EUGENE, Ore. -- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu might be the most talented defensive back at Oregon right now, yet he might not have the most important role for the Ducks this season.
It’s quite possible that fifth-year senior free safety Erick Dargan will prove to be the most valuable commodity the Ducks employ this spring and next fall, as it’s his duty to get the secondary aligned.
“It’s up to me to get the corners lined up in drops, or whatever I need to do because I’m in the middle,” Dargan said. “I know what I’m doing. I understand the defense.”
While it’s a joint process between Dargan, Ekpre-Olomu and the linebackers to recognize the formation, it’s Dargan who first gets the call from the sideline and then communicates it to the rest of the players.
And that ability to communicate is what coach Mark Helfrich said is the key to the Oregon’s defensive success.
“I think the biggest thing that happens on a defense is how guys communicate and how confidently they communicate,” Helfrich said. “Just taking away that level of uncertainty, that couple seconds of uncertainty which is the difference between recognizing a formation, recognizing a situation, communicating to someone who has never been in that position before.”
Because this duty now falls on Dargan’s shoulders, he said he spent even more time in the offseason looking over the nuances of every defensive position and asking more questions of secondary coach John Neal and defensive coordinator Don Pellum.
That has paid off, as the coaches have recognized the difference between having Dargan in at free safety and not having Dargan in at free safety.
“If you have Erick in there all the time, he talks all the time and he gets everybody lined up,” Neal said. “So I said, ‘OK, Reggie [Daniels] and Tyree [Robinson] are going together, let’s see how much talking you guys do together,’ and it’s a pretty significant change when you take your real vocal players out and put the less vocal guys in.”
Dargan said being vocal comes easily to him, especially after having spent so much time in the secondary meeting room and learning from the players who played the position before him such as Avery Patterson and John Boyett.
He knows that it’s his job to get everyone on the same page because as Helfrich pointed out: “Even if everyone is on the same wrong page, you can survive.”
Another big part of this spring, and this job for Dargan, has been taking younger guys under his wing and helping move their games forward. Dargan said he’s learned in past seasons “there’s no telling what could happen in the season and who will need to play.”
Because of that, he said that he has made it a point of emphasis to help players such as Robinson, Daniels and Juwaan Williams become more vocal and more involved in the defense so if they did have to step in, there wouldn’t be as much of a gap there for the rest of the defense.
So while this might be Ekpre-Olomu’s defense, and he might be the best player on it, it’s also important to remember that the All-American doesn’t always have the most important role.