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Oregon's glaring strength.

Byline: Rob Moseley The Register-Guard

The other day, Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal was reviewing film of Monday night's NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.

The Chargers' Shawne Merriman, an electric defender who is already recognized as one of the league's top players in just his second season, had six tackles and three sacks that night.

Each time Merriman pummeled Raiders quarterback Aaron Brooks, the linebacker's boundless enthusiasm struck Neal.

"I watched his enthusiasm, and he was so energetic, because he's good," Neal said. "He plays that way because he's a great player."

That kind of enthusiasm borne of confidence can also be found in one of Neal's own players: sophomore rover Patrick Chung. The parallel between Merriman and Chung also struck Neal after the coach watched Monday night's game.

"Pat's going to be a great player," Neal said. "He's not ready to push all the buttons that it takes to be a great player yet, but he has the ability to be one. He has energy, and confidence, and he's tough. He walks around like a guy that knows he's a good player, but is not pointing at other people or the other team.

"He just knows he's going to play well, and I really appreciate that about him."

In a recent conversation, Chung mentioned his passion for playing football no fewer than seven times in 15 minutes. He struggles to explain the allure; Neal believes it stems largely from Chung's success, which breeds what the coach calls Chung's "commanding confidence" in himself.

And there's no doubting Chung's success to this point in his career. If the sophomore still has some maturing to do before blossoming into a full-fledged superstar, he at least seems well on his way. Saturday's game between No. 18 Oregon and No. 15 Oklahoma in Autzen Stadium at 12:30 p.m. will be Chung's 15th career start; he was second on the team with 91 tackles as a redshirt freshman, and through two games this season he is tied for the team lead with 17.

He is also the only Duck with both an interception and a sack so far, which speaks to Chung's versatility, and the ways in which it allows Oregon to use him in so many roles. On any given play, Chung could be a safety playing a deep zone, or lined up one-on-one with a slot receiver, or up in the box to stuff the run, or coming off the edge rushing the quarterback.

"I'll play wherever they need me," Chung said. "Corner, rover, safety, it doesn't matter to me. As long as I'm on the field."

He is, Neal said, the kind of player around whom schemes are designed.

"That's the position that really our best football player on defense has to be," Neal said of the rover. "He has every role possible, and he has to be able to do that. I've been searching for that guy since I came here, understanding what we need to fit the defense, and he's fit it well."

And to think, Chung might have been a soccer player rather than a star safety.

He was born in Jamaica, where his mother, Sophia George, was a reggae singer. She married her producer, a half-Chinese, half-Jamaican named Ronald Chung, and they toured the world together, their son said.

Patrick Chung doesn't recall watching his mother perform, though he has some of her music on his iPod. While he lived in Jamaica until he was 9 or 10, Chung has few memories of the Caribbean island.

"It was hot, hot all the time," he said. "It was like a big playground. Everybody was outside all the time."

The family moved to Florida for a year or two, coming to America to better the seven children's educational opportunities. They then joined one of Patrick's older brothers in southern California, where he attended high school and began playing football at his parents' urging.

"If it wasn't for them I'd probably be playing soccer or something," Chung said.

Might all those moves, all those opportunities to adjust to new situations, help explain Chung's ability to be so versatile on the football field? He isn't willing to make that claim.

A bigger influence on his diversity may be Chung's father.

"My dad is a funny little dude, man," Chung said. "I don't know how to explain my dad. He's just funny. But he knows what he's talking about. He's wise, because he's been through a lot - he's in his 60s. He's smart, but at the same time he's goofy like a little kid."

In that regard, father and son appear to be quite similar. Chung, barely 19 now, was just 16 when he joined the Ducks for camp in the fall of 2004 - he was set to greyshirt and sit out that fall, but another player didn't qualify academically, and Chung was summoned to Eugene.

There is, as Neal said, still some maturation for Chung to experience, in the way he embraces his responsibilities in the weight room and the film room and the classroom with the same intensity he brings to the field.

But at the same time, Chung took over as the starting rover as a redshirt freshman and never looked back. And he had the wisdom to turn to older players for advice when he entered the program. He picked the brains of guys like J.D. Nelson, Justin Phinisee, Aaron Gipson, Demetrius Spates and Marley Tucker, pestering them for advice.

"Since he's been here he's been real open-minded and ready to learn - a coachable guy," said Nelson, Oregon's senior free safety.

And Chung was more than willing to contribute on special teams, where he made 17 tackles a year ago.

"I don't really like to be on the sideline," he said.

In just more than two seasons, Chung's intense love of football has become clear to his coaches and teammates. He may not be as demonstrative as Merriman, but his passion for the game appears to be at a similar level.

In some ways, Chung may be more like his favorite player, Brian Dawkins, the five-time Pro Bowl free safety for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"He just plays for the love of it," Chung said. "He plays with passion. I like playing with passion - screaming, just being into the game, being intense, hitting, trying to make every play. That's how I feel he plays, every game."

And with each interception he plucks from the air, each quarterback he buries in the turf, Chung takes another step closer to playing not just at the same level of intensity as a Dawkins or Merriman, but a similar level of production as well.

OREGON VS. OKLAHOMA

12:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium. TV: ABC. Radio: KUGN-AM (590). Web updates: www.registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Only a sophomore, Patrick Chung is already an emerging star on defense
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 14, 2006
Words:1141
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