Verone McKinley III will enter his third year as a starter as the unquestioned leader of the Oregon secondary.
He is the most experienced of the Oregon Ducks’ defensive backs and serves as the proverbial quarterback of the defensive backfield at field safety.
Jordan Happle is a field safety by trade and can also play nickel. Jared Greenfield is the future of the position and could see a major uptick in reps this fall.
Post-spring depth chart
Verone McKinley III: 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, redshirt-sophomore
Jordan Happle: 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, graduate-senior OR
Jared Greenfield: 6-foot, 181 pounds, freshman
Daymon David: 6-foot-1, 178 pounds, freshman
Mario Cristobal’s take
“Verone is a tremendous blessing to all of us here and those guys around him in the locker room,” said Cristobal.
“Verone came in as a corner and just worked and grinded in a room that was stacked with a lot of talent. All he did was work and kept pushing and all of a sudden it started clicking and he started making plays and people started noticing that and all he did after that was work harder. The respect of him by other players for him is extremely high. He is a leader on this football team.”
McKinley had 41 tackles with two pass breakups, a forced fumble, recovered fumble and interception last season and if he hadn’t missed time due to a targeting penalty, would’ve done even more.
His football IQ is invaluable at the position and with new starters coming in at boundary corner and boundary safety, vital to Oregon’s defense. McKinley will make the calls in the backfield and cover the most ground.
“He’s a coach on the field,” safeties coach Marcel Yates said. “He’s doing a good job with him being here and playing so much of not being — it’s easy for a young man like him to say, ‘OK I’ve been here I don’t want to work hard.’ For him he comes out every day and he works hard. He’s learning the defense still but he knows it the best probably out of anybody in the room. That’s always good to have somebody on the sideline helping us out.”
Greenfield had three tackles in six games last season, mainly on special teams. Look for him to make a big jump in reps on defense, especially if Happle moves to nickel.
Regardless, Greenfield is in a great long-term spot as Happle departs after 2021 and McKinley is draft eligible.
Happle is likely going to be in the rotation at field safety and nickel. He’s too valuable not to be on the field significantly — it’s a matter of rotations and what the Ducks do at boundary safety.
Daymon David enrolled early and spent most of the spring game on the boundary side of the secondary but was said to be spending time at both.
“One of the best things about Verone is he enjoys being pushed and challenged. Another case of when your best players enjoy that aspect, understand that aspect and can grab it and attack it, you got a chance to be really good. He helps us and provides that chance for us.” — Mario Cristobal