Season In Review: Secondary
Reviewing Oregon's 2021 season and looking ahead to spring drills.
CB: Mykael Wright, So.; Dontae Manning, Fr.; Avante Dickerson, Fr.; DonJ'rael Brooks, Fr.; Timon Davis, Fr.
CB: DJ James, So.; Trikweze Bridges, RFr.; Jaylin Davies, Fr.; Darren Barkins, Fr.; Devin Morrow, Fr.
S: Verone McKinley III, So.; Bryan Addison, So.; Daymon David, Fr.; Dane Sipos, Fr.
S: Steve Stephens IV, So.; Jordan Happle, Sr.; Lucas Noland, So.; Max Wysocki, RFr.
Nickel: Bennett Williams, Jr.; Jamal Hill, So.; Marko Vidackovic, Fr.
Starters: Verone McKinley III was in rarified air for the Ducks in 2021, earning consensus all-America status and becoming just the second UO defensive back to be named a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, following in the footsteps of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. McKinley tied for the FBS lead with six interceptions, and he had 77 tackles to finish second among Pac-12 defensive backs. McKinley's fellow starter on the back end for the first half of the season was Steve Stephens IV, until an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year; Jordan Happle took over and played through a hand injury that required him to sport a padded club — which didn't stop Happle from recording an interception at Washington.
For the first month of the season, Bennett Williams was one of the best defensive playmakers in the country. He had seven tackles in the win at Ohio State, an interception against Stony Brook and two more the next week against Arizona — including a pick-six. But a freak injury suffered during "Fast Friday" prior to the Stanford game sidelined Williams until the bowl game. Jamal Hill took over at nickel, and didn't quite recapture the same big-play magic he demonstrated in 2020. At corner, Mykael Wright had five passes defended and also got his nose dirty with 65 tackles, third-most on the team. DJ James started the majority of the season on the other side.
Reserves: Trikweze Bridges contributed in all sorts of ways in 2021, bringing size and length to the rotation at corner, contributing on special teams and also playing some safety late in the year when injuries took their toll. Bryan Addison and Daymon David also were factors on special teams while providing depth at safety, as was Lucas Noland. At corner, Dontae Manning had a season-high four tackles against Oregon State. Late in the year, the decisions by Wright and James to opt out of the Alamo Bowl pushed Avante Dickerson, Jaylin Davies and Darren Barkins into spots on the two-deep.
Developmental squad: All of that movement in and out of the two-deep by veterans meant several guys swung between the travel squad and the scout-team defense at different times during the season, including David, Noland, Davies and Barkins. DonJ'rael Brooks, Timon Davis and Devin Morrow were regulars with the scout team at corner, while Max Wysocki, Marko Vidackovic and Dane Sipos contributed at safety.
CB: Christian Gonzalez, So.; Avante Dickerson, So.; DonJ'rael Brooks, RFr.; Timon Davis, RFr.
CB: Trikweze Bridges, So./Dontae Manning, So.; Jaylin Davies, RFr.; Darren Barkins, RFr.; Devin Morrow, RFr.
S: Bryan Addison, Jr.; Max Wysocki, So.; Dane Sipos, RFr.
S: Steve Stephens IV, Jr.; Daymon David, So.
Nickel: Bennett Williams, Sr.; Jamal Hill, Jr.; Marko Vidackovic, RFr.
What To Watch: With Wright off to the NFL draft and James opting to transfer, the Ducks added a veteran via the portal in honorable mention all-conference cornerback Christian Gonzalez. But the door will be open for Bridges or Manning to build on last year and win a full-time role, and for someone like Dickerson to make a big jump after getting his first collegiate experience in 2021. At safety, the X factor could be Williams. He played nickel before being injured in 2021, but Hill's experience there could free up Williams to move into one of the safety spots should the need arise. If the Ducks can combine the playmaking ability Hill demonstrated in 2020 with that of Williams in September 2021, winning the turnover margin most weeks wouldn't be too tough. Another wild card is the status of Jeffrey Bassa, who began last season at safety but moved to linebacker after injuries took their toll there; a move back to the secondary could still be in the cards.