Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is the undisputed leader of the offense. He is the man. He runs the show.
Leadership at the quarterback position is built-in and part of the job description. But for a defensive safety, that’s extra. That’s the role that senior Ugo Amadi fills, a role that is especially vital for a team wielding a young secondary.
“He’s like a quarterback of the defense,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “He can do a really good job of lining us up … He’s like a traffic cop making sure guys are in the right spots.”
Oregon secondary will be young this upcoming season. They lost cornerback Arrion Springs and safety Tyree Robinson, two players with talent and experience. So, the secondary could have two sophomores as the starting cornerback, and one of the safety positions is up for grabs. Stopping pass-happy Pac-12 offenses is a challenge that a new secondary will face in 2018.
The young players will have to learn quickly, but there are opportunities. The depth chart is fluid and spring practice is a time for coaches to experiment and develop players.
Amadi will stay at safety for spring practice. He made the switch to safety last season after playing cornerback for two years. The Ducks need him there. It also allows Oregon to develop depth at the safety position with players like Brady Breeze, Mattrell McGraw, Nick Pickett and Billy Gibson, who all played last season.
It also allows the cornerbacks to get reps and build skills. Right now, it seems two sophomores are in the lead: Thomas Graham Jr., who started last season, and Deommodore Lenoir, who got significant playing time last season as well.
The Ducks are thin and untested at the position, so the spring reps are important.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, you know?” safeties coach Keith Heyward said. “I’m happy to have Ugo. … But we still have to find that right mix of safeties and corners to have the right guys on the field.”
They might be young, but they are following Springs and Robinson who taught them along the way.
“I know they all stay in touch. Those older guys did a great job helping groom these young guys,” Cristobal said. “They’ve learned a lot too just watching themselves on tape.”
Pickett, a sophomore, played early last season, but he is sitting out of spring to heal a torn labrum he’s had since high school. He will compete for a starting safety position come fall, but for now, he needs workout his brain.
“I keep his mind sharp,” Heyward said. “We kind of have like a jeopardy in the meeting room and I’m asking questions. I don’t do a lot of monologue talking. I’ll ask and they have to answer.”
They all might be fighting for playing time, but they are still always on the same team, which helps for each of their development.
“We all just pretty much help each other,” Pickett said.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917