The Oregon Ducks preseason writers room
Predictions and thoughts on Dan Lanning's first season from a few of the writers covering the team.
We’re getting close.
Seriously. Next week your social media feeds will be filled with quotes from the Pac-12’s media day. The preseason poll will be out, takes will be made and coaches and players from around the conference will fly back home from Hollywood ready to embark on the season.
And for the first time in a while, maybe the football conversation can move back to actual football.
Frankly, we can’t wait.
So, we’re kicking things off a little early here at The I-5 Corridor with an Oregon football writers roundtable. I wanted to get the pulse of the Ducks from the people who cover the team every day, so here’s Jared Mack (Duck Territory), Jarrid Denney (ScoopDuck), Zachary Neel (DucksWire) and Shane Hoffmann (This fall for The I-5 Corridor) on Dan Lanning’s biggest challenges, expectations for Justin Flowe and which players they’d pick to sell you a car.
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What is Dan Lanning’s biggest challenge this season?
Shane Hoffmann: Balancing expectations and shutting out the noise surrounding the quarterbacks. The Anthony Brown debate made last season unbearable to cover at times. Oregon needs more consistent quarterback play, but what Lanning needs even more so is to handle it the correct way, both within the confines of the program, and on the outskirts.
I think fans really came around to Bo Nix after his Spring Game performance, but Ty Thompson is still the people’s choice. What happens when Nix starts, then struggles against, let’s say, BYU? Interested to see how Lanning goes about it compared to how Mario Cristobal handled his quarterbacks.
Jared Mack: Lanning doesn’t have head coaching experience outside of an intramural basketball team in high school. How that will translate into coaching a football team will have to be seen, but for now, I think Lanning’s biggest challenge is showcasing on-field stability for a program that has only seen waves of it recently.
With four head coaches in the last six years, the culture at Oregon has shifted multiple times. From “Win the Day” to “Do Something” to “Progrum,” Oregon has seen its fair share of slogans. The Ducks have also seen its fair share of peaks and valleys. The blueprint to becoming a consistent, SEC-style team was left by Mario Cristobal and looks to be retained by Lanning. The stability is there in the sense of what team style I expect to see. On the field, there are still plenty of question marks.
Zachary Neel: I think the biggest challenge for Lanning is going to be the aspect of learning how to be a head coach on the sidelines without any training wheels. We know how prominent of a recruiter and leader he is, but with no head coaching experience, there’s a chance we see some mishaps. Look at Mario Cristobal — he was as good of a coach as Oregon has seen until it got to game management situations, then he faltered. Lanning is going to have to delegate well and try to learn how to manage a game on the fly, which could prove tricky.
Jarrid Denney: Dealing with a bunch of cranky old beat writers?1
In all seriousness, Lanning’s biggest challenge will be revamping an Oregon defense that looked broken at times in 2021. The Ducks had two All-Americans and a bunch of all-conference guys on that side of the ball last season but were a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 defense.
Lanning and Tosh Lupoi have a group that is stocked with former 4- and 5-stars. The pressure is on to get the most out of those players after their predecessors failed to do so.
What are we saying about Bo Nix and Ty Thompson at the end of the season?
Denney: Reuniting with Kenny Dillingham was the best thing to ever happen to Nix. He’s got his career back on track and is generating some NFL buzz after a very good season. That doesn’t mean Thompson is transfer portal-bound, though. He’s made it clear he wants to be a Duck. He’ll be back in Eugene for the 2023 season and will battle it out with Dante Moore for the starting job.
Neel: I think I might be done holding out for the Ty Thompson train to leave the station. We’ve seen over and over again that he has all of the arm talent in the world, but it’s his decision-making that gets him into trouble. I think that Bo Nix wins the starting job for the 2022 season, and to be honest, with Dante Moore on the way, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Thompson in a different uniform at the start of the 2023 season. I hope I’m wrong, because I would love to see Ty get a shot in Eugene. As for Nix, I could see him boosting his draft profile and going as a 3rd or 4th-rounder in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Mack: Unlike 2021, I don't think there will be the clamoring for Thompson to start.2 Nix is a superior quarterback to Anthony Brown and could lead the Ducks to another Pac-12 title game berth.
The flip side is, I think the narrative of Thompson will be, “Will he enter the transfer portal?” Nix has two years of eligibility remaining, although the consensus seems to be a one-and-done type move. With Dante Moore expected to arrive in Eugene for 2023 and Jay Butterfield progressing, there’s a chance Thompson could look for another program to join.
Hoffmann: “Wow, Nix has really come on strong in the back half of the season, it feels like ages ago that the Georgia defense ripped him apart!” I’m glad Thompson stayed last offseason, but I wonder if he’s still wearing Oregon colors come next fall.
Oregon’s biggest strength is?
Neel: It’s easy to look at the defensive front-seven, but I think a lot of people are overlooking Oregon’s offensive line. With 4 of 5 returning starters, the Ducks have experience and continuity up front. They also have the top-ranked OT in school history — Josh Conerly3 — coming into the fold, and Adrian Klemm, a highly-respected OL coach, leading the way.
Mack: The front-seven. Noah Sewell, Justin Flowe, Jeffrey Bassa, and Jackson LaDuke are all capable of starting for the Ducks at linebacker in 2022, and that’s not including Keith Brown, Adrian Jackson, or the two four-star newcomers in Devon Jackson and Harrison Taggart.
On the defensive line, Oregon will have a stout interior line with Popo Aumavae, Sam Taimani, and Brandon Dorlus, all of whom perform well in PFF’s grading system. On the edges, Bradyn Swinson and DJ Johnson could reach their potential with Lanning and Lupoi’s defensive scheme. It’s an exciting time to be a defensive player in Eugene.
Hoffmann: Its linebacking core. Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe figure to be a lethal duo — likely one of the nation’s best — in the middle. Jeffrey Bassa seems poised to stay at linebacker, as well, and provides an excellent complement to the hard-hitting duo with his sideline-to-sideline speed.
Jackson LaDuke and Keith Brown got meaningful reps last season due to injuries above them on the depth chart, and I’m interested to see if Mase Funa and Adrian Jackson can put together healthier seasons on the edge.
I’ve got my eye on Jabril McNeill and Devon Jackson, too. The names at the top jump out, but as I go down the list, I’m continually taken-aback by the depth.
Denney: The offensive line. T.J. Bass, Alex Forsyth, and the rest of the returning starters are going to make life miserable for a whole bunch of defensive coordinators.
Oregon’s biggest weakness is?
Mack: Cornerback depth. The Ducks are positioned well in many of their position groups with experience and young talent, but cornerback could be the Achilles heel of this team.
Dontae Manning and Christian Gonzalez look to be the starters, but the losses of Mykael Wright, DJ James, and Jaylin Davies leave a lot of the backup responsibility to true freshmen. Oregon does return Avante Dickerson and Darren Barkins, but four-star prospects Jalil Tucker and Jahlil Florence could be seeing the playing field a lot depending on injuries. Without a true, proven lockdown corner, this will be a position group to keep an eye out for the fall.
Hoffmann: While this team has its weaker points, I have trouble pin-pointing one glaring weakness. There’s quality depth — some of which remains unproven — at all the skill positions and the offense line should be a strength again.
I’m quite keen on the linebackers and with the pass-rushing trio of Brandon Dorlus, DJ Johnson and Bradyn Swinson, I think Oregon should be able to generate ample pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Even the secondary, while not extraordinarily deep at the moment, has a lot of players I like. There’s a lot of potential for disruption on the backend due to the unit’s length and ability to play the run.
That leaves the quarterback position. Hate to beat a dead horse, but given the unknowns, I’ll say the signal callers may be the weakness, for now.
Denney: The secondary. If Dontae Manning doesn’t take hold of the starting job at boundary corner, the Ducks could be in trouble there. But having Bennett Williams available to play basically anywhere in the secondary should help solve a few problems.
Neel: I have some serious questions about the secondary. Can we say with complete confidence that Dontae Manning is going to be a shutdown corner? Can Trikweze Bridges, Bryan Addison, Jamal Hill and Bennett Williams form an elite rotation over the top? I want to say yes, but I need to see it first.
Who is the most interesting interview on the team?
Hoffmann: I’ve always enjoyed chatting to Ryan Walk and Alex Forsyth. Their answers are typically well thought out and they seem to enjoy talking with the media — most of the time.
Denney: Brandon Dorlus. He’s genuinely hilarious and is as charismatic as any college athlete I’ve ever interviewed.
Neel: WR Dont’e Thornton currently holds the belt for, “Player I’m most excited to see on the interview list,” after spring football. He’s exuberant, expressive, and always confident. He sports a diamond gold chain with his own nickname — MACC — on it. More than all of that, he poses a serious threat to become the Ducks’ WR1 this season. Always entertaining, Thornton may become a fan favorite this season.
Mack: The obvious answer is Tom Snee.4
What game are you looking forward to the most?
Mack: Another obvious answer: Oregon’s matchup with Georgia. That game will be the talk of the town for a lot of reasons, but it will be our first look at how Lanning performs as a head coach. His performance, coupled with Oregon taking on the defending national champion and Lanning’s former employer, will be the icing on the cake.
Neel: The easiest answer is Georgia, but since my wife and I are expecting our first child just a couple of days after that game, I won’t be making the trip to Atlanta. The second-easiest answer is the rematch against Utah, for obvious reasons. Instead, though, I am going to say Week 3 against the BYU Cougars. A top-25 team coming into Autzen, and fans will know a bit more about what we can expect from Lanning and his group by then. Should Oregon beat UGA, it will be a chance for the Ducks to plant their flag on the national scale. Should the Ducks lose the opener to Georgia, it’s a perfect bounce back opportunity. I think we will learn everything we need to know about this team against BYU.
Hoffmann: Georgia, no doubt. The Utah rematch is a distant second and honestly, not much else comes close.
Denney: Utah. Oregon failed miserably on two occasions when it tried to out-tough the Utes last season. Let’s see if they’re better equipped under the new coaching staff.
Who has more tackles this season: Justin Flowe or Noah Sewell?
Denney: Sewell. I’m not overly concerned about Flowe’s ability to make a healthy return; I think he’ll have a great year. But Sewell might finish with more tackles than anybody in the Pac-12.
Hoffmann: Sewell. If Flowe gave me an ounce of confidence he’d be healthy this year I may have picked him. But if he continues to play the position like he’s a heat-seeking missile, I’d be surprised if he plays the whole season. Sewell has had his own injury concerns but they’ve largely been shorter-term.
Neel: Will Justin Flowe stay healthy enough to play 8-10 games?5 That’s the biggest question. If so, I think he could dethrone Noah Sewell as the team’s tackle leader. However, he hasn’t proven yet that he can stay on the field, so I will defer to Sewell until I see otherwise.
Mack: My heart tells me Flowe, but my brain is telling me Sewell. Sewell is as durable as they come, and with Flowe’s injury history, my prediction lands with Sewell. I won’t be shocked if Flowe comes away with the tackle lead if he stays healthy for the season.
If you’re a Eugene car dealership, which Duck are you putting in your commercials?
Mack: Brandon Dorlus or Adrian Jackson. Both are huge personalities and great in front of the camera. As long as my dealership churns up a good script, cars will fly off the lot.
Neel: Noah Sewell doesn’t have a big enough public personality; Bo Nix is too fresh of a face in Eugene; Byron Cardwell doesn’t have enough reps under his belt just yet. Chase Cota? He’s new but has the Oregon legend status thanks to his father, Chad Cota. Maybe Brandon Dorlus? There are very few personalities on the team bigger than No. 3.
Denney: The answer has to be Patrick Herbert, right? Get the whole family involved and it’s an instant win.6
Hoffmann: Give me Brandon Dorlus. He’s got a great smile and, from what I’ve seen, has an overtly-positive presence around the team. He’s also due for a monster year.
What conference should Oregon land in?
Neel: I think the best case scenario for Oregon is if they were to follow USC and UCLA to the Big Ten. That doesn’t seem very likely at the point, though, so I’d have to say that a Pac-12/ACC merger might be the best plan at the moment. If you rebranded it as an All Coastal Conference, you get the best of both worlds. Oregon, Clemson, Miami, Florida State together for football? Arizona, North Carolina, Duke, and Oregon for basketball?7 Those matchups will certainly draw ratings.
Hoffmann: I hate this. All of it. I’d say it would be cool to see them stay in a hopefully-revamped Pac-12, but with UCLA and USC out the door, the conference has lost a good portion of its historical pull.
Screw it, let’s say the SEC. They’ve been talking about banging with the big dogs for a few years now. Let's see how much they can handle. Why not, right?
Mack: Well, if I’m Oregon, I want to be in the Big Ten. The Big Ten and SEC will soon control college football by 2024-25, and if you’re Oregon, you don’t want to miss out on the fun. Will that happen? Who knows. The Pac-12 will always be a great option if a new TV deal can be finalized, but with the potential money loss, the Big Ten has to be the answer.
— Tyson Alger
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Am I getting subtweeted on my own website?
I’d like to believe this. Really, I would. But if Oregon goes three-and-out on its first series in Atlanta, it’s going to start.
Conerly is in rarified air when it comes to his prospect ranking. We’ve seen a true freshman come in before and win a starting job at Oregon on a veteran offensive line. Let’s see if Conerly has any Penei Sewell in him.
I was surprised not to see any votes for Seven McGee here after the quotes he provided everyone this spring.
He will. And he will be spectacular.
This is big brain thinking, Jarrid. Good work.