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Team Building Resulting in Shared Leadership for Oregon Ducks Defense

The Oregon defense has taken a team-first approach to filling leadership voids created by the departure of key veterans.

With under a month until Oregon football kicks off the 2022 season, first year head coach Dan Lanning has placed an emphasis on relationships and bringing his team together. After speaking with several players at the team's media day on Wednesday, his efforts appear to have been well perceived. 

To maximize team camaraderie Lanning has employed several tactics including team rafting trips, paintball, and barbecues at his house to cultivate strong relationships off the field, resulting in leadership on the field.

“It doesn’t matter what I know,” Lanning told reporters. “It’s about what our players know… I’m going to play zero snaps for the University of Oregon this year.”

The effects of the team bonding exercises won't materialize on the field until the team plays a game together, but players are invigorated by the newfound sense of community.

“I would say we're way tighter,” junior cornerback Dontae Manning said. “It’s more of a family than a team. When Coach Lanning first came on the first day he was like we’re gonna connect.”

READ MORE: My'Keil Gardner, three-star Arizona DL commits to Oregon

Although they may be unconventional, the Ducks have begun participating in “Get Real” meetings, a forum for players to talk about non-football related topics and gain a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds.

“At first it’s kind of intimidating, opening up to other guys,” Manning said. “But once you just listen and figure out that all these other guys come from the same or a like background as you, you're all basically the same person doing the same thing.”

The goal of the Get Real meetings and the plethora of team bonding exercises is to encourage friendship and communication, lending itself to a team dynamic in which players feel empowered to speak-up and lead.

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The results are already being reaped as the team works on building a chemistry and identity on defense.

“We're not there yet, but we are working towards it,” First team All-Conference linebacker Noah Sewell said. "Once we connect I don't think nobody can stop us."

Shared leadership responsibilities will be needed as the Ducks will be without first-team All-Conference and Morris trophy winner Kayvon Thibodeaux and Verone McKinley III, nicknamed the general for his commanding presence on last year’s Oregon secondary.

“All of us are taking that role,” senior defensive back Bennett Williams said. “We’re sharing that load...and that makes me so excited because knowing that corners and safeties, even backups that come in, everybody can take control.”

Sewell and Brandon Dorlus, the two returning All-Conference selections from a year ago are expected to lead the defense, along with Justin Flowe who was Pac-12 player of the week in the one game he played in last season.

However, an increase in vocal involvement across the board could be the difference between good and great for an Oregon defense that inherits one of college football’s best young defensive minds in Dan Lanning.

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