2018.11.23.EMG.SEN.FTB.UO.VS.OSU.Civil War-107.jpg

Ducks cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (4) calls out to his teammates. Oregon Ducks football takes on the Oregon State University Beavers for the Civil War at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore. on Nov. 23, 2018. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Now that the coaching staff and incoming players have settled in, the Ducks have begun to implement defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos’ new scheme. While the defensive staff has worked to keep some familiar aspects and verbiage from former coordinator Jim Leavitt’s scheme, it will take some time for the young personnel to acclimate to the complex, multiple fronts of Avalos’ system.

“The biggest difference is that [Avalos] has a lot of stunts,” junior cornerback Thomas Graham said. “It has shown in practice. We have gotten a lot of sacks, we got a lot of pressure; forcing throws early and stuff like that. I just feel like what he is doing is using our D-line to the best of their ability.”

This adjustment is important given Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins’ departures to the NFL. The secondary however, loses perhaps the most impactful defensive player in defensive back and Lombardi Award winner, Ugo Amadi. While his versatility and leadership will be greatly missed, his absence opens the door for a slew of young secondary players to step up.

“You know, that’s something that we have to keep developing and keep pushing to our guys,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Keith Heyward said of leadership amongst the young group. “We can’t push it on any particular person, but we gotta demand it out of those guys. Hopefully by fall somebody will come out with that.”

One of the young players who has made a name for himself early is second year corner, Verone McKinley III. After redshirting his freshman season, only appearing in three games, the redshirt-freshman was bandied about for much of Wednesday’s post-practice interviews.

Whether it was coaches or teammates, everyone spoke highly of the up-and-coming corner.

“Verone is looking amazing,” Graham said. “He’s at nickel, I feel that’s his natural position, that’s where he fits at. Coach Avalos coming allowed him to blossom into the player that we all believed he is.”

As for the linbacking crew, newly hired position coach Ken Wilson described a competitive atmosphere and a fresh start for the group. Regardless of the year they had in 2018, everyone has a chance to be a contributor under the new staff.

“I’m evaluating everything, even Troy [Dye],” Wilson said. “I’m giving them a clean slate, letting them play, letting them compete and earn jobs. With me, if I can trust them, I’ll put them on the field. I’ll play six, eight, or i’ll play two, however many I can get to trust in the defense and know what we’re doing.”

For Wilson, harmony amongst his linebacking core and the rest of the defense starts with the coaches. Despite a varying degree of experience at Oregon, much of the defensive staff has crossed paths in past years.

“You know a lot of us have known each other and worked together,” Wilson said. “You know I have known Andy a long time so really we’re spending about probably 18-20 hours a day together putting in defenses and getting to know each other and having a lot of fun watching film.”

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