EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week.
Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.
"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms.
Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.
"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again.
"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.
Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult.
That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood. Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season.
This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense.
“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”
That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary.
“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.
A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others.
On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play.
"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said.
Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge.
“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.
Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion.
“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.
Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up.
"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "
Neal said tackling still must be improved.
“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”
Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program.
Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills.