After John Boyett made the decision to undergo double knee surgery, many Duck fans wondered just how well the defensive backfield would perform without their senior leader. To get the answer, Duck Sports Authority looks back to the decision of Avery Patterson to commit to the Ducks.
Avery Patterson began to gain attention nationally with a stellar performance at a Nike summer camp where he ran an electronically timed 4.33 40 yard dash. As the recruiting process picked up, Patterson received offers from several Pac-10 school including Arizona, Cal, Arizona State and Oregon.
Patterson would eventually select the Ducks. Commenting about how important academics were in his decision making process, Patterson told Rivals.com that "Academics are a big deal for me. I plan to graduate so I'm looking at things like graduation rate and the overall academic structure at each of the schools I'm looking at."
Though he played cornerback in high school and originally projected at the same position for the Ducks, Patterson did not come with a prim donna attitude. "I would do what ever the coaching staff asks me to do," Patterson told Duck Sports Authority. "I would redshirt if they wanted me to. I wouldn't have any problem doing that."
With the kind of elite speed Patteson possessed, and his stellar high school career, Patterson would seem to have all the tools necessary to make an immediate impact. It was Patterson's early self-awareness, though, that would show just how maturity can make a player even better.
"There are things I could do better," Patterson continued. "I need to work on my ball skills. I need to be able to intercept better."
Patterson would spend his first season in Eugene recovering from an injury as a redshirt. But he watched as the Oregon Ducks marched their way to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 15 years. The 2010 season saw Patterson begin to make a mark on special teams. Patterson played in all 13 games as a freshman and even recorded a tackle in the BCS National Championship Game. His stellar special teams play would pave the way for his sophomore year which really saw Patterson blossom into a special player. As a reserve defensive back, Patterson was fifth on the team with 55 tackles last season.
When Eddie Pleasant graduated after the season, there would be a spirited battle between fellow 2009 signees Patterson and Brian Jackson for the starting nod opposite fourth year starter John Boyett. In the Oregon defensive scheme, sometimes starter is just a title as the team plays anywhere from 20-25 defensive players in a regular rotation. Patterson lost the bid for the starting role to Jackson, but he did not lose his spirit or competitiveness.
When John Boyett announced his season ending surgery, though, the picture changed. Pegged as a backup after losing the starting nod to Jackson, Patterson had to change his mindset to become Boyett's replacement. "I felt more stable knowing we had him back there," Patterson told us. "But every one of us has to step up now. We all have to fill his void in the secondary."
Patteson had the full support of his team mates and coaches. All were sure Patterson would be able to step in without missing a beat. "I know Avery is here to perform," Jackson said at the time. "He will do what it takes to be that guy. He has been looking good, and we know we can depend on him."
Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti had full faith in Patterson as well. "He's a warrior," said Aliotti. "He just plays so hard. He just has a passion for the game. He's very intelligent."
The only question, then, was preparation. "I felt more stable knowing we had him back there, but every one of us has to step up now. We all have to fill his void in the secondary," Patterson said. "I'm definitely prepared," continued Patterson, who started two games last season for the Ducks. "I practiced all spring and all fall camp, so I got the reps. I am prepared to step up; this is my time. I have been prepared since the first day of fall camp."
"John [Boyett] definitely helped me out; even in games, he pointed out certain things, when he would see a formation alignment with the receivers," Patterson said. "He was one of the smartest players I've ever been around."
While Patterson was playing well in Boyett's absence, his play was going virtually unnoticed by most fans. With large margins in non-conference action, Patterson was often out of the game very early along with all the other starters. Even the first conference game against Arizona saw the attention focused elsewhere while Patterson had one of the best games of his career recording six tackles and one pass broken up against the Wildcats.
Saturday night, though, would see Patterson making a John Boyett like impact. The Duck defense had played well in the first half against Washington State, yet the Ducks still led by a slim 23-19 margin at the break. After opening the second half with a sustained touchdown drive to extend the lead, Washington State's first possession of the second half would find Patterson making his mark for the world to see. With 7:54 left in the third quarter, Patterson stepped in front of a Connor Halliday pass and returned it 34 yards for the first touchdown of his college career.
"When the defense can contribute with a score, that makes it difficult for anybody to get back in the game," Head coach Chip Kelly said. Kelly commented that the play was a huge play in the game.
Patterson had his family in Seattle to watch the game which made the play even that more special. His father was attending the first game of the year and offered Patterson some sage advice before the game. "Play with a big hear; play like you're 6'5". Don't let your size be something that's your downfall."
"It (QB Pressure) helps us out tremendously," Patterson said after the game. "Dion running off the edge and taylor coming up the middle. The shorter amount of time he (QB) has to get it out of his hands quick and it really helps us (defensive backs) out," Patterson continued.
Coach Kelly confirmed how important it is for all of the units to perform to make the other units better. "That's what this is; it's a true team," Kelly said.
Even in a team game, individual moments can make a difference. "It felt ecstatic, indescribable. I did it for my family, my teammates," Patterson confided.
Linebacker Boseko Lokombo summed up Patterson succinctly saying that "Avery, he might be small, but he's a fighter," said Lokombo. "He's a scrapper."
On Saturday night, Duck fans likely felt their own indescribable elation as Patterson scrapped his way towards the end zone with a touchdown that would help the Ducks pull away for their fifth win of the season.
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