The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.
We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles over the next month, and we’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. Monday, we examined the offensive line. We jump over to the other side of the ball on Tuesday to see how the defensive backs must improve in 2014.
No. 4: Safety
2013 review: The defense was solid in 2013. It gave up 370 yards per game (No. 37 in the country, No. 3 in the Pac-12). And, like the 2012 defense, the 2013 defense was one that kept opponents to about three touchdowns a game -- the Ducks held teams to 20.5 points per game (No. 13 in the nation, No. 2 in the Pac-12). This past season the Ducks returned a talented and experienced secondary that recorded Pac-12 bests in passing yards allowed per game (205) and yards per attempt (5.5). The Ducks tallied 17 interceptions to their 15 allowed passing touchdowns, while leading the nation in pass completions that gained 10-plus yards (34.3 percent). The national average was 46.5 percent; the closest Pac 12 team was Stanford (38.1 percent).
Why they must improve: Oregon needs replacements at both safety spots this spring as it lost both Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson to graduation. Patterson finished as the No. 3 tackler on the team in 2013 with 80 stops. He recorded three interceptions, six pass breakups and nine passes defended. Jackson tallied 71 total tackles, three pass breakups and three passes defended. Going into the spring, it looks as though Issac Dixon (10 tackles) and Erick Dargan (24 tackles, four pass breakups, five passes defended) will be the front runners for the jobs. While their experience last season will help them, they’ll need to make major strides so the defense can continue to be elite. Tyree Robinson is another name that could figure in to the equation. He redshirted last season but was one of Oregon’s top recruits in the 2013 class (was classified as a wide receiver by ESPN.com). So between Dixon and Dargan, they’ll have some experience at safety, and the competition provided by Robinson and a few other younger players should push along the development of everyone.
No. 5: offensive line