Brady Breeze

Oregonians Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze become Duck legends with Rose Bowl win

Oregonians Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze become Duck legends with Rose Bowl win

The closest bowl game of the season, yet.

The highest attendance of this season’s bowl games, yet.

66 degrees and a blue clear sky at kickoff.

A pink sunset glittering from Oregon’s chrome helmets.

Green and yellow confetti falling from the sky.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight grinning from ear to ear.

A tear rolling down the face of senior linebacker Troy Dye on the victors stage.

Coach Mario Cristobal dancing to “Shout” out of the Stadium with his sons by his sides.

Two Oregonians (who scored all of UO’s touchdowns) crowned offensive and defensive most valuable players.

A complete and totally emotional scene.

No. 6 Oregon's 28-27 win over No. 8 Wisconsin lived up to the name, ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’.

The senior class earned the best win of their careers in their last games as Ducks. Senior linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr. took the win as an opportunity for a teaching moment, hugging junior Nick Pickett as photographers swarmed, reiterating that Pickett must carry the torch to continue the legacy to get the Ducks back to the Rose Bowl (or beyond) next season.

Winston Jr., a Central Catholic graduate, was an integral part of why Oregon finished eighth nationally in scoring defense and couldn’t have been happier for the Rose Bowl Offensive Most Valuable Player, Justin Herbert. The four-year starter had the chance to be the hero and he sprinted towards it with shocking speed. Herbert wow’d with his legs, rushing for three touchdowns, including a 30-yard rushing touchdown that won the game. 

I’m going to be honest with you, we’ve been telling him to run all year! All year, we’ve been telling him to run! He runs in practice and torches us. So I told him, ‘Pull that thing and get loose! Stiff arm them dudes, juke them dudes. Is he a running back or a quarterback? We don’t know. –Winston Jr.

It was not only Herbert’s first career game with three rushing touchdowns, but he also became the first quarterback to have three rushing touchdowns in the Rose Bowl since Vince Young in 2006. A storybook ending for the quarterback who grew up idolizing Marcus Mariota and Joey Harrington from down the street at Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon.

It's legendary. I think (Herbert) is a guy that you can't – it's hard to even script this kind of Hollywood story, right? Right down the road, born and raised, just like Brady (Breeze), been watching Oregon Duck football forever. And they're sitting here in front of you as Rose Bowl champions -­not only as Rose Bowl champions but as MVPs of the Rose Bowl after winning the Pac-12 Championship. –Coach Mario Cristobal

Coach Cristobal became the fifth Oregon coach to reach 12 wins in a season with large part to Defensive Most Valuable Player, Breeze.

Breeze, who is also a graduate of Central Catholic, badgered Wisconsin constantly, providing Oregon with drive saving tackles multiple times on deep passes and leading the team with 11 tackles. With the offense sputtering, Breeze provided momentum-shifting plays when the Ducks needed it most: scoring on a fumbled punt and forcing a fumble late in the fourth quarter that turned into the game-winning score.

Before the game, Breeze warmed up with his teammates and took the time to sign autographs and take photos with kids before heading into the locker room to suit up in uniform. Breeze, whose uncle Chase Cota started at safety for Oregon’s Gang Green defense in the 1995 Rose Bowl, knows what its like to be in the stands with a dream.

It's cool to see all these people waving at us in the stands... Just like I was when I was at the game watching Ohio State play Oregon and watching Florida State play Oregon. I was just a fan, dreaming of playing in these type of games. –Breeze

With two hometown kids making the difference in Pasadena, the 106th Rose Bowl could be considered a Disney Movie plot or a chippy 15-round fight for the title. It’s really in the (teary) eye of the beholder.

UO Coach Mario Cristobal: 'Our guys just found a way to keep swinging'

UO Coach Mario Cristobal: 'Our guys just found a way to keep swinging'

PASADENA – It didn’t work out quite the way the Oregon Ducks expected it would. But they’ll take it – as well they should.

Oregon didn’t beat the Wisconsin Badgers Wednesday in the Rose Bowl quite as much as the Badgers beat themselves. But that’s football. You fumble the ball three times and lose all three, you throw an interception, miss a field goal and then you get nine penalties for 79 yards, you’re going to lose – no matter what else happens.

“We didn’t overcome ourselves,” chagrined Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst said.

Wisconsin outrushed the Ducks 136 yards to 66. The Badgers outpassed Oregon 186 yards to 138. And they got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. In all, the Ducks had a season-low 204 yards of total offense – which won’t win you many games. But, oh my, did the Badgers make mistakes.

And Oregon took full advantage of those miscues.

The Ducks opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown. They then scored three more TDs after turnovers. The Ducks got an interception at Wisconsin’s 33 and scored three plays later. Wisconsin’s punter fumbled a snap and Brady Breeze returned it 31 yards for a TD. Then the Ducks recovered a fumble at the Badgers’ 30 and Justin Herbert dashed for a score on the next play.

Herbert, who didn’t run the ball very often all season, rushed for three TDs.

It was a monster win for the Ducks. It was their third straight Rose Bowl win. It was the fifth time in school history they’ve won 12 games. And forcing turnovers was not a one-game deal -- Oregon finished the season with a plus-16 turnover margin.

“I think the offensive line and the defensive line deserve a ton of credit,” Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. “Because, again, and I think Wisconsin is an excellent football team. They are. They’re physical. They’re tough. They’re well-coached. All the respect in the world to them.

“Our guys knew this was going to be a 15-round fight, right? And rounds 10 through 15 usually decide which heavyweight walks away with the hardware. And our guys just found a way to keep swinging, get up one more time. Throw one more punch. And it’s a testament to what they are, what their DNA is. And I really believe that these guys are just getting started.”

This was a victory very important to the Pac-12 Conference, which was in danger of having another sub-.500 season in bowl games. It has been left out of the national playoff three seasons in a row and to see its champ go down in this bowl would have been a big blow, feeding the perception that it’s not a very competitive conference on a national level.

But Cristobal didn’t see it that way.

“The outside noise never really becomes part of our process,” he said. “I mean, to us, anything outside is, with respect to everyone, really irrelevant because it’s not there with us at 5 in the morning when we’re training, it not there late at night when we’re getting extra treatment.

“We know we have a good football team and we know we’ve done all the things in regards to becoming physical, disciplined, tough, to execute at a high level, with so much room to grow.

“But I think Oregon is, all the respect – we’ve warranted any and all respect that we’ve received… if that’s the question we’re asking, if we represented the conference well, I would say that we did.”

And to sum it up, Cristobal talked about the path the Ducks have taken to get to this point.

“We go hard now,” he said. “What we do is not kind and cuddly, and it’s certainly not for everybody. So we all stuck to a blueprint that is as demanding as it gets and that will push you right to the edge until you get a breakthrough. That’s what these guys had.”

Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze named MVPs of the 2020 Rose Bowl

Justin Herbert and Brady Breeze named MVPs of the 2020 Rose Bowl

The Oregon Ducks (12-2) are the 2020 Rose Bowl champions after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers (10-4) 28-27. 

Although Cristobal and the Ducks have prioritized gaining elite talent from recruiting hotbeds such as California and Florida, it was two hometown kids that made the difference in Pasadena. 

Former Sheldon quarterback Justin Herbert and former Central Catholic safety Brady Breeze were named Offensive MVP and Defensive MVP of the 2020 Rose Bowl, respectively. 

Herbert finished the game with 138 yards passing but he took over the game with his legs rushing for three touchdowns on nine carries for 29 yards. He became the first quarterback to rush for three touchdowns in a Rose Bowl since Vince Young in 2006. 

Some of the national media even took notice of his play.

On the other side of the football, Breeze was the easy choice for the Defensive MVP award. He finished the game with nine tackles, a pass breakup, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. 

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

No. 7 Oregon has the opportunity to clinch its third Pac-12 North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship with a win over Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Autzen Stadium.

Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) will look to avenge last season’s loss at Arizona and extend this season’s undefeated streak in conference play and at home (5-0).

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal released the depth chart ahead of the game and there are three notable changes:

1. Graduate-transfer Juwan Johnson is co-starter with redshirt freshman Bryan Addison at “Z” wide receiver position. Expect an increased role for Johnson after back-to-back clutch performances.

“Coming off some injuries, Juwan is a guy that I knew would step up big,” quarterback Justin Herbert said after Oregon’s win at USC. “I don’t think the public has seen his best yet. We knew all along he would be a special player.”

2. At tight end, true freshman Patrick Herbert is listed as co-backup (with Spencer Webb) to senior Ryan Bay. Patrick Herbert has played in two games this season but has yet to catch a pass.

3. Junior Brady Breeze will start at boundary safety. Junior Nick Pickett was called for targeting in the second half against USC and will be out for the first half against Arizona. Regardless of Pickett's status, Breeze "has certainly earned the right to be on the field more," Cristobal said.


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Oregonian Brady Breeze earning title as a momentum changer

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Oregonian Brady Breeze earning title as a momentum changer

Oregonian Brady Breeze earning title as a momentum changer

Brady Breeze is one of the best Ducks to interview after a game. Reporters huddle around the junior who wears a huge smile and leaves an easy-breezy impression. The safety keeps it real and produces some of the best story-leading quotes.

On the senior linebacker Troy Dye’s infamous dance to “Shout” during Oregon’s home opener and domination of Nevada:

"He was just having fun, today was a day to have fun,” Breeze said after the victory. “Sometimes when you are playing football, you are so focused on making a call or the next play, that you don’t enjoy that you are playing in front of thousands of people and living your dream."

The Central Catholic High School standout referenced the 1994 ‘Gang Green’ Ducks following Oregon’s 45-3 whooping of Colorado:

“We’re rocking and rolling right now," Breeze said. "We’ve still got to get better… We’re trying to be Gang Green 2.0. That’s what we talk about. I’m excited to see what we can do with this defense."

The Medford, Oregon-native has been dreaming about starting for Oregon since he was a kid, looking up to the play of former Duck John Boyett. Due to a second half targeting call on Nick Pickett at USC, Breeze is set to make his first collegiate start against Arizona. Regardless of Pickett's status, Breeze "has certainly earned the right to be on the field more," Cristobal said.

“This is my fourth season at Oregon, and I’ve never started a game," Breeze said. "It’s been a little frustrating, but it’s alright… That’s something I can check off my bucket list. But I can’t really focus too much on that. We’ve got to focus on Arizona because they’ve got a good quarterback and a good team."

Yes, he talks the talk. He’s also walking the walk.

Breeze earned Pac-12 defensive player of the week after leading the No. 7 Ducks with a career-high seven tackles in Oregon’s win at USC. He provided momentum-changing plays in the chippy game including a pick-six and a fumble recovery. Breeze made the type of hustle plays that opened Cristobal’s eyes a little wider.

"Brady played a great game. You want to talk about making big-time plays, he did and he changed the momentum of the game,” Cristobal said. “It speaks volumes for him. He’s certainly earned the right to be on the field more so we got to make sure we make that happen.”

Working with the first team defense, the opportunity for Breeze to continue to swing the momentum is clear. Oregon will face Arizona in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Five Ducks that must rise if UO is to contend

Five Ducks that must rise if UO is to contend

Oregon began fall camp on Friday with a team that should win eight games without breathing hard this season providing that quarterback Justin Herbert remains healthy. 

The Ducks went 7-6 last season with Herbert missing five games (1-4) and this team should at least be as good. Plus, the Ducks' non-conference schedule is a joke. Home games against Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State (the trio combined for four wins a year ago) will go down as one of the least interesting three-game stretches in terms of competitiveness in program history. 

Assuming Oregon wins all three - if UO doesn't then everyone on staff should be fired and every player should lose his scholarship (half joking) - all the Ducks would have to do is win four out of nine Pac-12 Conference games to reach seven victories.

That shouldn't be a problem. The trick will be winning seven conference games to reach 10 wins and potentially contend for the North Division title. Washington is the real deal and will be a tough challenge for Oregon. So will Stanford. Fortunately, both matchups will occur at Autzen Stadium where anything can happen, especially if UO develops in certain areas that appear to be question marks at the moment. 

Here are five players that must deliver at a high level in order for the Ducks to contend:

1. Running back Tony Brooks-James must be a true No. 1 back: Oregon ranked second in the conference in rushing last season with running back Royce Freeman finishing third at 1,475 yards. He is now with the Denver Broncos leaving Oregon scrambling to identify a lead back. 

That man should be Brooks-James, a redshirt senior who has bided his time while waiting for his shot. He has amassed 1,557 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns during his career. Should he put up similar numbers this season, the Ducks would be in business.

But Cristobal on Thursday stopped short of making it clear that Brooks-James is the unchallenged lead running back while also praising the work he has put in to win the position. 

"I see a lot of competitiveness (at that position)," he said. "It starts with what TBJ has done with his game. He's really elevated his game. Not only as a ballcarrier but as a blocker, as a physical presence."

Cristobal said Brooks-James has bulked up about 12 pounds. He was listed at 180 last year. Increased size to go along with Brooks-James' blazing speed certainly makes for a featured back. Brooks-James is also operating as a leader. 

"I think that when you combine all of these factors and TBJ's want-to, and the realization that this is his senior year, he has created a better running back room," Cristobal said. 

Still, competition is thick, according to Cristobal. Redshirt freshman C.J. Verdell has opened eyes with his all-around abilities. Sophomore Darrian Felix played last season. Senior Taj Griffin is back at running back after spending some time at receiver last season. In the end, it doesn't really matter how Oregon gets back over the 3,000 yard rushing mark. It could be five players each rushing for 700 yards. That said, having that veteran guy lead the way would create stability at the position and give the running game a true identity.  That guy should be Brooks-James. 

2. Deommodore Lenoir must be as good as Thomas Graham Jr. was last season: Oregon is searching for two starting defensive backs after the departure of safety Tyree Robinson and cornerback Arrion Springs. Oregon has several options at safety opposite senior Ugochukwu Amadi. Sophomore Nick Pickett made starts last season, as did redshirt senior Mattrell McGraw. Redshirt sophomore Brady Breeze could become a star. Cornerback is a bit thinner making Lenoir's development imperative. 

A highly-touted recruit last year, Lenoir earned playing time as a true freshman but now as a sophomore must at least perform as well as Graham did last year as a true freshman. Graham took his lumps at times but for the most part took to big time college football relatively easy thanks to his physical gifts and mental approach to the game. 

Lenoir, as a sophomore, must do the same. However, UO does have other potential options. Freshman Verone McKinley III is a four-star recruit who enrolled early and reportedly had a strong spring. Junior college transfer Haki Woods Jr. could also challenge. 

3. Wide receiver Johnny Johnson III must become more consistent: The sophomore made some spectacular plays last season as a true freshman and certainly looked like a future star. He started 10 games and played in all 13. However, he caught just 21 passes for 299 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers must go up by at least 150 percent. 

No. 1 receiver Dillon Mitchell, proven tight end Jacob Breeland and graduate transfer Tabari Hines (nursing a few weeks with a knee injury) will give the team three strong targets. But that's not enough.

[RELATED: Ducks transfer WR Tabari Hines missed start of all camp with knee injury]

The Ducks will need Johnson to ball out to the tune of at least 600 yards and five touchdowns. If Herbert has four viable receiving threats and a strong running game to work with, the Ducks would be able to put up massive offensive numbers on just about anyone, including Washington and Stanford. 

But if the targets are limited and remain green, Oregon would be much easier to defend, limiting its chances of winning the Pac-12. 

4. Linebacker La'Mar Winston must pick up where he left off in 2017: Watch out for Mr. Winston. 

He played in all 13 games last season while making seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

Give Winston a full season as a starter and he could flirt with 80 tackles with 12 for loss. He is that talented. 

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollis. Should Winston become a regular impact player, the Ducks would have one of its more talented group of linebackers in history. Yes. In. History. 

The fourth linebacker remains a question mark, but three beasts out of four would get the job done at a championship-caliber level.

5. Kicker Adam Stack must be lights out: The kicker position might not make for a sexy topic, but when the game is on the line and a team trots out its kicker and asks him to win the game that guy had better be as mentally tough and as skilled as any other player on the roster.

Stack struggled as a punter last season (his 38.4 yard average ranked 10th in the Pac-12), but now he slides over to kicker to replace Aidan Schneider. 

If Oregon is going to sneak up on the top teams in the conference the Ducks will likely have to win some close games. That will likely require Stack to make some big field goals in pressure situations. 

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 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 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.