Of all the questions surrounding the Oregon secondary this spring, the biggest might revolve around one of the players with the most experience.

There are obvious holes to fill with the losses of Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson and Terrance Mitchell and the Ducks will rely heavily on the leadership of seniors like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Dior Mathis to shepherd talented-yet-inexperienced players like Tyree Robinson.

The biggest question mark of Oregon’s secondary, though, walked out of practice on Wednesday with a smile on his face and sweat dripping from his brow. Erick Dargan played in 11 games for Oregon a year ago, but it’s the two he missed that have made him appreciate the clean slate that spring represents.

"It feels good," he said. "It's a fresh start, you know? Last year is behind me and I'm just looking forward to this year and leaving it all out there."

Four months ago, Dargan was on the sidelines while the Ducks were at the Alamo Bowl. A month before that, he wasn't playing while they were at the Civil War. Dargan, and teammate Troy Hill, were suspended from those two games for unspecified violations of team rules. It was a sentence that devastated Dargan.

Known for his emotion on the field, the California-native felt just as much of it when barred from it.

"It was hard. Difficult. Emotional," he said. "Not being out there, it hurt deeply."

The Ducks certainly could have used Dargan in those games. Over the last three seasons, Dargan worked his way into a role of responsibility with Oregon. In 2012, he took advantage of injuries to start in the final three games of the year. He broke out with eight tackles and two interceptions in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State and entered 2013 looking to play a prominent role in a strong Ducks' secondary. He played in each of the first 11 games, recording 24 tackles, deflecting five passes and forcing a fumble. His play on special teams earned him a spot on the All-Pac-12 Second-Team. But it was his suspension that turned a strong season sour. And the way secondary coach John Neal saw at it, Dargan could have gone one of two directions.

Neal pushed hard to make sure Dargan chose the positive one.

Dargan has the opportunity to enter next fall as a starter and his coach wanted to make sure he didn’t squander the chance. Since the Alamo Bowl, Neal has called Dargan often to remind him just how bad it felt.

“Is it harder when you’re not playing?” Neal would ask.

Did it hurt?

Was it fun watching the bowl game from the sidelines?

“He should have been ill. He should have been miserable,” Neal said. “If you’re a real competitor, you would have been. And he was, same with Troy. I remind them of where they were a lot, especially coming into their senior seasons.”

According to Goducks.com, Mark Helfrich singled Dargan out after the Alamo Bowl win over Texas. Helfrich highlighted Dargan’s effort with the scout team during the suspension, noting his newfound-form of accountability in helping prepare his teammates even if it was for a game he would miss.

On Wednesday, Helfrich said that’s continued through the spring.

“He’s responded exactly how you would have wanted somebody in that situation,” Helfrich said, “of growing up, learning from it and hopefully getting everyone else better.”