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Oregon Relying on Collective Leadership to Begin Dan Lanning Era

The Ducks once again have a roster mostly made up of high-caliber, yet inexperienced players. With plenty of veterans moving on, new leaders emerged in spring.

It's never easy for a program to undergo a coaching change, especially in the mercurial world of college football in 2022. It's even more challenging for a program looking for a new quarterback amid an offensive install and breaking in its third defensive system in four years.

Only 27 players remain from the 2019 Rose Bowl team. The Ducks have also made almost a complete makeover of the coaching staff since hoisting the trophy in Pasadena after defeating Wisconsin. 

But if you ask some of the veterans on the team about once again learning a new system, it's not as challenging as you might think.

"Coming from being a freshman up to now, you kind of learn how to study and learn how to watch film and building those good habits," fifth-year junior safety Steve Stephens IV said. "Up to this point, it just gets easier and easier as time goes on and you just get smarter."

Steve Stephens Fumble

Stephens had the privilege of learning under current Miami Dolphins Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III for several years. Now, one of only two defensive backs from the 2018 class still on the roster, he gets to share his knowledge and study habits with the young guys in the secondary.

Fifth-year junior tight end Spencer Webb shared a similar sentiment this spring, passing along his wisdom to the up-and-comers in the tight end room.

"You just take it day by day," Webb said of helping the younger guys adapt to the new system. "I tell them don't get too frustrated. They're drinking water out of a fire hose. You're gonna mess up, you're gonna make mistakes, but just learn on it. Don't get too caught up in the change."

spencer-webb-with-drew-mehringer-spring

With a large group of veterans graduating and heading to the NFL at nearly every position, this spring provided an opportunity for leaders to emerge, even outside of the obvious leaders with three or four years under their belt.

The Oregon wide receiver room has undergone arguably the most attrition since the conclusion of last season, with Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd, and Devon Williams moving on. Younger wideouts like Dont'e Thornton, Kris Hutson, and Troy Franklin are now at the forefront of the wide receiver room.

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Previously, those young players could observe the vets as they led by example after having so much experience, but now it's up to them to lead, which is something they're embracing.

"Just being an older guy now, people are kinda looking up to me," Franklin said. "You gotta be more locked in mentally and lead by example. I'm definitely locked in."

"Last year we had a lot of older dudes, but now, it's a bunch of younger dudes that have to step up and become older dudes," said Thornton, who'been praised by a plethora of his teammates and coaches for stepping up as a vocal leader. "We're maturing a lot."

Dont'e Thornton Spring Celebration

It's not just the wide receivers that are embracing this collective leadership approach. Players from every position group described how they watch film together and learn from each other.

The cornerbacks are another group that is very young and looking for new leaders to sprout. Despite being one of the oldest guys in the room, Colorado transfer Christian Gonzalez isn't the only one sharing knowledge.

"I feel like I'm stepping into a veteran role with the corner room. I'm young, but I got experience," Gonzalez said. "But it's not anything like that in the room. Everybody knows it's a family. We're a brotherhood. People look up to other people and we all help each other learn."

Having veteran transfers like Gonzalez, Bo Nix, and Chase Cota step in also provides an added boost of leadership to the team, but the fact that young guys are embracing becoming older guys speaks volumes about the winning culture that Dan Lanning and his staff have implemented in their first offseason in Eugene.

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