People worry about the undersized linebackers and the loss of Alonso and Clay. Where are all the tackles going to come from, with Boyett, Jordan, and the inside linebackers graduated?
Chip's favorite brand of salsa: Erick Dargan scoots up the sideline with a fourth quarter interception of Collin Klein in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl victory, one of two he had in the game, this one returned 33 yards. Dargan ranged over the top, reading the quarterback's eyes, a great safety play. (Travis Heying/ Wichita Eagle/ MCT photo)
One thing to remember is that the Oregon secondary forces and closes against the run extremely well. They're all hitters, playing with a lot of physicality. Terrance Mitchell is 6-0, 189. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, 5-10, 185. Brian Jackson, 5-10, 197. Avery Patterson 5-10, 189. Among the reserves, Reggie Daniels is 6-1, 208, Tyree Robinson 6-4, 200, Isaac Dixon 5-11, 193.
Only Troy Hill is really small, but even he is a pound-for-pound hitter. They can all tackle and pursue. Rob Moseley reported Thursday that coaches are experimenting with decathlete Oshay Dunmore at outside linebacker, currently 6-2, 207 with a frame to grow.
Junior Erick Dargan, the 5-11, 212-pound free safety, is the biggest and among the most physical of all of them.
Oregon's biggest safety is a study in persistence. Players who are bummed today about redshirting ought to sit down and have a customized nutrition shake with him. He tore his MCL his senior year of high school and missed half the season. He chose the Ducks over UCLA, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, a 4-star safety who ran for 7.8 yards a carry as a tailback, a good athlete who was 3rd team All-East Bay in basketball AFTER rehabbing the knee.
He came to Oregon and immediately redshirted, twice Scout Team Player of the Week. As a redshirt freshman in 2011 he travelled as a special teams player, played in nine games, had four tackles in a blowout road win against Colorado, forced a fumble, broke up a pass and had two tackles in 56-31 win against Arizona. He made the travel squad but never started. He got a Rose Bowl ring but didn't play at Pasadena. It was an okay first year.
In 2012 Dargan started the season as a fourth team safety. Then John Boyett went down after game one. John Boyett, the enforcer, with 278 career tackles, 17 against the Badgers, the inspirational leader of the defense who lived in the weight room and film room. Most teams would have caved.
Instead, Avery Patterson stepped in and picked off passes in three straight games, returning two for touchdowns. And Dargan, like Patterson a former Pittsburg, CA Pirate, the same school attended by Nick Aliotti and his brother Joe, was starting to get more meaningful minutes. He had five tackles in each of the tuneup games, Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, Fresno State. That was fine, but he added five more against USC, Stanford and Cal. He nabbed an interception against Arizona State, recovered a fumble against Ark State. Having a decent year as a redshirt sophomore, getting more active.
Then in the Cal game, Patterson went down with a torn ACL and Dargan became the starter. He stepped in front of passes in three straight games to end the season, erupting for 8 tackles and two picks in the Fiesta Bowl, the best game of his career on the biggest stage.
The former Pirate swashbuckled his way to 54 tackles, 4 for loss, 5 ints, 7 pass breakups and 2 fumble recoveries. Now a junior, he's a mainstay in what may be the deepest, best secondary in the country. The five interceptions led the team, and he's third among returning tacklers behind Ifo and Jackson.
In Oregon's system, it matters way less who starts. The Ducks employ 22-26 players a game on defense, average 120 reps a day in practice, won 12 of their games by three scores or more. Patterson, Dargan and Brian Jackson are 1A, B and C at safety, and when the Ducks go nickle or dime, they'll often be on the field at the same time, swooping like redtailed hawks in the passing lanes, forcing on the run like three-quarter-sized linebackers.
Dargan is fierce. He sat out spring practice with a shoulder injury but was his normal terrifying self in fall camp. Thursday he intercepted a tipped ball in the final scrimmage.
He doesn't say much. He's not much of an interview, not funny like Rahim Cassell or Yruretagoyena and Johnstone. He's serious, matter-of-fact. But Erick brings it on the field, all business. He's part of the reason why the 2013 defense will be a nasty, opportunistic, relentless turnover machine.
With the new targeting rules he'll have to be a little more careful about leading with his helmet, and more disciplined as contact reaches the sideline, but his intensity and persistence are going to make him a very good player. Nfldraftscout.com currently ranks him 9th among 135 junior strong safeties.
Admittedly, I have been a Dargan skeptic for quite a while. I thought he was slow to the ball, a bit overly aggressive in unnecessary situations and at times a detriment. He really showed me something last season and I have a new respect for him. I'm always glad to see myself be proven wrong in cases like this.
Next man up kept Oregon dominant all season. Lots of depth. Dargan could start for almost any team in the nation and I really did not learn about him until last year.
Your article "Destiny Turns on the Radio" was really excellent. Apparently you did not want comments and that is fine, this is your blog.
@goducks58 Both Dargan and Coleman have to learn to channel their aggressiveness and continue to improve their recognition and reaction to become great players. Each of them has great raw material and the requisite baseline desire. More Michael Clay and John Boyett, less Vontaze Burfict.
@SonomaDuck And you're right about Dargan.
@SonomaDuck SD, comments are always welcome. If the Livefyre software was giving you trouble I apologize. I haven't censored or limited comments in the history of the blog, and won't unless someone becomes abusive to other posters. Although there was a troll from LSU who became particularly obnoxious in 2011.
@Duckbill If Coleman and Dargan are All-League players, this defense will be monstrous.