Jihree Stewart

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.