Top players to watch this spring: No. 5

The first day of Oregon’s spring practices is April 1 (no, we aren’t fooling you), which means we’ve got about three weeks until the Ducks take the field again. Last week we counted down the top-five Oregon recruiting classes, and this week we’re taking a look at the top-five players to keep track of during spring ball.

No. 5: S Erick Dargan

2013 statistics: 24 tackles | 1 INT | 4 PBU | 5 PD | 1 FF

Why to watch him: Last season Oregon featured the best defense against the pass in the Pac-12, allowing just 204.5 passing yards per game. But the Ducks can’t miss a beat in 2014, as they’ll face plenty of talented signal-callers -- Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Washington State’s Connor Halliday, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Colorado’s Sefo Liufau and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.

Because of the talent level they will face, the defensive backs need to be stout. And while the Ducks will be looking to replace three starters in their secondary, the guy to really keep an eye on will be Dargan.

He will step in for his former high school teammate Avery Patterson, who didn’t exactly leave small shoes to fill. Patterson was the Ducks’ third-leading tackler last season (80). He tallied three interceptions, nine passes defended and six pass break-ups.

Over the past three seasons, Dargan has seen time on special teams and as a backup defensive back, but every year his contributions have been more significant. His previous experience will certainly help him transition into a more primary player for the Ducks, but his game must continue to make strides, as he’ll be counted on to help cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu lead the defensive backs.

With Don Pellum being promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, the defense is expected to run from the middle, and in that regard, the free safety can be used in numerous ways. At 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, Dargan is big enough that he’ll be able to take down running backs and also quick enough to stick with receivers on the long ball. Pellum should be able to utilize him well.

So with the expectations set and the opportunity in front of him, Dargan will be a player to keep an eye on this spring as he tries to secure himself a starting role in the secondary.