Season In Review: Secondary
Reviewing Oregon's 2020 season and looking ahead to spring drills.
BC: Deommodore Lenoir, Sr.; DJ James, So.; Jordan Adeyemi-John, So.; Trikweze Bridges, RFr.
BS: Nick Pickett, Sr.; Steve Stephens IV, So.; Lucas Noland, So.; Marko Vidackovic, Fr.
FS: Verone McKinley III, So.; Jordan Happle, Sr.; JJ Greenfield, Fr.; Max Wysocki, RFr.
Nickel: Jamal Hill, So.; Bennett Williams, Jr.; Dontae Manning, Fr.
FC: Mykael Wright, So.; Daewood Davis, Jr.; Bryan Addison, So.; JR Waters, RFr.
Starters: The COVID-19 pandemic upended what was set up to be an enormously experienced Oregon secondary in 2020. Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., nickel Jevon Holland and safety Brady Breeze all opted out of the abbreviated season, and initially Deommodore Lenoir did as well. Thankfully Lenoir opted back in when a fall schedule was finalized, and he went on to record 30 tackles in seven games and earn second-team all-Pac-12 honors. Lenoir's interception early in the Pac-12 title game set the tone for Oregon's win over USC.
Another four-year contributor, Nick Pickett, brought his hard-hitting presence to the boundary safety position, and Pickett finished with 34 tackles. Mykael Wright took over for Graham at the field corner position and led the Pac-12 with nine pass breakups, and Jamal Hill stepped into the nickel role for Holland, making his presence felt most notably with two interceptions in the title game win over USC. The leader of the secondary, both in production and vocally on the field, was sophomore Verone McKinley III. He had 41 tackles on the year and demonstrated maturity both in his development on the field and in the way he represented the team with media after both wins and losses.
Reserves: The Ducks enjoyed stability at corner, although DJ James got some chances to rotate in over the course of the season. All good players make a jump at some point from putting themselves in position to make plays, to actually finishing off pass breakups and forced turnovers and such, and James showed signs of making that jump in 2020. James was the only backup corner to play extensively; Daewood Davis played in the season opener but that ended up being his only appearance, and he opted to transfer after the season.
Elite recruit Dontae Manning also was limited to just one appearance on the year. Jordan Adeyemi-John was in the two-deep late in the year, but he appeared only in the four November games and opted to graduate after the season. Because of an accumulation of depth issues at corner, receivers JR Waters and Bryan Addison moved over from receiver to practice on defense late in the season.
The starting safety spots were a little more volatile due to some early suspensions owing to targeting penalties, and some injuries. Transfer Jordan Happle parlayed his experience as a graduate transfer into 28 tackles, plus an enormously important pick-six in Oregon's win over UCLA. Bennett Williams and Steve Stephens IV also each got a shot at a starting assignment over the course of the season. JJ Greenfield made appearances in six games, and Lucas Noland joined linebackers Nate Heaukulani and Nick Wiebe in making the jump from the developmental squad into roles with the travel squad, most notably on the kickoff return unit.
Developmental squad: The mainstays with the scout-team defense included Noland, cornerback Trikweze Bridges and safeties Max Wysocki and Marko Vidackovic. There was trickle-down owing to some of the depth issues that cropped up with the travel squad over the course of the season, and so quarterback Cale Millen was among the Ducks who helped provide reps in the secondary for the scout-team defense.
BC: DJ James, So.; Dontae Manning, Fr.; Trikweze Bridges, RFr.
BS: Steve Stephens IV, So.; Lucas Noland, So.; Marko Vidackovic, Fr.; Jeffrey Bassa, Fr.
FS: Verone McKinley III, So.; Jordan Happle, Sr.; Max Wysocki, RFr.; Daymon David, Fr.
Nickel: Jamal Hill, So.; Bennett Williams, Jr.; JJ Greenfield, Fr.
FC: Mykael Wright, So.; Bryan Addison, So.; Jaylin Davies, Fr.
What To Watch: Youth will be served in the Oregon secondary in 2021. But though all five projected first-string guys above are listed as sophomores, McKinley, Wright and Hill all have extensive experience at this point, and Stephens is entering his fourth year in the program. Manning and Williams had fleeting chances to show what they could do in 2020, but hopefully will have a chance to make a bigger impact in Year 2 at Oregon. Addison can sink his teeth into studying techniques and fundamentals on defense after shifting on the fly in the middle of last season; Waters opted to transfer in late January. And there's an influx of new talent in corner Jaylin Davies and safeties Jeffrey Bassa and Daymon David.