EUGENE — Playing on Oregon’s defense wasn’t exactly a picnic last season.
Being forced to watch from the sideline was even less appetizing for Brady Breeze.
Now the redshirt freshman safety from Central Catholic High School (who transferred from South Medford High) is an active participant in first-year defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s planned revival of the Ducks.
Breeze intercepted two passes during Tuesday’s practice as part of a nice counterpunch from the secondary on the second day of fall camp.
“I tell you what, he’s a lot more confident now in what he’s doing,” coach Willie Taggart said of Breeze. “I saw that towards the tail end of spring ball, that’s where he really started to gain confidence. Then as we had these two practices, he’s really playing some good football for us.”
Oregon allowed 518.1 yards, including 271.9 passing yards, per game in 2016 and finished with only nine interceptions in 12 games.
Breeze, who has been rotating in behind starting safeties Tyree Robinson and Khalil Oliver on Oregon’s fluid depth chart, plans to have an impact this season after his fast track to playing time was blocked by an injury last summer.
“That was tough,” Breeze said of the decision to redshirt. “That was definitely frustrating seeing how the season went. And knowing that no matter what, I can’t go in the game.”
Breeze studied the defense in real time during every game. That included watching his roommate, Brenden Schooler, finish fourth on the team with 74 tackles and a team-high four interceptions as a freshman safety.
“I feel most people sit there and watch football games like a movie,” Breeze said. “When I was watching I made sure to focus on what’s the call? What would I be doing if I was in right now? If I’m on kickoff and we’re pushing it left, what am I supposed to do?
“I made sure I was trying to think deeply about the game.”
Leavitt, who quickly built a top-20 defense at Colorado, is transitioning Oregon back to a 3-4. More important than the scheme is the vitality the former South Florida coach has brought to a unit that was battered, bruised and broken during a 4-8 finish.
“Last year you could tell during the game there wasn’t a whole lot of energy. Guys were kind of scared to make a mistake,” Breeze said. “I feel like this year we have to go out and attack like Colorado’s defense. Nobody knew about them, and then they showed up and they were attacking.
“They weren’t afraid of anybody because they had nothing to lose. They were just trying to prove how good they were. That’s what we’ve got to do this year is show what we’ve got.”
Tuesday’s practice was a pick-nic
True freshman cornerback Thomas Graham, who enrolled early at UO to participate in spring drills, ran with the first-team defense and returned an errant Justin Herbert pass for a touchdown during 7-on-7 work.
Freshman safety Billy Gibson snared an interception during the newcomers’ practice before the veterans took the field. In the late-morning session, Robinson picked off a tipped pass.
“I think that group has become a lot more competitive now, especially with the young guys coming in,” Taggart said. “I think our older guys are seeing those guys are pretty good, too.”