Going into last
Self-proclaiming themselves as "D-Boyz," the unit had an up-and-down season.
Last summer, they had to deal with tragedy when safety Todd Doxey drowned during a summer team outing. While playing with heavy hearts, the unit took turns wearing Doxey's No. 29 jersey for all the home games and the Holiday Bowl.
On the field, the unit had a solid year. They played a lot of man-coverage, allowing the defense to stack the box to shut down opponent' rushing attacks.
Despite missing a couple of games due to injury, Walter Thurmond III tied teammate Jairus Byrd for the Pac-10 lead in interceptions. At safety, Patrick Chung made plays all over the field, and T.J. Ward led the team in tackles.
To be fair, the unit did allow more passing yards than expected. These statistics can be a little misleading, as blowout victories and a strong run defense forced opponents to throw the ball more against the Ducks.
After the season, Jairus Byrd decided to bypass his senior season for the NFL Draft. His selection early in the second round by the Buffalo Bills proved that his decision was justified.
Patrick Chung was also chosen in the second round by the Patriots, leaving the Ducks with the daunting task of replacing two quality starters.
The good news for the Ducks in '09 is that they do return their top cover cornerback in Walter Thurmond III, as well as heavy-hitter T.J. Ward.
Thurmond, a six-foot, 180-pound
senior, has been a starter throughout his career at
Thurmond punishes opponents on out routes, either by stealing the ball and taking it to the house, or by displaying the philosophy of "whap-whap."
This term, introduced by Chung to describe the willingness of Oregon's defensive backs to hit opponents, became the trademark of senior T.J. Ward's game.
On National Signing Day in 2004,
the Ducks made a splash by signing all four blue-chip recruits from De LaSalle
High School (Concord, California)—Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates, Willie Glasper, and the late
Terrance Kelly. No one would have predicted that a fifth senior from that high
school would have the biggest impact at
T.J. Ward, who stands
5-foot-11 and weighs 205 pounds, decided to join his buddies and enroll at
A converted corner, Ward has the speed and ability to cover receivers, but his ability to hit opponents like Jack Tatum makes him a natural at free safety.
There are several candidates for the corner position opposite of Thurmond.
Leading the way is Talmadge Jackson III. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior played in all 13 games last season,
including starts versus
Another corner with starting experience is senior Willie Glasper, who comes in at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Glasper was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and was expected to immediately contribute to the Ducks.
Though he may not be the future
All-American that Duck fans envisioned on signing day, he has had a solid
career, playing in all 39 games during his three years of competition at
There are several other candidates for the starting position.
Kenjon Barner, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound redshirt freshman, figures to challenge for both the corner and rover positions this fall. A natural athlete, Barner even filled in at halfback this spring, impressing the coaches and onlookers.
Also in the mix is sophomore
Anthony Gildon (6-1, 175 pounds), who redshirted last season after playing
as a true freshman in '07. Another blue chip recruit coming out of high school,
Gildon stuck with his commitment to
Harris (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) highlights the class. He played in the US Army All-American Game, during which Scout.com analyst Brandon Huffman labeled him as "the best cover corner in the country." He could play immediately.
Javes Lewis enters the fall as the favorite to start at rover for the Ducks in '09. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound sophomore backed up Chung last season, and played well when he was on the field.
His top challenge could come from 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior Marvin Johnson. Johnson's biggest impact will probably still come on special teams, where he made a name for himself on kickoff coverage.
There are several other defensive backs on the roster who could play their way onto the field—Scott Grady, Brian Butterfield, Will Wallace, and Chad Peppars are examples—but will most likely be factors on special team units this fall.
Playing strong man-to-man
defense and allowing the Ducks to attack the box, has been the trademark of Nick
Allioti's teams during his tenure in
This year figures to be no different.