Billy Gibson

Locks, Contenders, Longshots: Is the Oregon secondary in trouble?

Locks, Contenders, Longshots: Is the Oregon secondary in trouble?

Is there reason for concern regarding Oregon’s secondary?

The Ducks return senior safety Ugo Amadi and sophomore cornerback Thomas Graham. At safety alongside Amadi, Oregon yields a three-man race between Nick Pickett, Brady Breeze and Mattrell McGraw. Besides Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, the cornerbacks are young, inexperienced and full of potential. 

“A lot of guys are stepping up and being leaders because we are so young,” UO cornerbacks coach Donte Williams said. “Pretty much the top guys are 17, 18, 19 years old, so they’re going to continue to get better and better.”

LOCKS:

Safety Ugochukwu Amadi, senior: The experienced leader of the secondary, Amadi moved from corner to safety midway through the 2017 season and thrived in his new spot.

In 2017, Amadi tied for the team lead in interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (3). He also made all-Pac-12 honorable mention and memorable clutch plays like; sealing the win over Nebraska with a picked pass on the Huskers final drive and stripping the ball from Darren Carrington and scoring a 47-yard touchdown against Utah.

Expectations are high for Amadi’s senior season. He landed at No. 96 on Sports Illustrated Top 100 Players. Fun note, quarterback Justin Herbert selected Amadi as best trash talker on the team.

[WATCH: WOULD YOU RATHER WITH UGO AMADI]

Safety Brady Breeze, sophomore: Played in 11 games in 2017, made 23 tackles, including 15 solo, and had one interception. The Oregon-native makes a solid case to be a starter alongside Amadi.

During spring practices, Breeze averaged an interception every practice. During fall practices he’s been proving that he is also an asset on special teams.

Safety Nate Pickett, sophomore: As a freshman, he played in 11 games, including three starts, made 22 tackles and 10 solo stops. 

Due to injury, Pickett was sidelined for spring drills and part of fall camp while recovering from shoulder surgery but Cristobal said he will be available for game one versus Bowling Green.

Safety Mattrell McGraw, senior: Entering his fifth year as a Duck, McGraw brings the experience factor. In 2017, he started four games, played in nine games, making 24 tackles, including 13 solo. He was on the team in 2014 when Oregon played in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game.

Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., sophomore: In 2017, Graham started 12 of 13 games and played 824 snaps, which was most by an Oregon defensive back and the second-most by a true freshman cornerback in the country. The Ducks are counting on Graham Jr. to hold down his spot and increase production from last season.

He finished second on the team in solo tackles (49) and third in total tackles (62) in 2017.

The biggest thing with Thomas is playing every play like it’s your last,” Williams said. “Having an every game, every play, every day mentality, that could be your last. He is doing a lot better with that in terms of focus and the mentality that he goes toward the game.”

Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, sophomore: Played mostly as a backup in 2017, he played in all 13 games and 299 total snaps, finishing with 25 tackles, five pass breakups and one interception. A highly touted recruit, Rivals had him as the No. 1 athlete in the country for his class, Lenoir made vast improvements in the final month of last season.
Lenoir missed some fall practices but is expected to be full-go by the season opener.

CONTENDERS:

Safety Jevon Holland, freshman: A consensus four-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The 6-foot-1 safety has earned rave reviews from his teammates and coaches during fall camp. He’s been getting first team reps and is listed on Oregon’s depth chart as a backup to Ugo Amadi.

Once Holland gets used to the college speed, he could be a contender to start.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Cornerback Verone McKinley, freshman: A four-star prospect and the No. 5 cornerback in his class by Rivals, McKinley enrolled early at Oregon.

With much thanks to Oregon’s offseason strength program, McKinley has gone through a major physical transformation. He is listed as a backup to Graham on Oregon’s two-deep.

Cornerback Haki Woods, senior: Junior college transfer with size. Woods is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Last season at Pima Community College he recorded 45 tackles, 35 solo, and five pass breakups. Woods adds needed depth at the cornerback position.

Cornerback, Kahlef Hailassie, freshman:  A consensus three-star by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. Oregon lists Hailassie/Woods behind Lenior at the backout cornerback position.

LONGSHOTS:

Safety Billy Gibson, sophomore: Played in 11 games last season, making six total tackles. Gibson had five tackles in Oregon’s spring game and is not listed on the UO two-deep for week one.

Safety Steve Stephens, freshman: A consensus four-star and top 250 prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. Stephens could be added into the special teams rotation this season.

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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. 

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. 

 

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 9 - DBs Billy Gibson and Brady Breeze

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 9 - DBs Billy Gibson and Brady Breeze

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

The safety position is going to be one of the most hotly contested this fall. As of now, it appears that redshirt senior Tyree Robinson and redshirt junior Khalil Oliver have the inside track to start. Robinson's days as a cornerback could be over with the emergence of freshman Thomas Graham, who could start opposite senior Arrion Springs while pushing junior Ugo Amadi to the No. 3 corner spot. 

Safety isn't nearly as settled, however. Sophomore Brendan Schooler saw starts last year but missed all of spring with an injury and isn't being viewed as an obvious candidate to start moving forward. 

That's where redshirt freshman Brady Breeze and freshman Billy Gibson come in. The Ducks need both to show something this fall to not only push the veterans but to provide depth and, maybe more importantly, create stability at the position entering 2018. 

Breeze, a four-star recruit in 2016, has demonstrated great ability but is also very young and likely needs much more time before he becomes starting-caliber.  Gibson, a three-star recruit signed last February,  falls into the same category but, according to coaches, showed some strong signs during spring drills that he has enough athleticism to make an immediate impact if he picks up the defense. 

Senior Juwaan Williams and junior Fotu T. Leiato II should also be in the mix. But for the present, and the future, it would benefit Oregon greatly if Breeze and Gibson could make a push up Oregon's depth chart. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Alex Ofodile, Malik Lovette and Darrian McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

 

 

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.