Fun Matters More than Ever for Oregon Football

David Marsh Editorials

The biggest thing that keeps getting repeated during spring practice is that the team is having fun again. Mario Cristobal was and still is all about the “grind” — and there is absolutely a time and place for that. However, it really does seem like Cristobal’s culture was wearing thin on the players.

By contrast, Dan Lanning has breathed new life into the Oregon program and brought his philosophy of a growth mind set and fun, while not letting up on the grind factor.

It has been nice to see Lanning working to bring Oregon alumni back into the fold of the program, and that was a major piece of the Spring Game with former Oregon Head Coach Rich Brooks in attendance for the opening coin flip and the honorary coaches of LaMichael James and Arik Armstead for the Green Team and De’Anthony Thomas and Haloti Ngata for the Yellow Team. The competition on the field was serious, but the atmosphere itself seemed to lack a do-or-die feeling for the players.

This Spring Game was fun; it opened with a deep ball by Bo Nix to Seven McGee that almost went for a touchdown. The crowd was in to it and the sidelines were energized. The offense dominated the first quarter, and then for the remainder of the game it was pretty much all defense.

Oregon great Haloti Ngata making his entrance onto the field at Autzen Stadium as an Honorary Coach for the Spring Game.

The quarterback battle was in full swing and each quarterback had plenty of reps. This was unlike the 2021 Spring Game, in which the team was divided into ones and twos and Anthony Brown effectively took all first string reps, killing the very notion of a quarterback competition. The game plan on Saturday was pass-heavy, but that is not all too surprising considering that is precisely what the fans wanted to see. There was also no need to hammer Oregon’s much thinned running back corps, even though there were still some incredible run plays on display.

One could argue that the quarterback play was sloppy at times, as there were four interceptions, though two of those interceptions were lucky grabs by defensive players. There was a real sense that the product on display for Oregon’s offense was not a tightly-wound, show-nothing-to-the-public game plan. It looked like a plan built around competition and letting each quarterback show off his skill set, and make mistakes.

The defensive rush was aggressive and the quarterbacks were playing behind offensive lines composed of the entire offensive line roster, rather than any particular grouping of linemen. This alone was probably a major cause of the offensive struggles, as the defense swarmed the offense and recorded a pile of sacks — even though those sacks were a result of touch football and not actual tackles.

From the post-game interview with Lanning, it did sound like the honorary coaches had the opportunity to call plays themselves. As none of the honorary coaches have any real coaching experience, or were even quarterbacks during their careers, it is difficult to say just how good their play-calling ability is — and they were calling from an slimmed-down playbook. It seems more likely they were calling plays that were more fun than always effective.

Yellow Team having fun on the sideline to “shout” as the fourth quarter begins.

The offense ran a lot of deeper passing routes, and the defense seemed to be constantly blitzing. A major tenant to the Lanning defense is constant pressure, but still, it feels like many of the plays called by both sides of the ball were more fun plays than the plays any of the Oregon coordinators will call during an actual game — at least with that kind of frequency.

In the end, the Spring Game is a glorified practice, and practice is absolutely the right place for players to make mistakes and to grow from those mistakes. Of course, the offensive coaches always like to see fewer turnovers, and they will review the film from the Spring Game. In the end it was a fun and lively experience.

As fans we had an opportunity to learn about our Ducks, and our players got the experience of playing in front of a rather large crowd within Autzen Stadium. In general, people learn the most when they are engaged and having fun. That is the entire goal of Spring Camp, and that is precisely the environment Lanning is creating for his players: one that encourages fun that will also lead to growth.

Doesn’t it feel good to watch our Oregon Ducks making plays and having fun again?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Gary Breedlove


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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