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Christian Gonzalez Headlines Young but Talented Group of Oregon Cornerbacks in 2022

After losing both starters from last season, the Ducks reshaped the secondary thanks to the transfer portal and hopeful internal improvement from key players.

The hiring of first-year head coach Dan Lanning, who orchestrated the historically dominant Georgia defense, suggests that Oregon is banking on a future anchored on the defensive end.

Due to a wave of movement at the position in the offseason, the Ducks must kick off the Lanning era with a retooled cornerback room.

This offseason, the Ducks lost All-Pac-12 honorable mention Mykael Wright to the NFL. Wright’s departure marked the third straight year that the Ducks have lost at least one cornerback to the pros. The Ducks also lost DJ James, who landed at Auburn, and Jaylin Davies, who remains in the Pac-12 with his hometown UCLA Bruins.

In addition to a shift in personnel at the corner position, Oregon and Colorado swapped cornerbacks coaches in the offseason. The Ducks hired Demetrice Martin, fresh off of a two-year stint in Boulder, while the Buffaloes added Rod Chance, who spent the last two seasons with the Ducks.

Martin has coached in the Pac-12 for the better part of the last 15 years, with Oregon as his sixth Pac-12 stop. 

Oregon Cornerbacks Coach Demetrice Martin during spring ball.

Oregon Cornerbacks Coach Demetrice Martin during spring ball.

“I’ve been around a lot of good coaches offensively and defensively,” Martin said. “Getting older, now being able to take a little bit from everybody and what they do best and adding it into my game, like a player, coaches do the same thing.”

Joining Martin in making the move from Boulder to Eugene is marquee transfer Christian Gonzalez, who credits his prior relationship with Martin as a primary reason for transferring to Oregon.

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“I don't even look at him as a coach,” Gonzalez said. “He’s more of like my uncle. We just come out, we ball together, he plays through me. He plays through all the corners. It's just a family bond and it's fun. It's great.”

A two-year starter at Colorado under Martin, Gonzalez played 12 games last year for the Buffs, tallying 54 total tackles (42 solo), along with six pass breakups. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive back has three years of eligibility remaining.

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Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez warming up during spring ball.

Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez warming up during spring ball.

“He's able to be a big brother to the rest of the guys on the squad,” Martin said of Gonzalez. “He can be the good cop and I'm the bad cop because he has been with me for two years so he knows my moods. He knows how I go and how I teach, so he's able to incorporate that with the other guys.”

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The Oregon secondary retained Dontae Manning, the only five-star cornerback signee in program history. After appearing only once during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Manning played in 12 games last season, recording 18 tackles, 11 of which were solo. He did not play in the Oregon spring game as he suffered a leg injury in spring that is not expected to be long term.

The Ducks secondary will also feature four-star true freshman Jahlil Florence. The corner originally committed to Oregon in August of 2021 before reopening his recruitment in September. Then, he finally signed with Oregon in February prior to enrolling in classes shortly after spring ball began.

Oregon freshman cornerback Jahlil Florence in a coverage drill during spring ball.

Oregon freshman cornerback Jahlil Florence in a coverage drill during spring ball.

“I'm trying to get a little bit more out of him mentally and technically,” Martin said of Florence. “He's a little behind on that, as he should be. Shoot, he should be getting ready to go to his prom.”

Avante Dickerson, who saw limited playing time in his first season with the Ducks, will also return for the 2022 campaign. A 5-foot-10, 178-pound four-star recruit out of Westside High School in Omaha, Neb,, Dickerson will be ready to fill in if injuries strike the Ducks like they did last season. 

Oregon will kick off its season on Sept. 3 against defending national champions Georgia in Atlanta, where the defense will be tested by a physical SEC offense. 

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