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Oregon Football: Ducks' 2022 Spring Preview

Mase Funa, Oregon Ducks Football

Following a coaching change and the departure of Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks need Mase Funa to emerge as both a defensive playmaker and a leader this spring

Three straight appearances in the Pac-12 Championship Game might be cause for celebration with some programs. But after the 2019 title win over Utah, which sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl Game, Kayvon Thibodeaux's promise of more to come elevated expectations.

A run to the College Football Playoff never materialized before head coach Mario Cristobal left for Miami, and last season's promising start crumbled down the stretch.

A fresh start with first-year head coach Dan Lanning gives Oregon renewed perspective ahead of the 2022 campaign, but that shouldn't mean a change in the lofty standard for which the Ducks aspire.

5 Storylines to Watch During Oregon's Spring Practice

1. Quarterback competition 

With inconsistent quarterback play haunting Oregon since Justin Herbert's departure, the significance of this year's competition to start behind center takes on heightened significance.

Bo Nix's transfer in from Auburn adds a veteran presence, but Ty Thompson came to Eugene with plenty of accolades coming out of Arizona's Mesquite High School.

Related: Early 2022 Pac-12 QB Preview and Rankings

Don't necessarily expect a starter to be named too far out from Oregon's Week 1 trip to Georgia, but the spring will begin the process of either integrating Nix into the starting job, or seeing a youngster like Thompson take the reins.

2. Filling holes in the secondary 

Defensive back has been a strength of Oregon football through many years and coaching regimes. The Lanning era begins with the Ducks having to replace the most recent stars from the secondary, Verone McKinley and Mykael Wright.

Trikweze Bridges offers a load of potential, and Bennett Williams was a standout before breaking his leg a month into the 2021 campaign. The addition of Colorado transfer Christian Gonzalez could be the biggest piece for solidifying the secondary; he shined for the Buffaloes in both 2020 and '21.

3. Replacing Thibodeaux 

Kayvon Thibodeaux was among the biggest presences in all of college football, literally and metaphorically. The All-American defensive end and soon-to-be first-round draft pick did just about everything well, even if it didn't always show up on the stat sheet. Among his most important contributions to the Ducks' defense was the attention he commanded from opposing blockers, freeing up teammates as a result.

Not many, if any teams can replace Thibodeaux with a similarly skilled player. However, there will be candidates to emerge as the next pass-rushing star. Mase Funa is entering his fourth season with the program and looked capable of being an All-American off the edge in 2019 with 8.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Rangy Adrian Jackson Jr. is another Duck to watch.

4. Offensive overhaul or minor adjustments? 

Joe Moorhead's departure for the head-coaching vacancy at Akron was among the more surprising offseason coaching moves. Kenny Dillingham takes over with experience primarily working alongside Mike Norvell, including coordinating an outstanding Memphis offense in 2018.

That year, Darrell Henderson went off for 1,909 yards and a shade below nine yards per carry, and really should have been a Heisman Trophy finalist. Moorhead came to Oregon with proven chops designing plays for standout running backs; perhaps Dillingham will bring a similar perspective.

5. Championship vibes

While Cristobal came into Oregon with national championship credentials as a member of Nick Saban's Alabama staff, he wasn't literally weeks removed from claiming one. When Lanning oversaw the Georgia defense at January's national championship, he did so having already accepted the Oregon vacancy.

Bringing a very recent championship resume to Eugene is sure to generate significant buzz for Year 1 in a new era of Oregon football.

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing.