With the issues and eventual dismissal of Cliff Harris, the Ducks rotated three freshmen at cornerback in 2011. Terrance Mitchell, Ifo-Ekpre Olomu and Troy Hill all learned on the fly but showed great promise. Mitchell seemingly has one starting spot locked up while Hill and Ekpre-Olomu are battling for the starting spot on the other side of the field.
Even more highly contested has been the competition for the starting job at the "rover" position. The departure of Eddie Pleasant left juniors Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson battling each other while trying to hold off sophomore Erick Dargan. All three are more than capable of starting and all will see significant action this year.
After Monday's practice, Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal announced that Jackson has done enough to earn the start.
Neal talked about Jackson's progression as a player when he credited Jackson for "playing better than he ever has."
According to Neal, Jackson has always been a "steady, dependable guy," who has taken his game to the next level. Under Neal's direction, Pleasant evolved from someone struggling to find the right position to a first-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2011.
Neal sees much of the same in Jackson, a junior from Hoover High School in Alabama.
No longer just a "dependable guy," Neal says Jackson is now "excelling at the position," which is what he has been looking for from the three candidates throughout the spring and summer.
"He's a guy that can help us win games we need to win," Neal said.
Along with Pleasant, Patterson emerged as one of the team's most improved players as a sophomore. Patterson has the speed, coverage ability and tackling ability to rotate throughout the defensive backfield, giving Neal and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti another weapon to throw at opposing offenses. The junior will likely see a similar role to last season, when he was the extra corner in most of the Ducks' nickel packages.
Dargan, who played alongside Patterson at Pittsburg High School in Northern California, will see plenty of action as he has impressed coaches and teammates alike throughout the offseason with his work ethic and ball-hawking abilities. Dargan will be in the hunt for a starting spot again in 2013 as the Ducks will need to replace free safety John Boyett.
With Oregon loaded at defensive line and linebacker, the deep and talented secondary should have plenty of opportunities to make plays this fall. Jackson might have earned the starting job, but Patterson and Dargan will be given plenty of chances to show they are more than capable of being the starter.
The way the Oregon secondary coach sees it, that's fine by him.