Oregon Ducks: issac dixon

Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.

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.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Don RyanErick Dargan was productive in a backup role at safety in 2013.
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.

The countdown:

Oregon recruiting by state: Florida 

November, 14, 2012
Donovin Darius, Leon McQuayJenny Zimmerman/ESPN.comLeon McQuay III from Seffner, Fla., is considering Oregon.

If 10 years ago someone read the words, "Oregon signs ESPN 150 athlete from Florida," morning coffee would have been spit out. It would be hard enough to imagine a small school -- with no tradition -- from the rainy Pacific Northwest signing anyone from the Sunshine State, let alone an ESPN 150 member.

While it was only one, the Ducks did just that in 2011 when Tacoi Sumler signed with the Ducks over schools such as Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and South Carolina. Looking back at the past decade of Oregon's recruiting in Florida, there have been two big recruits to sign with the Ducks, but neither finished their careers in Eugene. When the Ducks landed Ryan Gilliam of Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln -- a Florida State pipeline school -- after he was originally committed to the local Seminoles, people were amazed that they pulled it off.
LaMichael JamesMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireLaMichael James was overlooked when Oregon recruited him out of Texas in 2008. He ended up his career as the Ducks' leading rusher.
As Oregon has become a national name over the past decade, its recruiting reach has expanded to never before seen levels.

The Ducks will always have California as their most fertile recruiting ground and the place from which the foundation of the program is built. But as the Ducks have become a more recognizable brand in recent years, they have been able to attract the attention of recruits from far and wide.

Here is a look at what the Ducks have been able to accomplish over the past decade when recruiting the Central and Eastern time zones. There have been some major hits, some hidden gems and also some big disappointments.

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Virtually everything about Oregon football is unique.

Oregon offers a lot of benefits for prospective athletes, but location is not one of them. The Ducks are way down the list when it comes to ideal college destinations.

During their rise to prominence under Chip Kelly, the Ducks have done things at their own pace.

Texas used to be the only school that would fill its class before spring ball started. Now you can find a number of programs doing the same thing. The Ducks look like they will enter the season with just eight commits. One of the biggest reasons is their location.

More kids are committing before their senior seasons even begin after making unofficial visits to their favorite schools.

For schools like Oregon, this can be looked at as a major negative while trying to keep up with the top programs. For the most part, Oregon has as a rule that a prospect must visit the campus before their commitment will be recognized.

It could stem from past decommitments or the program's recognition that not everyone is cut out for a Northwest college town. Whatever it is, Kelly is adamant about having a prospect on campus before accepting his pledge.

The problem is that Oregon doesn't have a specific region it recruits. The Ducks are a national program tucked away in the Northwest. California will always be the Ducks' most fertile recruiting ground, but even kids from California struggle to make it to campus before official visits are allowed.

The way the Ducks recruit under Kelly is very unique. For a school in the northwest with little local talent to choose from, one might think the Ducks would throw offers out to prospects nationwide and accept any commitment.

However, if a prospect from Florida wants to commit before he can take an official visit, he must pay his own way to campus before his senior season.

Recruiting has changed so much that unofficial visits have become nearly as important as official visits. Coaches and players often have more time to spend with a recruit during an unofficial visit.

For a school like Oregon, it is often either a deal-maker or a deal-breaker.

If a prospect visits Oregon from across the country on his own dime, it usually means the interest is more than sincere. In recent years, that interest has turned into a commitment quite a few times.

In 2010, the Ducks signed three prospects from across the country, due in large part to their ability to visit the campus over the summer.

Dior Mathis from Michigan, James Scales from North Carolina and Issac Dixon from Florida each made it out to Oregon before their senior seasons had begun. All three followed up with official visits and eventually signed with the Ducks.

Hosting a prospect on a game weekend in the fall is the ultimate goal, especially somewhere that comes alive on Saturdays in the fall like Oregon does.

Oregon is faced with a new challenge as its location makes it difficult to get kids on campus on a regular basis. Schools in California, the South and the East Coast are able to host kids throughout the year as their campuses are accessible to a large number of elite prospects.

Oregon will never have the benefit of having 50+ prospects within a few hour drive. It will continue to try and get kids on campus in the spring or summer, while counting on official visits as its primary selling point.

What has always been viewed as a unique program will continue to be in a very unique situation when it comes to the shifting trends in recruiting.

Usually the trendsetter, the Ducks need to find a way to keep up with this trend or risk being left behind.
Oregon has been on a recruiting tear in recent years. The recent success of the Ducks has produced the golden age of Oregon football.

The Ducks have always done a masterful job of finding diamonds in the rough and developing talent that was overlooked coming out of high school. In recent years the Ducks have been able to stockpile high-level recruits and develop them the same way they would an obscure walk-on.

A lot was made of Oregon's shift in recruiting philosophy when Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti in 2009. Bellotti built the program up from where longtime coach Rich Brooks had left it. Kelly has taken it to a whole new level.

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Oregon kicks off camp on Monday 

August, 5, 2012
Kenjon Barner Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesKenjon Barner should get the majority of carries in the backfield this season.
The defending league champion Oregon Ducks kick off their quest for a Pac-12 four-peat when fall camp kicks off on Monday. The Ducks won the last two Pac-10 titles and the inaugural Pac-12 title; now they want to be the first back-to-back Pac-12 champions.

When fall camp kicks off there will be many familiar faces and also some notable players missing.

Gone are record-setting quarterback Darron Thomas, all-time leading rusher LaMichael James, team MVP David Paulson, the team's most improved player, Eddie Pleasant, and Rose Bowl Offensive MVP LaVasier Tuinei. How will they replace the departed stars? Who will step up? Is a fourth consecutive league title possible?

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