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New Safeties Coach Marcel Yates Talks Choosing Oregon; Previews 2021 Safety Group

Yates met with the media for the first time to discuss what brought him to Eugene and the progress of the Ducks’ safeties through five spring practices.

When Mario Cristobal met with Marcel Yates about the safeties coach vacancy, the Oregon head coach wanted him to come be part of something special:

“Come help me win a national championship.”

“That was the one thing in my 21 years of coaching that I never had a head coach actually say to me,” Yates said.

Yates’ hiring was officially announced on Feb. 23. He coached the defensive backs at Cal during the 2020 season.

Another reason he chose Oregon was because of Tim DeRuyter, his defensive coordinator during his time in Berkeley. 

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Yates said of his relationship with DeRuyter. “I understand exactly what he wants.”

Yates, who has also coached defensive backs at Arizona, Boise State and Texas A&M, said that the transition to Oregon has been “smooth,” especially since he's coaching with DeRuyter once again.

“I came in and we went straight to work,” Yates said. “DeRuyter has been good for me because I know the defense, so it’s not a lot of new stuff I need to learn.”

Yates acquires a safety group loaded with returning talent as well as promising young talent. The group includes Verone McKinley III, Jamal Hill, Steve Stephens IV, and 4-star freshmen Jeffrey Bassa and Daymon David.

2020 transfers Jordan Happle and Bennett Williams also return to Oregon for their second seasons. Wide receiver Bryan Addison has been practicing with the safeties.

“It’s a very hard-working group,” Yates said. “I can’t complain about their effort, and I can’t complain about the knowledge that they have.”

Hill, who had a breakout game in the Ducks’ Pac-12 Championship Game win last season, is expected to have a big role in the Ducks’ secondary.

“I love his work ethic,” Yates said. “I think he’s a leader in the room. He wants to know the ins and outs of the defense once again, and he wants to work on his technique.”

Another leader in the safety room is Verone McKinley, who led all defensive backs in tackles (41) last season and led the team in interceptions in 2019 (4).

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Dillingham spoke fondly of the frehsman wide receiver's quick adjustments to college ball.

“He’s a leader, very smart, he’s a coach on the field, and he’s doing a good job,” Yates said. “He’s learning the defense still, but he knows it the best probably out of anybody in the room.”

Bassa, who is listed at 6’2” and 200 pounds, has proven to be a physical safety for the Ducks, according to Yates. The freshman from West Valley City, Utah, is the tallest safety for the Ducks — not including 6’5” Addison — and Bassa has impressed Yates and the coaching staff.

“He has a great feel of the game,” Yates said. “He naturally just ends up places where he makes a lot of plays. Where he's at right now, we like what we’re seeing from him.”

Yates also said that Addison has been “working hard” and is “continuing to get better every day” as he takes reps at safety.

The Oregon safety group will be challenged with learning a new defensive scheme and losing three-year starter Nick Pickett. But as the practices become more intense and the scrimmages grow longer, Yates and the defensive coaches have their group primed for a great season in 2021.

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