Oregon safety Brenden Schooler is recovering from injury this offseason, but that shouldn’t slow down his upcoming sophomore campaign. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has big plans for the California kid.
We are just 40 days away from Oregon’s first game against Southern Utah on Saturday, September 2 from Autzen Stadium. What better time to begin my football-centric coverage and content at ATQ?
For the next 40 days and 40 nights, I will be breaking down the UO football team from all angles. First up, I’ll be projecting the defensive and offensive starters for Willie Taggart’s 2017-18 team.
Let’s start with the Pepsi-loving Jim Leavitt and his young, athletic defense:
STARTING SAFETY, BRENDEN SCHOOLER
Last season, Schooler transitioned from a high school senior to a freshman starting safety for his college team. During his learning experience on the field, we saw moments of greatness from No. 43.
The Dana Point product finished third on the team in tackles (74). He appeared in all 12 Duck games last season, including starting 10 of them. He led the team in interceptions with four. Schooler finished inside the national Top 10 for tackles by true freshmen.
His signature performance came against Cal when he made 11 tackles. Additionally, Schooler intercepted USC quarterback Sam Darnold for his team-leading fourth interception of the 2016-17 season. He and Darnold were rivals in high school.
Nothing will hold him back. Once Schooler recovers, the Oregon secondary only stands to benefit. The Duck safety told Oregon Live that the waiting is definitely the hardest part of his injury.
“It's absolutely killing me not to be out there with my boys,” said Schooler. “But I have to take care of myself. If I come back too early and hurt it again I'll be out even longer. I want to be out there so bad.”
Insert former Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and you have a recipe for success. Leavitt loves building his secondary from the ground up. Of course, every secondary begins and ends with a sterling safety that controls everyone.
More importantly, Leavitt transferred his pre-snap signal caller from the linebacker unit to the group of safeties. This means Schooler will have great responsibility, alongside making sure his teammates are in the right place at all times.
Most championship teams are led by a game-changing linebacker or safety. Take a look at Leavitt’s Buffs’ last season. The Ducks will be no different with an array of young talent, namely at linebacker and defensive back. In 2016-17, Leavitt’s secondary finished as one of the best in the nation. Personally, they were my favorite to watch.
Without question, Clemson transfer Scott Pagano will create havoc up front. This will open opportunities for Schooler and his teammates to make plays in the secondary. Yet, it’s the sophomore safety who will benefit most.
In my opinion, the safety position is the head of the snake for a defense. The elite defenses all have great safeties. Schooler has the desire and talent to be special. He is a high character person on and off the field.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Schooler is in for a big campaign. The sophomore will emerge into a leader, registering 68 tackles for the year, enough for third-best on the team. He will deflect 10 passes, intercept three balls, force two fumbles, record one sack and a blocked field goal.