Nick Pickett

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

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Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Previous post: Offensive report card

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The most impressive aspect of Oregon's season thus far has been the dramatic turnaround of the defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

Last year, Oregon ushered offenses into the end zone while ranking 126th in the nation in total defense (518.4 yards allowed per game) during a 4-8 season. So far this year, the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) rank 29th in total defense (338.3) and 10th in rushing defense (93.7). 

The Ducks lead the conference in sacks (24) and are tops in third-down conversion defense (24.5 percent) after ranking 11th last year (48.5). 

The Ducks are by no means dominant on defense but have shown flashes of heading in that direction. It's still a very young group with just four senior starters and is playing a lot of young players as starters and backups. 

Here are a position-by-position grades for both the defense and special teams:

DEFENSE

Defensive line - B-plus: The improvement of the Ducks' defensive line, which has benefited from the shift back to the 3-4 scheme, is the biggest key to the unit's turnaround. In addition to being stout against the run, the defensive line has been instrumental in the team's improved pass rush. The line has produced 10 1/2 of the team's 24 sacks while helping to create sack opportunities for linebackers. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks is tied for the team lead with 4 1/2 sacks, including three at Arizona State. His .75 sacks per game ranks tied for second in the PAC-12. Senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux has rebounded from a down year in 2016. He has four sacks to already matching last year's total. He had 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

Sacks aren't everything, of course. Jelks leads the team with eight tackles for loss and his 1.33 per game ranks second in the conference. 

The return to the 3-4 could have been a disaster if Oregon weren't receiving quality play from freshmen nose tackles Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu. Scott has added two sacks.

Neither is capable of dominating a game or playing every down. However, as a duo, they have been strong enough in the middle to help protect the inside linebackers, and both appear to have the skills to become very good in the future. 

Linebackers - B-minus: Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt junior outside linebacker Justin Hollins have been nothing short of steller. Both use their size, speed and athleticism to be extremely disruptive on every down. Piti the quarterback that has both coming after him at the same time.

Dye ranks fourth in the conference in tackles per game (8.7) and is tied with Hollins for fifth in tackles for loss per game (1.2). Each has seven. 

Hollins has forced three fumbles and has 2 1/2 sacks. Dye has three sacks. Their size and athleticism have made the 3-4 defense scary from all angles. 

However, play at inside linebacker next to Dye has been inconsistent. Kaulana Apelu, out for the season with a foot injury, played hard and fast but his lack of size at 200 pounds didn't play well at that position. Senior A.J. Hotchkins has been in and out of the lineup and the very inexperienced redshirt sophomore Blake Rugraff has been underwhelming when filling in, thus far. 

The outside linebacker spot opposite Hollins (the Duck position) has been manned by junior Fotu T Leiato II and sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr.  Winston lately has been solid with 17 tackles, three for loss. Senior backup linebacker Jonah Moi has been the team's best reserve linebacker with 14 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. 

Defensive backs - C-plus: Gone are the days of woefully blown coverages and mass confusion. The secondary has been solid in coverage and has proven to be good tacklers in space, most of the time.

Senior Arrion Springs, who struggled with catching interceptions, has still been great in pass coverage. His 10 passes defended are tied for second in the conference. 

Freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who has a shot at being named a freshman All-American, and junior Ugowchukwu. Both are tied for 8th in the conference with six passes defended, including two interceptions. 

Helping make the secondary hum is redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who has taken a leadership role. That's helped with the maturation of freshman safety Nick Pickett, who surprisingly took over as a starter and has performed well. 

Still, there is room for improvement. Oregon has allowed 11 touchdown passes, tied for ninth most in the conference. The Ducks have allowed nine touchdown passes. Oregon's seven interceptions puts it well on pace to surpass the nine the team had all of last year. However, six of the seven came within the first two games with four against Nebraska. Oregon has not intercepted a pass in three PAC-12 games while allowing nine touchdown passes. For these reasons the secondary fall short of receiving a B grade. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Return game B-plus: Redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James began the season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Utah. He is averaging 28 yards on 10 returns but that's not enough attempts to qualify to be ranked among the conference leaders. Otherwise, he would be ranked first. Oregon's 24.9 yards per return ranks second. 

Oregon's 7.6 yard average per punt return ranks seventh. This unit has been hindered by the ankle injury suffered by Charles Nelson. He is averaging 17.8 yards per return, which would rank third in the PAC-12 if he had enough returns to qualify. Nelson's replacement, Dillon Mitchell, is averaging a solid 11 yards per return. 

Place kicking - B: Senior kicker Aidan Schneider is once again being used very little. He has attempted just three field goals, making two. He has, however, made all 36 of his extra point attempts and that leads the conference. He ranks ninth in the conference in scoring at seven points per game. The one miss in three attempts prevents Schneider from receiving an "A" grade. But we all know that he is an "A"-level kicker. 

Punting - C-minus: Freshman punter Sam Stack, who has shown great promise, ranks 12th in the conference in punting average (38.3) but has placed nine of his 30 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Again, he's only a freshman. 

Coverage teams B-minus : Oregon's net punting average is 10th in the conference (34.7) thanks mainly to the poor average pe punt. The 1.3 return yards allowed per punt ranks 7th.  The kickoff coverage team has fared much better ranking second in net average at 41.8 yards. 

Ducks overcome adversity, face uncertain future

Ducks overcome adversity, face uncertain future

EUGENE - The Oregon Ducks stared adversity in the face Saturday night and didn't falter. They barely even blinked. They simply found a way to win, and did so convincingly, 45-24 over California at Autzen Stadium. 

The victory did come with a heavy injury toll, however. Starting quarterback Justin Herbert will miss at least a couple of games with a broken collarbone. Still, the night might have provided another peak into something positive to be found within this team. The young Ducks (4-1, 1-1 PAC-12) remain quite flawed but they don't quit.  Not when Arizona State last week took a 31-14 lead in the third quarter and not on Saturday when players began going down left and right from injuries. 

The carnage could have been enough to cause most teams to collapse, as did the 2015 Ducks during the Alamo Bowl debacle two seasonsago. Not this year's team. These Ducks kept their heads up, backups rose to the occasion and UOs pulled through. 

"I realized that this team cares about each other," UO coach Willie Taggart said. "I think what we're all seeing right now is a team that enjoys playing for one another."

Senior running back Royce Freeman left the game first with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after making a nice cut outside to the right for 13 yards early in the first quarter with Oregon leading 3-0. That drive ended with Herbert throwing a 37-yards touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Brenden Schooler to give the Ducks a 10-0 lead.

Team sources say that Freeman's injury isn't all that serious and that he could return next wek against No. 11 Washington State (5-0).  Taggart said during his post game press conference that Freeman told him that he should be okay. 

Minutes after Freeman went down, sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell went out with an undisclosed injury while returning a punt when UO safety Fotu T. Leiato II doubled back to blast a Cal player only to miss his mark and instead drill an unsuspecting Mitchell.

The ensuing drive ended with Herbert rushing for a seven-yard touchdown to give the Ducks a 17-0 lead. On the play, Herbert was violently tackled as he fell into the end zone. Team trainers attended to him on the sideline before he left the field with what multiple team sources say is a broken collarbone that will sideline him for at least a few weeks.

Oregon entered the game minus senior wide receiver Charles Nelson (ankle), redshirt sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland, freshman safety Nick Pickett (knee) and senior inside linebacker A.J. Hotchkins (ankle). 

After Herbert went out, the Ducks' offense took a nap. After gaining 159 yards of offense in the first quarter, the Ducks managed just 32 in the second quarter. Cal (3-2, 0-2) finally scored and make it 17-7 at halftime. Suddenly, a once seemingly sure victory became precarious for UO.

The Ducks figured things out by the second half, found their resolve and turned the game over to the offensive line and the defense.

"You just have to really just keep going and try not to skip a beat," redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said. "It seemed like everyone was going down."

Cal trailed 24-17 early in the fourth quarter before the defense really clamped down. Oregon held Cal to eight yards rushingfor the game, sacked Golden Bears quarterback Ross Bowers seven times and had 11 tackles for loss. 

"With everybody dropping like that we just figred, hey, we're losing people but somebody has to step up," junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.  

The offense rushed for 126 yards in the third quarter alone and would end up with 308 on the day. Running well became a must after Herbert went out.

"It was good to see our offense able to run the football like we did," Taggart said. "That was important. That was an emphasis for us."

Senior running back Kani Benoit rushed for a career-high 138 yards and scored on a 68-yard run to give the Ducks a 31-17 lead with 9:51 remaining in the game. 

"I don't think anyone waivered at all," Benoit said about Herbert going down. "We knew what we were going to do and we know we could execute it."

A sack of Bowers by Oregon outside linebacker Justin Hollins led to a fumble that the Ducks recovered inside the Golden Bears' 5-yard line. That led to a five-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James to pretty much ice the game at 38-17 with 8:01 remaining. 

Oregon showed flashes of heart during a 42-35 win over Nebraska when the defense held on for the win after the offense struggled and the Cornhuskers came back from a 42-14 halftime deficit. Last week at ASU, the Ducks looked awful in the first half before coming back to take a 35-34 lead after training 31-14 in the second half. 

But the Ducks were unable to hang on and lost 37-35. 

On Saturday, UO did lead all game and Cal doesn't have a very good offense. Still, the Ducks entered the game with several key players out and watched three more impact players leave the game. Yet, somehow the Ducks managed to find a way to win. 

Some caveats exist. Oregon committed 10 turnovers for 110 yards with most coming in the second half. One penalty negated a long Brooks-James reception on a pass in the third quarter from senior back up quarterback Taylor Alie before he also go injured in the fourth quarter.

Also, Oregon's defense feasted on a very mediocre Cal offense that entered the game averaging 28 points. The Ducks next face a Washington State team averaging 41. 

Finally, despite finding a way to run well and win this game the Ducks will be hard-pressed to use that formula to win many of the upcoming five games on the schedule without Herbert. 

Alie, should he return, is very limited as a passer. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 41 yards against Cal. Freshman Braxton Burmeister, who replaced Alie when he went down, is a mystery but shouldn't be expected to replace Herbert. 

After WSU, the Ducks play at No. 24 Stanford (3-2, 2-1), at UCLA (3-2, 1-1), home against No. 20 Utah (4-0, 2-0) and then at No. 6 Washington (5-0, 2-0). 

The Ducks will need to be strong on offense to defeat any of those opponents. Unless Alie or Burmeister suddenly prove they can pass for 275 yards and multiple touchdowns in a single game, defeating any of the next five opponents is going to be quite difficult. Just don't tell Oregon that. The Ducks believe in themselves too much to listen to what they can't do. 

After Saturday's game, the team could be heard celebrating in the locker room. That level of enthusiasm will be needed if Oregon is going to able to ride up these difficult injuries. 

"We always say around here, 'winning is living' and I think that's what you heard in there," Taggart said. "It can't stop."

Safety Khalil Oliver leaves Oregon program

Safety Khalil Oliver leaves Oregon program

Safety Khalil Oliver has left the Oregon program. The redshirt junior posted his decision on Twitter. 

Oliver began the year as a starter in the season opener against Southern Utah. He ended up getting injured during the 77-21 win and was seen the following week on crutches and wearing a walking boot on his left foot.  

Freshman Nick Picket replaced Oliver in the starting lineup against Nebraska and has started every game since for the 3-1 Ducks. 

Redshirt senior safety Tyree Robinson, who missed the first game, has started alongside Picket since the second game. Freshman Billy Gibson and redshirt junior Mattrell McGraw are the backups. 

Oliver is now healthy but has decided to transfer, according to his statement. 

Oregon hosts California (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. 

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

The No. 24 Oregon Ducks enter Pac-12 play under Willie Taggart as a mystery team. That probably won't change much come late Saturday night. 

For the first time this season UO will face an opponent capable of putting up numbers on offense and getting after the quarterback on defense when the Ducks (3-0) play at Arizona State (1-2) Saturday night in Sun Devil's Stadium. When the game is over, Oregon should be 4-0 and by Sunday morning ranked as high as No. 20.  Yet, this game probably won't reveal much about what these Ducks are really all about. That is, unless, of course, they were to lose. 

How could that happen?

For starters, unlike previous opponents, Nebraska and Wyoming, the Sun Devils have some pop on offense and they will spread that talent out across the formation seeking mismatches. UO defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said facing such a team loaded with speed on the outside and at running back will be a challenge for UO. 

"We haven't seen athletes like these guys, yet," he said. 

Oregon redshirt senior safety Tyree Robinson said he believes ASU, averaging 412 yards and 34 points per game, will try to establish the run with 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior running back Kalen Ballage, who runs with power and speed.

"We have to gang tackle," Robinson said.

Maybe. Then again, ASU is averaging a weak 97 rushing yards per game on 2.5 per carry.

ASU, according to Robinson, will use a lot of formations and motions in an attempt to catch Oregon's defense napping. 

"We just have to do a good job of communicating and being in the right place," Robinson said. 

Surely tested will be true freshmen defensive backs Nick Picket and Thomas Graham Jr. They have performed very well so far but have yet to see a wave of plays and athletes coming at them over and over like they will on Saturday.  ASU quarterback Many Wilkins is a threat to run and will certainly extend plays better than Wyoming's Josh Allen did last week. Wilkins has thrown seven touchdown passes with zero interceptions. He is certainly a threat to make some plays on Saturday. Enough to win? Probably not. 

Oregon's defense might allow its share of points but the Ducks certainly won't get run through like many teams did to them last season. More importantly, Oregon's offense should have its way with ASU's defense, which has allowed 37.7 points and 505.3 yards per game.  

For that reason alone, UO should leave the state of Arizona with a win. Only a flow of turnovers could derail Oregon. Yes, the Sun Devils lead the conference with 13 sacks. And yes, they will throw heavy pressure at UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. It simply won't matter. Herbert gets rid of the ball too quickly, which will lead to big plays against pressure. Plus, let's not forget, that last year he tied a program record with 489 yards passing against ASU in one of his only two victories as a starter last season. 

The Ducks will score a ton of points and win. They might even score a nice chunk of those points in the second half, which would be a departure from the previous two weeks. 

Maybe the most significant fact that will come out of a win Saturday is that Oregon would have matched last season's win total (4-8) four games into the season. By any measure, that's great progress. We just won't know if the Ducks are very good, or simply better than the mediocre competition they would have faced to date. 

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Oregon at Arizona State

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 14 1/2.

Records: Oregon (3-0), Arizona State (1-2).

Last week: The Sun Devils lost 52-45 at Texas Tech. Oregon won 49-13 at Wyoming. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-45, 3-0 at Oregon); Sun Devils' Todd Graham (89-57, 40-28 at ASU).

Sun Devils' impact players: Quarterback Manny Wilkins is off to a pretty hot start, averaging 308 yards passing with seven touchdown tosses and has yet to throw an interception. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, was the No. 6-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school in 2014.

"This will be the first time we've had a good mobile quarterback that we've had to go against," Taggart said. 

Senior running back Kalen Ballage has rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry is Wilkins' top target. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. 

ASU's defense is led statistically by two freshmen. Defensive end Jojo Wicker has three sacks on the season and linebacker D.J. Calhoun is averaging 10.3 tackles per game. 

Linebacker Koron Crump (knee), who leads the conference with four sacks, is out for ASU. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5.  It's a road game. It's a conference game. It's against what will be by far the best offense the Ducks will have faced this season. There's a lot to be worried about for Oregon. However, ASU is about as bad on defense as the Ducks were last season. If the Ducks take care of the football they would once again surpass 40 points. We will know after this game if UO's defense truly has bite if it can keep the Sun Devils in check. 

Final pick: Oregon, 47-33. 

Amadi and Winston Jr. move into starting lineup

Amadi and Winston Jr. move into starting lineup

Oregon has made changes to its depth chart prior to this week's game at Wyoming. 

At cornerback, junior Ugochukwu Amadi has moved into the starting lineup opposite freshman Thomas Graham Jr. Last week's depth chart leading up to Oregon's 42-35 home win over Nebraska on Saturday listed Graham and Amadi as co-starters with an "Or" between their names. Graham started opposite senior Arrion Springs. 

Graham, named the player of the game, had seven tackles and two interceptions. Amadi clinched the game with an interception late in the fourth quarter. Now both are clear starters but expect Springs to still see plenty of action.

The once tied battle for the nose guard spot between freshmen Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu now has the latter listed as the clear starter. Faoliu actually started both of the team's first two games but rotated with Scott. We shall see how this slight change in the depth chart impacts the rotation at the nose position. 

Speaking of "Or" situations, there are none listed on the current depth chart. However, some backup positions remained slashed ("/") between second-team and third team players.  

Junior inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu is now listed as the clear starter over senior A..J. Hotchkins. And, sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr. has shed the "Or" between himself and junior Fotu T. Leiato II to become the clear starter at the outside linebacker/Duck position. 

Entering last week, freshman safety Nick Pickett was listed as a backup behind redshirt junior Mattrell McGraw. However, Picket started the Nebraska game and is now listed as the lone starter with freshman Billy Gibson as his backup. McGraw is now listed as the backup to redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who returned to action last week after missing the opener with an injury. 

Redshirt junior safety Khalil Oliver, who started the opening game, missed the Nebraska game due to injury. 

There were no changes to the offensive depth chart. 

 

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.