Even inexperienced Duck DBs say theyll be ready

UO practices give secondary taste of LSU game may be like
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT John Boyett, reaching for a pass during practice for the BCS title game of last season, will be a leader in the UO secondary going into the 2011 season and the Sept. 3 opener against LSU.

EUGENE - The highly anticipated showdown with LSU is fast approaching, and Terrance Mitchell and his fellow youngsters in the Oregon Ducks' secondary are eagerly awaiting their test.

After all, the redshirt freshman cornerback says, what he'll see in the Sept. 3 game at Dallas Cowboys Stadium won't be much different from what he's seeing in UO practice.

'It can't get much bigger than what it is at practice,' says Mitchell, who, along with redshirt freshman Troy Hill and sophomore Avery Patterson, should be in the limelight as the Tigers' offense attacks the Ducks. 'I feel that (UO quarterback) Darron Thomas and (receivers) Josh Huff, Rahsaan Vaughn, Lavasier Tuinei have the same ability.

'I'm going to be ready. We get challenged at practice. It's like a game.'

Superstar Ducks corner Cliff Harris has been suspended for the LSU game, after driving 118 mph on Interstate 5. So, one of the country's preeminent ball hawkers will be watching from the sideline as senior Anthony Gildon and Mitchell and/or Hill take up the cornerback spots. Surely, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and the Tigers will pick on the young corners, especially without Harris in the secondary.

'We'll see what happens,' Hill says. 'We're going to be up for the test. That's what we want as DBs: go get the ball when it's in the air, make it ours. That's going to be competition we're going to like.'

While the 6-foot, 185-pound Mitchell showed up early at Oregon, attending UO 2010 spring camp straight out of Luther Burbank High in Sacramento, Calif., the 5-11, 165 Hill showed up late during the 2010 season, finally getting academic clearance upon graduating from St. Boneventure High of Youngstown, Ohio. Mitchell had been tabbed a contender to play in 2010, but the Ducks had enough in the secondary to redshirt him.

Both corners impressed coaches in spring ball, rising to the top of the depth chart along with Gildon and Harris. Their talents allowed coaches to move Patterson, another touted corner, to rover, and he played mostly special teams in all 13 games last season.

Patterson, 5-10 and 175 and from Pittsburg, Calif., also expects to see the field against LSU in certain defensive packages. He's a backup to three-year starting free safety John Boyett and two-year starting rover Eddie Pleasant.

'We're going to have a lot of new talent out there,' Patterson says. 'Somebody has to step up.'

The Ducks have their areas of concern, but going into the season secondary only became one for the first game because Harris' suspension. Harris hasn't been talking to the media about his transgression, which ultimately could hurt the Ducks in their top-five matchup with the Tigers.

'It's an unfortunate situation, but things happen,' Boyett says. 'We have to move on and do what we can do. Gildon has playing experience. Mitchell, Hill - those guys can play football. They're young players. They're going to be some good players in the future.'

But Mitchell and Hill believe they can be shutdown corners from the get-go, not to mention Patterson in his increased role.

'I'm very impressed,' defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. 'Avery Patterson, like him a lot. Mitchell and Hill have played well (in camp).

'Right now, they're both really good, aggressive tacklers, and both have a lot of confidence even though they haven't played. When you have confidence, you have speed, and they'll get better in their technique with (assistant coach John) Neal.'

Boyett, who has 114 tackles the past two years, surely will help the young corners - and Gildon, should he need it.

'He's a really smart player, and it's good to have him out there,' says Gildon, who started the first six games last season opposite now-departed standout Talmadge Jackson before being supplanted by Harris. 'He'll see stuff you might not see. He knows the defense like the back of his hand.'

Gildon sees communication as the key as the young DBs work their way onto the field.

'They're starting to get the defense down,' he says. 'They're athletic and fast and, as long as we get the communication down, we'll be all right. They have the skills. We just have to make sure they get lined up right and communicate.'

Adds Gildon: 'We're all here because we were the best from where we came from. They don't know anything else than that. They're out here to compete. They love the competition. It's what they expect. They expect to get picked on.'

Mitchell says he learned much by watching Harris last season, when the then-sophomore picked off six passes, returning one for a TD, and led the NCAA with 23 pass breakups. Mitchell also puts trust in Neal and team intern Todd Lyght, a former NFL player.

Hill says the tempo of UO's practices - the Ducks rip off an extraordinary number of plays - prepares players for games, where 'it'll slow down for me … it'll be easier.'

Patterson says the young guys will lean on Boyett, Pleasant and Gildon, even as LSU tries to dissect the UO secondary.

'They're going to be looking our way, especially the new guys,' Patterson says. 'We are all athletes and came here to play. We'll be ready.'