continue that through the season with the amount of plays we play, having more guys playing is going to really help us, make us faster and better obviously in the fourth quarter."

No. 24 Oregon's season begins Saturday against UC Davis at Autzen Stadium. 

Neal said he has confidence in five cornerbacks and six safeties, which includes starting safety Tyree Robinson spending time at cornerback. 

Starting at cornerback will be sophomores Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi. They will be backed up by redshirt freshman Malik Lovette and freshman Brenden Schooler. 

Robinson, a redshirt junior, and fellow starting safety, redshirt junior Juwaan Williams, will be backed up by redshirt senior Reggie Daniels, a former two-year starter, and redshirt sophomore Khalil Oliver.  

Also potentially in the mix will be redshirt freshman safety Jhet Janis, redshirt junior corner back Ty Griffin, who played some last season, and sophomore Fotu Leiato II.

Injuries and a lack of depth hurt Oregon's secondary last season when the Ducks allowed 35 touchdown passes and ranked 116th in the nation in total defense. Former No. 1 cornerback Chris Seisay missed eight games due to injury putting more pressure on Amadi and Springs. Injuries also hit the safety position, namely Daniels, leading to wide receiver Charles Nelson moving to free safety as a starter. 

Aside from protecting against injuries, increased depth is expected to help the starters play better game to game. 

"We don't have to play like 85 snaps a game like we did last year," Springs said. "If I get tired I can ask to come out so I'm always fresh and not getting lazy and sloppy how we were last year trying to stay in the game and play a lot of snaps. I feel like if we have more depth we can play faster because we won't be as tired."

Of course, playing young players in order to keep the starters fresher can backfire if the younger players aren't ready to perform at a high level. 

"It's such a long season. to stay healthy we have to play more people," Neal said. "But they have to earn it. We have to be able to trust them to."

Ducks depth chart: Prukop No. 1 QB, Herbert No. 2

Ducks depth chart: Prukop No. 1 QB, Herbert No. 2

Oregon released its first 2016 depth chart today and the most surprising revelation is that freshman quarterback Justin Herbert out of Sheldon is listed as the No. 2 quarterback

Senior transfer Dakota Prukop being named the starter was pretty much a forgone conclusion. But the rise of Herbert is a surprise given that he had to beat out redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen, who entered camp being touted as a threat to win the No. 1 job, and freshman Terry Wilson Jr., who had the advantage of arriving to Oregon in time to participate in spring drills. 

Earlier this week, word out of fall camp made it clear that not only could Herbert be named No. 2 but he had already taken the reigns with the second team during practice.

According to coaches, Herbert has exceeded all expectations for a freshman quarterback. According to sources, Herbert has that "IT" factor that former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota possessed. 

Of course it's premature to compare Herbert to Mariota as a player, but according to sources the 6-foot-6 freshman is very much like the former Heisman Trophy winner in terms of having a natural feel for the game and an aura of confidence. He's unflappable, according to some, and he processes information quickly, coaches have said. 

- OTHER DEPTH CHART NOTES - 

  • WR: Promising freshman Dillon Mitchell is not listed on the two-deep depth chart but seven other receivers are, including walk-on redshirt sophomore Casey Eugenio.  Redshirt junior Devon Allen, fresh off his fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the Rio Summer Olympics, is listed as a co-starter with redshirt senior Dwayne Stanford at one wide receiver position. 
  • TE: Senior Pharaoh Brown, who missed all of last season with a serious leg injury, is listed as the starting tight end with senior Johnny Mundt as the backup. 
  • RT: Redshirt freshman Calvin Throckmorton is the starter with senior transfer Zac Morgan listed as the backup. 
  • DT: Former offensive lineman, redshirt junior Elijah George, who switched to defensive line during spring, is the backup defensive tackle behind sophomore Rex Manu
  • DE: Redshirt sophomore Justin Hollins is listed as a starting defensive end ahead of redshirt sophomore Jalen Jelks after a fierce battle during camp. Look for both to play a lot. 
  • MLB: As expected, junior A.J. Hotchkins, a junior college transfer, won the staring job over redshirt junior Danny Mattingly Jr. They should make a good one-two punch this season. 
  • OLB: While senior Johnny Ragin III being named one of the two starting outside linebackers is no surprise, the other side has always been up for grabs. That job has been won by true freshman Troy Dye.  He had been a three-star recruit as a safety by Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal. Backing up Dye is redshirt junior Jonah Moi
  • CB: The transferring of Chris Seisay opened the door for freshman Brendan Schooler to slide in at No. 2 behind junior Arrion Springs. Schooler was a two-star recruit who didn't sign with Oregon until late June. He is a big corner at 6-2, 190. 

 

Seisay's departure could hurt Oregon's secondary depth

Seisay's departure could hurt Oregon's secondary depth

The departure of Oregon cornerback Chris Seisay from the football program came somewhat as a shock to defensive backs coach John Neal. 

He said Monday that he is unsure why Seisay chose to seek a transfer from the program he joined in 2014. 

"You'd have to ask him," Neal said while also adding that people could piece together the various bits of information Seisay has dropped here and there. 

CSN asked Seisay on Sunday night when he left. He said via text message that the depth chart, where he was listed as backup cornerback, did not compel him to leave. He said it goes much deeper than that but did not elaborate. 

Seisay told The Oregonian that he didn't feel happy or on good terms with Ducks program. 

According to a source, Seisay has walked off the practice field in anger during fall camp. 

Last week, Seisay told CSN that he learned a lot from last season, when he missed eight games after entering the year as the team's No. 1 cornerback, that he needed to work harder and not expect things to be given to him.

He also said: “I’m just ready to prove everybody wrong. Everybody that’s doubted me, our whole group as a DB corps, our whole team.”

Neal last week said the following about Seisay: “Right now, when he plays well, he’s one of those guys. He’s going to play. Is he going to start? I don’t know. But he adds depth. He can play nickel. He can play dime."

Maybe Seisay didn't decide to leave because it appeared he would backup junior Arrion Springs and sophomore Ugo Amadi. But it's extremely rare for a starter to transfer out of Oregon, or any other program for that matter.  

Clearly, whatever the reasons, Seisay wasn't happy at Oregon and has moved on. The talented athlete should find success wherever he lands. 

"It's kind of heartbreaking," Neal said. 

So, what does losing Seisay mean for the Ducks? Tough to say at this point. Had Seisay been at his best and still a backup, Oregon would have been set with three starting-caliber cornerbacks. The Ducks right now can't boast to having one true, proven, big time starter at cornerback given last year's mess that saw Oregon allow 35 touchdown passes. 

Seisay's departure places more pressure on Springs and Amadi to improve dramatically. Behind them are promising redshirt freshman cornerback Malik Lovette and maybe redshirt junior cornerback Ty Griffin

We could also see starting redshirt junior safety Tyree Robinson at cornerback, if needed.  Neal likes his depth at safety with former starter Reggie Daniels backing up Juwaan Williams. 

"In some cases, Tyree is going to move out there," Neal said. 

Seisay wasn't going to make or break Oregon's defensive backfield. But his departure certainly doesn't help.