Haki Woods

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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