Spring Assessments: Defensive Backs

It's time to see how the defensive backs have played and developed this spring. With 75 percent of their starters returning, this spring didn't have a lot to prove. However that didn't stop this group from giving us some surprises.

The Ducks are returning three out of four starting defensive backs from a year ago. Led by 1st Team Pac 10 Safety Patrick Chung and Pac 10 Honorable Mention cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Jarius Byrd, this unit was considered to be a cornerstone of this team next season. The only question was at free safety, and how they would replace the graduating Matthew Harper.

Harper had been a central figure of the team's success, particularly a memorable interception against Michigan's Chad Henne setting the tone in Oregon's 39-7 victory over the Wolverines. It was Harper again who sealed the deal against USC with an interception of Mark Sanchez in the final moments of the game. By season's end, Harper recorded 98 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions.

Stepping Up Into A Starting Position – TJ Ward

While coaches maintain this position is still very much in the air, one man has continually played free safety with the 1st string defense. TJ Ward, the red shirt junior from De La Salle High School, has consistently played at a level above his competition. The special teams standout recorded 18 tackles last year with one of them being for a loss.

Ward's play has been has drawn the attention of head coach Mike Bellotti and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. The support for TJ at free safety has also come from players.

"I think TJ Ward is gonna be a nice fit for us at free safety…He's a run stopper, he likes to get in there and be aggressive," commented Walter Thurmond after Monday's practice.

The surprises of the spring are Javes Lewis, Todd Doxey and Marvin Johnson

Lewis the 6-foot-1-inch red shirt freshman has been singled out for his play by Nick Aliotti and Walter Thurmond. Lewis like many of his other defensive counterparts has moved around in the secondary, but he has gotten the job done all over the field.

When asked about any surprises in the secondary this spring, the first words out of Walter Thurmond's mouth were Javes Lewis.

"Javes Lewis has been a big surprise this spring; He's been making a lot of plays this spring."

Marvin Johnson and Todd Doxey are both red shirt freshman rovers. Marvin Johnson saw some playing time on special teams last year on his way to recording ten tackles for the year. Todd Doxey was on the giving end of the hit of the spring on last Tuesday's practice.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti indicated that the two for doing "a nice job" this spring. Walter Thurmond also gave props to the two as some of the defensive guys who have "come out and made a lot of plays for us."

The secondary was already being billed as the strength of the defense. This spring the defensive backs have continued to back up the billing of their group. All four of these guys have shown they can play the pass and the run, and they have the makings for something special. Stay tuned this week as we continue our spring assessments for the defensive line and linebackers.

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