As Dan Lanning walked off the field following Georgia's national championship victory over Alabama, his job title quickly changed from defensive coordinator of the Bulldogs to head coach at Oregon.
Lanning was walking up the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis while talking on FaceTime with a recruiting target for the Ducks. Named the next Oregon head coach a month earlier, Lanning had been essentially juggling two jobs leading up to the College Football Playoff final.
"A lot of the players that I got to visit with here in Oregon were appreciative of the commitment that I was able to make to the guys that we had there (at Georgia)," Lanning says. "It meant so much to be able to finish that season in a certain way."
The recruit Lanning was talking with after the Bulldogs' victory over Alabama? That was four-star cornerback Jahlil Florence, who ended up signing with the Ducks. It was yet another victory for Oregon's new head coach.
Previewing Oregon's Offense for 2022
After a year of uneven play at quarterback from the now-departed Anthony Brown, the Ducks are hoping for more consistent, high-level production out of the position in 2022. Oregon is returning two promising young players, including former five-star recruit Ty Thompson, but that didn't stop the Ducks from adding Auburn transfer Bo Nix, who played for the Tigers as a freshman under Oregon's new offensive coordinator, Kenny Dillingham.
Lanning was very deliberate about not confirming any sort of depth chart or even a practice order among Nix, Thompson or redshirt freshman Jay Butterfield during the spring.
"Competition breeds excellence," Lanning says. "Ultimately we're going to have competition at every position across the board, quarterback included."
The backfield will have another new face after the departures of four-year contributors CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. Verdell declared for the NFL Draft, and Dye transferred to USC, leaving Byron Cardwell and Sean Dollars to pick up the carries, along with transfers Noah Whittington (WKU) and Mar'Keise Irving (Minnesota). They're all versatile, quick backs, but each will have something to prove in the absence of Verdell and Dye.
The good news is that the offensive line returns almost entirely intact. Center Alex Forsyth will try to play a full season after back problems limited him in 2021, and the Ducks have a couple of potential pro prospects in T.J. Bass and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. The receiver group is young but talented, led by lanky wideout Troy Franklin and explosive slot Kris Hutson, and Terrance Ferguson leads a deep tight end group that could compel Dillingham to get two or even three on the field together at times.
Previewing Oregon's Defense for 2022
The Ducks will miss explosive edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, but overall, the Ducks' front seven will still be a strength. Linemen Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae and Keyon Ware-Hudson all sat out the spring to let injuries heal, giving their backups valuable seasoning in April. Noah Sewell has a chance to be one of the best linebackers in the country, and Justin Flowe is another former five-star recruit at inside linebacker who could develop into an elite player this fall. Bradyn Swinson, DJ Johnson and Mase Funa are all explosive edge players.
The secondary needed to reload after several departures, including the unit's leader Verone McKinley III, and the Ducks scored big in the transfer portal by signing Christian Gonzalez from Colorado. Dontae Manning could be the other starter at corner if he recovers from a minor knee injury in the spring, but don't overlook that prospect Lanning was recruiting while walking off the field in Indianapolis — Florence could challenge for early playing time.
Bennett Williams was one of the best playmaking safeties in the country last September. His season-ending injury hurt the 2021 Oregon defense, but it benefited the 2022 version because a healthy Williams might have left for this year's draft. With Jamal Hill also back at the nickel spot, Williams could slide back to one of the deep safety positions, where the Ducks also have a couple of long, rangy ball hawks in Bryan Addison and Trikweze Bridges.
Related: Pac-12 2022 All-Conference Team
Previewing Oregon's Specialists for 2022
Camden Lewis is a seasoned placekicker, but the punting position was in flux in the spring with veteran Tom Snee away from the team. His decision whether to rejoin the program for the 2022 season will be a situation to watch late in the summer. Hutson is back to return kicks after averaging 22.4 yards per return, and Seven McGee is on hand for punt return duties.
Back when Chip Kelly was head coach, Oregon became known for fast-paced offense that piled up points. The Ducks grew more conservative under Mario Cristobal, and now the pendulum might swing completely the other way, with some question marks at key positions on offense but what looks like a stacked unit on defense.
"People might say, 'You can't play defense like you used to play,' and ultimately for me I'm going to say, 'Why not?'" Lanning says. "Why can we not adapt? Why can't we re-create? And if you have a group of men that believe in that, then great things can be accomplished."
National Ranking: 10
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