When Oregon takes the field in Atlanta next weekend, it will have been a little over 8 months since the Ducks faced an opponent on the field, and it’s hard to overstate the amount of change that’s taken place in that time. Tomorrow, Oregon will be just one week out from facing the defending National Champion on the road with a new Head Coach and Staff, a new starting quarterback, and at least slightly different schemes on both sides of the ball. Oregon football has certainly been no stranger to having to deal with Coaching changes, but the Lanning era has begun with what seems like a smooth transition. Both Coaches and players are expressing optimism about how the team is coming together which is hardly unusual or unexpected, but in Oregon’s case seems genuine. Motion is not progress and translating hard work in practices to game success is hardly guaranteed. Doubtless the Bulldogs are working hard as well.
Importantly Oregon appears to be moving towards full strength with players who have missed time in fall camp returning to the practice field. Some short-term injuries have kept the offensive line from being at full strength, but the group now seems healed and ready to go. Returning starters T.J. Bass and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu both missed part or all of practice the first two weeks. The tackles were hit particularly hard as key backups Dawson Jaramillo, Faaope Laloulu and Michael Wooten all have missed time. Jaramillo and Wooten appear to be back near full speed. The tight end group, already rocked by the sudden death of Spencer Webb in a climbing accident, has welcomed the return of Patrick Herbert to near full-health after two injury-plagued seasons. Justin Flowe appears completely recovered and ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. But all is not rosy: defensive linemen Sua’ava Poti and Maceal Afaese along with linebacker Jaden Navarrette have missed significant practice time. At this point, many players are likely to be dealing with minor aches and pains on a regular basis.
The two units that have been generating the most “buzz” are the receivers and the defensive backfield. Coach Junior Adams praised Troy Franklin and Chase Cota in a post-practice interview this week, noting as a whole the group is spending extra time in the film room and understanding the level of work and commitment needed. The defensive backfield is one place where Coaches are not yet ready to assign players to specific positions, at least publicly. As a whole, the group has shown tremendous physicality and athleticism.
Overall, the Coaches have made very few commitments thus far as to which players will start at which positions against Georgia, although many educated guesses can be made. The quarterback competition continues, apparently, with some overwrought speculation about Coach Lanning naming his starter just before kickoff on the 3rd. Lanning has emphasized flexibility and cross-training at positions, believing that where a player might fit in a formation could depend on the player’s specific skill set, how those skills will work in different game situations and also how those skills might mesh with another player who could be on the field at the same time. This approach can also help reduce the fall-off in the case of injuries.
Oregon begins its “game week” preparations today and tomorrow and will repeat those practices on Monday and Tuesday after a day off.