Terrance Mitchell Defending
Before we get into specifics, the primary thing you need to know is that the state of the Ducks secondary is good, perhaps great.
Unlike last year, when Duck fans had to endure the preposterous notion of two freshmen cornerbacks being thrown to the wolves (Pac-12 star quarterbacks and sure-handed receivers), Oregon is solid, deep and experienced in the secondary.
It is amazing what a year can do in the life of a college football player. Of course, it didn't hurt those freshmen cornerbacks that they had the leadership of legendary senior safety John Boyett to help them learn the ropes. (John Boyett for Heisman!)
Let's look at Oregon's secondary and start with one of those now old-hand cornerbacks.
After Cliff Harris imploded last season and you realized that the Ducks would be forced to start two freshmen at cornerback, was your first thought: Good luck with that?
After all, the Pac-12 is a league of star quarterbacks and wide receivers; and the passing game is unparalleled in college football—No. 1 NFL draft pick, anyone?
One of those freshmen tossed into the river and told to swim was CB Terrance Mitchell. This year, sophomore Mitchell returns as a hard-nosed, experienced CB; and he could wind up 2012 as one of the best at his position.
Mitchell played in 14 games last season, starting 12. He had five tackles in the Rose Bowl and forced a crucial fumble. According to his official bio on Oregon's website, Mitchell had a team-high 10 pass breakups.
Picking up where he left off in the Rose Bowl, Mitchell had a team-high five tackles and one interception for the winning team in the Ducks' spring game.
Is this the year that Terrance Mitchell makes us all finally say: "Cliff who?"
Starting at cornerback on the other side will most likely be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Also a sophomore, IEO played in all 14 games as a true freshman and came on strong as the season progressed.
IEO (sorry, but it's just too hard to type Ifo Ekpre-Olomu) looked great in the Ducks' spring game. He was one of the bright spots on Bryan Bennett's losing team and had one nice pick.
IEO isn't as good as Mitchell, but he's good enough to hold down the other side of the field. He may also see time at kickoff returns—he had a couple of nice ones in the spring game.
Stadium announcer Don Essig had better start practicing to say Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
While Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu are the cream of the crop, there is plenty of talent behind them.
Another sophomore seeing a lot of action last season as a redshirt freshman was Troy Hill. Hill played in 14 games, started six of them, and took most of the heat for Cliff Harris' absence. One of the fastest of the DBs, Hill will probably back up Mitchell this season and return kickoffs. But don't be surprised if he challenges Ekpre-Olomu for the starting position on the other side.
Also in the mix is sophomore (do we detect a trend here?) Dior Mathis. Mathis enjoyed a good spring camp and probably moved himself up the ladder.
You will also want to watch for redshirt freshman Bronson Yim from Honolulu and help solve a mystery: Why isn't there a photo of Yim on his official bio page? Is he in the witness protection program or something?
Last but certainly not least, be on the lookout for freshmen twins Eric and Stephen Amoako. I expect one or both to redshirt this season because of Oregon's depth at DB, but you disagree with me, don't you?
This is where Eddie Pleasant used to roam. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Pleasant is gone. He went to make his fortune in the NFL with the Houston Texans.
Replacing Pleasant is the one tricky aspect in this deep secondary. Junior Avery Patterson is my pick. Patterson played in all games last year and started one at rover and one at free safety. He's speedy and tough and would be a competent replacement for Pleasant.
Also in the running are fellow juniors Brian Jackson and J.R. Maffie, and sophomores James Scales III and Erick Dargan. All have talent, with Jackson probably being the closest competitor to Patterson.
One wild card: If Dior Mathis continues his strong play from spring into fall camp, and is one of the top DBs, he might find himself starting at rover instead of cornerback.
And let's not forget about 4-star recruit, freshman Reggie Daniels. Daniels has 2-3 inches of length on all these guys and might be a factor before the year is done.
The glue. The rock. Mr. President. Whatever you call John Boyett, he is the undisputed leader of the defensive backfield for the Ducks.
Boyett led the team with 108 tackles last year, a feat he's accomplished two of his three seasons at Oregon. He's been named to preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award (defense), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (defense) and the Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back).
But we all know—just like we all know that it never rains in Autzen Stadium—that John Boyett should be on one other preseason watch list. JBFH. The John Boyett For Heisman watch list.
The position of Boyett's backup is another teensy worry, only because no one else has much experience because Boyett hardly ever comes out of the game.
The most likely candidate is junior DB Brian Jackson, especially if Avery Patterson wins the starting rover position.
After Jackson, the Ducks are down to one redshirt freshman (Issac Dixon) and two true freshmen (Stephen Amoako and Oshay Dunmore) in the depth chart at free safety. However, these three kids are all hugely talented and just need some seasoning, which might include redshirting for the true freshmen.
The Ducks are deep and talented at secondary and will wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Any receiver running across the middle of the field should be sure he knows where Boyett & Co. are at all times...if he values his life.
Kay Jennings is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the Oregon Ducks and the Pac-12. Please follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KayJenningsPDX.