The safety: the last line of defense, constantly going in and out of attack mode, able to sift through offensive structures and break them down. Arguably the position that gives the quarterback the most trouble, due to the safety’s ability to move undetected. The Oregon Ducks have seen several players come through this position who have had a great impact. Now it’s senior Erick Dargan’s turn to take the spotlight and step into this prestigious position.
Growing up, Erick watched Avery Patterson – the Ducks’ starting free safety during the 2012-2013 season – play at Pittsburg (Calif.) High School and he describes Patterson’s play as extraordinary. “I remember him at my high school, and just watching him play. To watch somebody that’s doing good things at a high level and to look at that person and work for him through high school and college, is a blessing.” Having a player and friend like Patterson was crucial for the development of the young Dargan.
Thanks to the influence of and knowledge gained from both Patterson and his teammate from last season, strong safety Brian Jackson, Dargan is poised to make himself a force to be reckoned with. When asked how he felt about both Patterson and Jackson entering the NFL draft, Dargan responded, “I feel good. I’m proud of both of them. Just being around them every game throughout the season and pretty much all the time throughout the year, just to see the work they put in. It’s well deserved.”
With the Patterson and Jackson departures, many questioned if the safety position could be filled with players of their caliber. Enter Dargan. Not only does he embody the ideal body image of a safety (5’11, 212 lbs), he also has a certain toughness about him, and a willingness to share his experience with incoming, talented freshmen. “Helping them learn, getting lined up, telling them things you can do within the play, and just give them more confidence to do it. We are moving pretty fast as a group, and doing good things as a group in total. We still got a lot of areas to improve on but that’s what we do,” Dargan comments.
“I’m expecting good things from them (Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson),” he continued, “and the other guys are learning well. I think our whole secondary is going to be good; what matters is how we improve as a group.” The secondary as a whole shows some real promise, especially with the return of senior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a dominant force at corner. It will be interesting to see who is lined up on the field with Dargan and Ekpre-Olomu when the Ducks open their season on Saturday, August 30, at Autzen vs South Dakota.
There’s one goal for Dargan and the rest of the potentially commanding Duck defense, one word that sums up their ambition for the upcoming season: shutout. Plain and simple, right? Yet easily said, harder to achieve. Dargan is ready for the challenge, and hopes, through his mindset and physical play, to influence his teammates. “Shutouts. Put up a lot of points, and shut a lot of teams out. Score on defense more than once,” he says.
The Ducks’ safety has also set some ambitious personal goals for the season: “A lot of picks. I want to touch double digits with picks. And a lot of tackles.” Shades of Kenny Wheaton’s legendary pick-six? Time will tell, but Erick Dargan’s certainly focused on making plays, and getting into the end zone.
Dargan and the rest of Oregon’s safety corps are the Ducks’ the last line of defense. Keeping eyes on the quarterback, recognizing receivers’ routes, and making open field tackles on shifty running backs is not easy.
Especially in a PAC-12 conference loaded with talented quarterbacks such as Brett Hudley (UCLA) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford), and speedy running backs such as Javorious Allen (USC) and Jordan James (UCLA).
The Ducks’ title hopes, then, seem to ride on Dargan’s ability to read defenses, young freshmen stepping into their roles and a tenacious defense working together to shut opposing offenses down – and hopefully, out.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck