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At safety this spring, something old and something new
Release Date: 04/02/2014
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By Rob Moseley

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Helmets, jerseys and shorts

When the Oregon football team walked off the practice field at the end of today’s second practice of spring drills, defensive players had a helmet in each hand. They carried extra equipment off the field, after carrying play during a scored third-down drill to end the workout.

The victory was won in no small part due to the efforts of safety Erick Dargan. The fifth-year senior, playing with the first-string following the graduation of Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson, intercepted a pass that Johnny Mundt couldn’t haul in and returned it for a touchdown. Later, outside linebacker Oshay Dunmore stripped Byron Marshall at the end of a run, and Dargan scooped up the fumble for another turnover.

“I’m just competing, no matter if it’s on special teams or at safety,” said Dargan, who had 24 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 11 games last season. “Trying to take advantage of my opportunity to be in a starting role at this moment. I’ve really got to take advantage of it and keep improving every day.”

In the absence of Jackson and Patterson at the safety spots, the Ducks are going with something old and something new to open this spring. Playing alongside Dargan, a senior with 33 career appearances, is Tyree Robinson, a redshirt freshman with zero.

Robinson is one of three new faces with the first-string, through two spring practices. But he has the luxury of playing with three seniors – senior Dior Mathis has replaced Terrance Mitchell so far, joining senior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at the cornerback spots.

“They make it easy for me,” said Robinson, a lanky ballhawk who isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the fray against the run. “The more I’m out here, the more I get an understanding of the defense.”

Robinson was one of the stars of Oregon’s scout-team defense in 2013, and so is getting his first extended on-field taste of the Ducks’ own schemes since last August. He figures to be pushed by the likes of Issac Dixon and Reggie Daniels as the offseason progresses, but so far seems to be holding his own.

“I didn’t think I’d be in there this fast, but I knew I had an opportunity,” Robinson said. “Coach (John Neal) always told me, as long as I’m working hard and showing I can finish and able to make plays, I’m going to be OK.”

Dargan said Robinson “is looking more like a veteran as he gets comfortable.”

“To be a redshirt freshman, he’s doing some great things and making plays,” Dargan said.

Dargan’s 2013 season was cut short by suspension for the final two games. Rather than go into a funk, he was one of the Ducks’ best scout-team players in the month before the Alamo Bowl, and people around the program say he’s taken on a new level of accountability since, both for himself and younger players who look to him as a leader.

“He responded exactly how you would have wanted for somebody in that situation,” UO coach Mark Helfrich said. “Owning up, and getting himself and everyone else better.”

“Once you make a mistake, you’ve got to own up to it,” Dargan said. “That’s the first thing you’ve got to do. Coach Helfrich did a good job explaining to me, it’s not over. Just turn your negative into a positive. Once he said that, it triggered something in me, and that’s what I set out to do.”

Highlights: Mathis, one of the standouts Tuesday, was at it again today, intercepting a pass on the first rep I watched this morning. We caught up for a quick video interview afterward. … Derrick Malone blanketed Thomas Tyner to break up a pass in the first 7-on-7 period of the day, and the linebacker intercepted a ball in a later 7-on-7 session. …

As is typically the case, the defense seems a little ahead of the offense at this point. That said, the offense made a few more plays today than Tuesday. Keanon Lowe had a diving reception with Jeff Lockie throwing on the run, and Bralon Addison leaped for a ball at the sideline and got a foot down inbounds on a pass when Damion Hobbs was rolling out. Lockie was again behind center and rolling out later in the day when he directed Tyner to turn and get upfield, with Lockie then lofting a ball just over a defender that Tyner made an over-the-shoulder catch on. …

Other highlights from the third-down period included a couple of Marcus Mariota runs; a leaping catch by B.J. Kelley of a Jake Rodrigues bullet; Tyner breaking free for a long run; and Troy Hill setting the edge to force a run play inside, where Malone made the stop.

Other observations: The intensity picked up a bit today, with a little more jawing between players, a little more ‘rasslin after the snap. Pads go on Friday, so that should be yet another step up. … At this time of year it’s fun to see development from new faces, which is probably the top priority. Early on, offensive GA Joe Bernardi was drilling linemen, and prior to one snap asked JC transfer Haniteli Lousi, “What’s the call?” Lousi, on just his second day with the team, responded correctly, and Bernardi said, “Good! Attababy.” Later, receiver Darren Carrington ran a route, turned back as the play was ending on the other side of the field and was already looking for the next signal, the sort of attentiveness required for Oregon to run its offense uptempo. …

Dunmore’s late forced fumble capped a day on which he took a few reps here and there with the first unit. … Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Evan Voeller put a couple defenders on their backs over the course of the morning. … Marshall looked very quick this morning. … Juwaan Williams, who played primarily corner while redshirting last season, has spent quite a bit of time at safety the last two days.

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