Over the next few weeks, before spring practice starts on March 30th, we'll be taking a look at each section of the team, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and looking at any battles that will be taking place. Today we look at the offensive line.
One of the strengths of the Oregon team the past few years has been offensive line play. Oregon has recruiting the position incredibly well, and has the best position coach in the nation, Steve Greatwood, molding the individuals into a cohesive squad.
Despite the loss of many seniors this past season, I think the offensive line will be in good shape by fall. The Oregon offensive line, even without Hamani Stevens, is loaded with talent. Most of the guys are big time recruits that have had a year or two to learn under Greatwood, and have had very good experience in game situations.
Because of the interchangeability of the offensive line positions, especially at Oregon, we'll look at the top players, and look at the line depth overall.
Unfortunately, Oregon's top lineman will be out for spring. CE Kaiser (Jr.)will be limited this spring due to ankle surgery. Kaiser, who started at right tackle for 10 games in 2008, will be starting at a tackle position, and could likely be moved to left. He has strength and the ability to move, which he showcased in the Civil War, despite battling injuries late in the season.
After Kaiser, Jordan Holmes (Jr.), Mark Asper (Jr.), and Bo Thran (Jr.) return after playing during the 2008 season. With the departure of Stevens, Holmes, who started 4 games at left gaurd, will almost definitely start at center. He backed up Max Unger last season, and worked his way into the rotation. While he may not have the upside of Stevens, he will be a solid player, and provide experience at the center position.
Mark Asper, though only a 2* recruit, worked himself into the rotation last season, and started at right tackle during the Holiday Bowl. Thran, Oregon's fastest offensive lineman according to GoDucks.com, will start at a guard position. Thran is talented, but has been limited due to injury.
The talented youngsters:
In the mix for starting spots are 4 underclassman who will push all of the experienced players for time. The top lineman in this group is most likely sophomore Darrion Weems, who will most likely hold down a starting spot due to Kaiser's injury. Also in competition with him will be Nick Cody (RFr.), Carson York (RFr.), and Charlie Carmichael (So.). All of these linemen but Carmichael were 4* recruits. While that in itself doesn't mean anything, it's clear that Oregon has a strong, big, quick linemen ready for a chance to play.
Oregon's offensive line was stellar last year. However, there was one game where they failed miserably: USC. The rushing offense averaged only 1.54 ypc, the only game all season under 4. And there was a reason for this. Physically, the line was manhandled. For as good as they were at technique and fundamentals, they were dominated by the front 7 of USC. However, with this year's line, that talent gap will shrink. This upside for this line is greater than it has been in a long, long time. It is talented, and deep. Last year's line was incredibly consistent, and they could dominate anyone of nearly equal talent. If they consistency and cohesion can be approached, Oregon's line will be very, very good.
The spring will be a very good time to take a good look at the linemen. We haven't had a good look at the younger players, but there is little reason for them to not succeed. Also, though having Kaiser be missing for drills will be unfortunate, it will give the coaches a chance to really look at the other players, who have not had as much experience.
Lastly, we have Steve Greatwood, who has done wonders at coaching the line. Just look at what he's been able to do with players that don't have a built in physical advantage. He turned players like Unger into one of the best O-lines in the nation, through sound fundamentals and teamwork. On top of that, he didn't just do it with 5 guys that had played together for 4 years. He did it despite injuries, and with a rotation that included as many as 9 guys.
With a dose of experience, and a wealth of talent, I fully expect him to be able to turn the offensive line into a true unit by the time the season starts. Spring will be the first time we get to look at the progress.