Five (more) things we’ve learned about the Oregon Ducks

EUGENE, Ore. – It’s a good thing for the Oregon Ducks that they’re playing Georgia indoors at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Had this game been set for a 4 p.m. kickoff at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 3, they might’ve melted.

The weather is temperamental and wide-ranging here in the Pacific Northwest. For instance, it was 99 degrees in the late afternoon Sunday. But that morning the low was 55 degrees, a 44-degree differential with a mean of 73.9.

In contrast, the high in Athens on Sunday was only 91 degrees. With a low of 70 that morning, the mean for the day was 78.6, per almanac.com. But as anybody who has been to either place can tell you, the difference is the humidity. In Georgia the barometric pressure tends to stay above 30, while it’s typically well below in Oregon.

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“Oh, yeah, it’s a lot hotter back home,” Ducks defensive end Bradyn Swinson, a sophomore from Douglasville (Chapel Hill HS), verified after practice Monday evening. “It feels great out here.”

Of course, when the teams meet in their Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in a few weeks, the temperature will be 72 degrees with no wind.

Coach Dan Lanning and selected defensive players were meeting with the media after practice Tuesday evening. We’ll share that later. In the meantime, here are five other things we’ve learned about the Ducks:

1. Bicoastal connections

Swinson is one of only a few Oregon players who are from Georgia. However, there are many others with connections to the Bulldogs’ football program.

Besides Swinson, the Ducks’ roster includes three other Georgians: junior defensive back Jamal Hill of Rex, redshirt freshman wideout Devin Morrow of Atlanta and sophomore running back Noah Whittington of Fort Valley.

Swinson most certainly is one of the primary contributors of that set. He signed with Oregon to little fanfare out of Chapel Hill High, but played in 11 games as a backup last season. Swinson was named Pac-12 defensive lineman of the week in Week 2 and totaled 24 tackles, with four tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection on the season.

Chosen honorable-mention all-state by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2019, Swinson was not recruited by the Bulldogs despite attending Kirby Smart’s camp every year he was in high school.

“The first time I heard about coach Lanning was when they broke the news saying he was coming to Oregon,” Swinson said with a laugh. “But I saw what he was doing at UGA, the great defense they had with all the outside ‘backers. Travon Walker just went No. 1, Nolan Smith is big-time, they’ve got a bunch of great players over there. I knew they produced that, so hearing that he was coming up here, that got me excited.”

So, also, does the fact that the Ducks are opening against Georgia in Atlanta. For Swinson, it’s his first opportunity to play in front of the homefolks. His family rarely makes the 2,600-mile journey out here to see him play.

“I’ll get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while,” Swinson said with a grin. “As far as the game, it’s really about us growing as a team, walking out even stronger and better. Our main focus is walking out with a ‘W.’ It’s really not about individual stuff or the opponent or anything like that. We’re just worried about our team.”

That and tickets. Swinson is worried about coming up with all the tickets he’s being asked for.

“I’m still working on that one,” he said.

2. Lanning on recruiting

While Lanning didn’t necessarily know much about Swinson and some of the other Georgians already here, there are several other Oregon players he was quite familiar with.

“There are several guys we recruited at Georgia that went to Oregon,” Lanning said. “Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe are two guys that I personally was actively recruiting (for Georgia). I remember traveling to Orem, Utah, with Glenn Schumann and watching Noah Sewell at practice. So getting an opportunity to coach those guys now is a lot of fun for me.”

Technically, Oregon landed only one Georgia target in the 2022 class. Jordan James, a 4-star running back from Murfreesboro, Tenn., signed with the Ducks after being a longtime commitment to the Bulldogs. He’s the sixth-highest-rated prospect in the Ducks’ latest class, but currently does not seem to be in the mix for a major role this season.

Lanning’s first full recruiting class ended up being ranked 13th nationally and, perhaps more important, No. 1 in the Pac-12. It helped that Georgia’s national recruiting footprint already had expanded significantly under Smart and Lanning had been recruiting a good amount in the West.

3. Not copy-catting Kirby

Monday we focused on several things that Lanning is doing at Oregon like Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban. Today, let’s talk about some things about which he’s different.

For instance, media access has been far more generous than anything those other coaches have offered. Last week at media day, Oregon’s sports communication staff facilitated 31 player interviews for the reporters and TV crews that cover the Ducks. That was all in one day as the herded players through the media room housed at the Casanova Athletics Center. That includes some freshmen. Every coach on the team either already has been made available for interviews or will be before preseason camp concludes.

For comparison, Smart, like Saban, seeks to control the message himself and forbids freshmen from talking to media, regardless of whether they’re contributing significantly on the field. And the only coaches the Bulldogs make available are the offensive and defensive coordinators, and then only twice a year. They typically answer questions early in preseason camp and before bowl games. The NCAA requires all team members to be available for interviews during the postseason.

Lanning said it’s not something he consciously was trying to do differently.

“If I learned anything from coach Smart or any of the coaches I’ve worked for, they were them and didn’t try to be somebody else,” Lanning said. “I’m not trying to be Kirby; I’m not trying to be Nick. We’ll see if those things stay in place.

“I’ll say this: As an assistant coach at Georgia, I certainly appreciated not having to talk to the media. People see it as coach Smart putting a muzzle on his coaches, but I appreciated as a defensive coordinator that all I needed to worry about was preparing for games. That being said, yeah, we’re taking a little different approach here. But who knows if that might change.”

The Ducks currently are offering only 18 minutes of practice observation time daily and that comes during team stretching and early position drills. Notably, the players and coaches generally are half a football field away, so binoculars and long camera lenses are necessary.

4. Help from Texas A&M

Looking out across Oregon’s practice fields, the largest flock of Ducks appears to be gathered around receivers coach Junior Adams. There appears to be at least 15 of them, including leading returning receiver Kris Hutson (31 catches, 419 yards, 2 TDs), Troy Franklin, Donte Thornton, converted running back Seven McGee.

The Ducks added one more to that number over the summer, and he’s a tall one. Caleb Chapman, a 6-foot-5 senior, transferred to Oregon from Texas A&M. Despite getting sidelined with injuries the past two seasons, Chapman still managed to haul in 28 receptions for 407 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. He comes to Eugene as the consummate “X” receiver, tall enough to win the ball in tight coverage and fast enough to take the top off a secondary.

Plus, he’s healthy now and feeling better than ever.

“I’m still adjusting to everything,” Chapman said after practice Monday night. “I’ve only been here for maybe two months now, but it’s been a good adjustment. I’m just trying to transition to being over here at Oregon. It’s a little different. There’s a little bit of a different vibe over here and how things are run. Everything over here is awesome. I have no complaints.”

The important news is the knee in which he sustained a torn ACL in 2020 “feels great.” Whatever it was that sidelined him in 2021 is gone, too.

Though tall, Chapman had won a spot in the Aggies’ rotation because of unusually explosive speed for his size. That he’s going to utilize that this season at Oregon rather A&M is a boon for the Ducks.

5. Anybody home?

By the way, it’s dead around Eugene these days. Other than the flurry of activity being conducted daily in and around the Ducks’ football complex, the rest of the town is shut down.

Summer classes recently ended, and fall quarter doesn’t begin until Sept. 27. Some restaurants and bars are closed, and many apartment complexes are seeking tenants. Meanwhile, the World Track Championships pulled up stakes over at Hayward Field last month, and professors and students are getting in whatever vacation they can on the many hiking trails and coastal retreats that are within driving distance in all directions.

“You should have been here last month,” said Jeremy Kinard, a bartender for the past seven years at Wild Duck Cafe in East Eugene. “This place was hopping every night with the Worlds in town. Everybody’s split now.”

The Wild Duck, located about halfway between Hayward Field and Autzen Stadium, is known as one of the favorite hangouts for rowdy Oregon fans. A huge plastic replica of “The Duck” mascot sits in the center of expansive restaurant, the walls of which are adorned with Oregon paraphernalia and pictures. On Monday night, occupants were limited to four single men sitting alone in separate spaces, a family of four, two servers and our friendly neighborhood bartender.

Kinard said that doesn’t mean the Ducks aren’t excited about their season-opening matchup against defending national champion Georgia. Like many out here, he’s not thrilled with the location of the game, but he said everybody he knows is excited about watching it.

“Yeah, I’m a little paranoid about it being Atlanta,” Kinard said. “I’m bummed it’s there and not here. We love for teams like Georgia to come experience Autzen. But the Ducks travel well, and I’m sure we’ll be well-represented down South. I personally know a dozen people who are going.”

Oregon Athletics confirmed that the Ducks quickly sold out of their allotment of 6,000 tickets for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff soon after they went on sale. They did not, however, request any extras.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium can seat more than 73,000 for football games. But while each participating school is allotted the same number of tickets and a few thousand go to the title sponsor, the vast majority are sold via third-party distributors.

“I know it’ll probably be 85-15 Georgia because the game’s in Atlanta,” Oregon quarterback Bo Nix said. “But that will probably just be an advantage for us because we can treat it like a road game.”