By Rob Moseley
Venue: Autzen Stadium
Today’s walk-through for the Ducks, two days prior to facing Utah in Autzen Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday, featured ample time devoted to special teams. That meant ample work for safety Erick Dargan, who has excelled in the kicking game more than any other UO player so far this season.
Dargan, a junior from Pittsburg, Calif., is Oregon’s current leader in the points system coaches use to designate their special teams player of the year. He’s also the rare Duck who starts on all four of the primary special teams units – kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return.
Along with leading the season points race, Dargan is a regular winner of weekly awards for the best hit, best effort and best play on special teams.
“He gets something different every week,” coordinator Tom Osborne said. “He’s playing really well.”
Osborne calls Dargan a “game-plan guy,” someone so capable that coaches will tweak his specific responsibilities each week to account for something the upcoming opponent does. Also, Dargan is “the most improved player on our entire team in special teams,” Osborne said.
That, Dargan explained, comes down to one thing: competitiveness. A year ago, he finished close behind linebacker Derrick Malone for the lead in special teams points. This year, his primary competition is cornerback Troy Hill, whom Dargan passed a few weeks ago for the lead.
“Every week we’re competing to see who’s going to lead it, who’s going to come out ahead in the end,” Dargan said.
Dargan said he’s most proud of his blocks for Bralon Addison’s punt return touchdowns against Cal, and for another on a kickoff return at Stanford last week. Those plays illustrate Dargan’s development as a special teams force. Last season he played mostly on the kickoff and punt coverage teams, which use his natural seek-and-destory skills at safety; this season, he’s expanded his role to also help as a blocker for returns by the Ducks.
“We needed veterans in certain spots, people who knew what they were doing,” Dargan said. “I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Other observations: No highlights today, since this was a walk-through. … A Florida youth named Anthony Burgess attended practice through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was called up in front of the team for the post-practice huddle, and Keanon Lowe presented him with a helmet that all of the players proceeded to autograph. … Mark Helfrich did his best Dana Altman impression at one point, exhorting members of the kickoff team to, “bend your knees, bend your knees, bend your knees!”