EUGENE -- Last season the Oregon secondary was one of the best in the country. In a conference known for their high caliber quarterbacks, the Ducks only allowed opposing signal callers to pass for a conference best, 204 yards per game. Starting cornerback Terrence Mitchell decided to skip his senior season and pursue his dreams of playing in the National Football League. The man starting on the opposite side of the field, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, wanted to come back and hone his craft.
This fall Ekpre-Olomu will add punt returner to his already astounding resume, which includes two-time first-team Pac-12 all-conference selection and first-team All-American. The coaching staff at Oregon isn't worried about the risk of Ekpre-Olomu getting injured while returning kicks.
"We've been blessed that we've had great returners for a long time," said defensive coordinator Don Pellum. "I hope that when he's back there, particularly in punt returns, that the defensive guys block for him and he goes all the way."
Another cornerback that is poised to have a breakout season is senior Troy Hill. Pellum described Hill as one of the most improved players among the team at the beginning of fall camp. Hill is set to start with Ekpre-Olomu against South Dakota this Saturday.
The free safety starting job is still yet to be determined, but Pellum thinks the competition between Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson is what Oregon needs. "We're going to need both those guys," Pellum said. "From the coaching standpoint, we need two guys who can go in and know everything that we put in."
The expectations for the Oregon defense are to fly to the ball and tackle. It is their first game of the season and it isn't uncommon to see missed tackles and mental mistakes that lead to penalties. Pellum knows what his team needs to focus on.
"It's real important this first game that we focus on leverage, tackles, and fundamentals. Get our foot down and then we can start to progress our defense."
Oregon's defense is due for their first test this Saturday when they will face returning starting quarterback Kevin Earl and the Coyotes.