Friday was Dan Lanning's first time as a head coach at Pac-12 football media day, but the first-year Oregon head coach sounded like a savvy veteran.
Asked during the July 29 event in Los Angeles to talk about a few specific position battles, Lanning mentioned multiple players in each answer.
Asked about the season opener at Atlanta against the Georgia team he helped win the national championship last season, Lanning admitted it's a special opportunity but said that game hasn't yet been a focus in Eugene.
Of course, the recent tragic death of tight end Spencer Webb was addressed. Lanning described Webb as someone who squeezed a lot out of his 22 years.
"On your tombstone, there's a day when you were born, a day when you pass. But what made Spencer special is how he lived that dash in between those two numbers. We want to live and create a dash that's meaningful," Lanning said. "Our theme this season as we honor Spencer is really growth. Had the conversation with our team about the bamboo plant, how over time you'll water that plant every single day, and at times you don't see the growth. It hasn't come out of the ground. But at some point that plant breaks ground and it grows exponentially. "
• The quarterback position, of course, drew a question about when he might name a starter in the competition between Bo Nix, Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield.
"I'm really excited. You want to know you have quarterbacks in your program you think you can win with. I think we have multiple guys that can do that with Bo, Ty and Jay, (who) have all been extreme competitors," Lanning said. "Probably more than anything, I've been excited with their passion to improve. To be elite, to be a special player, you have to go above and beyond. All of those guys have really contributed in the success of what work they did this summer when people weren't watching, what it looked like when there weren't people standing on the field assessing their efforts. Those guys have put in a lot of extra work."
• Asked about expectations for the 2022 season, Lanning stuck with the growth theme.
"We need to win every single game we're supposed to win, but our goal is to win every one of them. I feel like we have the talent to be competitive in the games we're going to play in. Doesn't mean we have to play our best game every single week. But we want to improve. I want to see measured growth.
"Are we making the same mistakes in week 10 that we make in week one? I'd say no. If we're able to grow as a team, continue to develop, have that same mindset, I think that approach will be really special for us."
• On the injury front, Lanning said Justin Flowe, Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae — projected starters who missed some or all of spring practice — are healthy for the start of fall camp next week.
• Lanning noted several times that, while there is plenty of returning talent, 54 players on the roster are new Ducks.
"In the spring, obviously, we were down some guys. We had some injuries. We didn't get to see every single player on our roster go through the spring, compete. We have 54 newcomers. Some of those guys were able to practice with you, some weren't. That being said, that's our job as coaches, right? We're tasked with getting our guys ready to play, making sure we ask them to incorporate systems that they can execute. I feel strongly we have the roster to be effective. Obviously, any team can be affected by injuries. We have to be able to adapt and put a great product out there on the field. I think we're close to having a good roster for that."
Part of that equation is developing players who can play multiple positions, Lanning said.
"I believe in position versatility. I believe in figuring out ways to have your best 11 players on the field. Another mantra of mine is, always if you're good enough, you're old enough. If we have players that are good enough, we want to find a role for them on our team, want to be able to have them contribute to our success. When you have guys that can learn multiple positions, have guys that can move around and are smart and intelligent, at the end of the day it only benefits your team whenever an injury occurs or a certain pressure package, personnel grouping can be changed to adapt to our strengths."
• On the recruiting front, Lanning said the departure of USC and UCLA in two years hasn't impacted Oregon because it's a nationally-known brand.
"It's amazing to me how many kids I'll talk to, the first time I talk to them they tell me how Oregon has always been their dream school. This place, like I said, is a national brand. We're going to continue to go recruit nationally, but we want to win on the West Coast and copy the best players on the West Coast as well. Certainly we'll continue to recruit California.
"Oregon is a brand that can stand alone and competed for championships in the last 12 years. Only eight other teams can say that. We're really confident in our product. We're a brand that's built and a school that has been built on innovation. We'll continue to be cutting edge. Those are the reasons I came here in the first place."
• Perhaps Lanning's best response was to a question about how, as a first-time head coach, he deals with the changing landscape in college football.
"Yeah, it seems to be ever-changing, doesn't it? I've been asked a couple times what it's like being a first-year head coach in this environment. The one thing I'll say is, it's probably pretty similar to being a 15-year head coach in this environment because it's different. It continues to change.
"I think what we do at the University of Oregon is we continue to put the focus of the players first. I certainly want to see our players maximize their opportunities, whether that be through name, image and likeness. I think we're positioned really well to be successful there. But we want to play elite competition. I trust George and our leadership in conference to continue to point us in the right direction there.
"But it's a fun, ever-changing day. You always have to pay attention. There's usually a headline when you wake up in the morning. Fun to adapt and be on your toes. Certainly different to coach in."
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