Even die-hard Duck fans sometimes overlook him. When we talk Oregon's explosive offense, it's all about the stars - James, Costa, Thomas, Barner and Maehl. We speak of high expectations for Oregon's highly-touted newcomers - Seastrunk, Huff, Bennett, Dontae Williams and Brandon Williams.
Is there any one player more vital to Oregon's success on offense than senior center Jordan Holmes? He touches the ball on every offensive play. He must deliver a crisp, accurate snap, or everything goes to hell. He has to make the right blocking calls. And he has to display the right amount of leadership when it's needed.
Holmes is the centerpiece of a veteran offensive line that returns not only five starters, but every backup from last season as well. The Ducks didn't lose a single offensive lineman to graduation or attrition. And what a difference a year makes. Flip back to August 2009 when the offensive line was Oregon's offensive question mark. That unit rebounded from a rough road performance in Boise and went on to clear the path for the Ducks to lead the Pac-10 in scoring and rushing.
Just how high is the ceiling for Oregon's offensive line in 2010? Only time will tell, but the outlook has to be very good when you consider the projected starters for 2010 are the same five who started the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. The group of Thran, York, Holmes, Asper and Kaiser took 63 of the possible 65 O-line starts in 2009. They opened the holes for LaMichael James' record-setting performance, and don't forget, this group allowed only 13 sacks - second best in conference last season.
Whoever starts at quarterback, he will line up behind what could be the best offensive line in the conference. Experience, size, speed, discipline, physicality, tenacity, leadership...Oregon's starting five have all of the above.
Don't expect much drop-off when the reserves hit the field. Weems and Cody would be starting for a lot of Oregon's opponents. Weems got just one start last season - albeit versus USC at left tackle - but played at least 20 snaps in 11 of Oregon's 13 games. Interesting that Weems' weight is down 10 pounds from last season, a move that should help improve his quickness and footwork at the critical LT position. Cody, on the other hand, beefed up 11 pounds. Now at 296, he's got the size needed to pound on even the largest defensive opponents. Cody, like Weems, got a single start last year, at right tackle versus UCLA. He saw action in 10 games in 2009, including 58 snaps versus WSU.
Charmichael is projected by GoDucks.com as a backup guard. He battled injuries in 2009, but did see action against Cal, WSU and the Huskies. Forer is the likely backup for Holmes at center. He made four appearances in 2009 and was at center for Oregon's go-ahead third quarter TD in the Rose Bowl. Clanton was quite a pick-up from the JC ranks. A former 4-star recruit (Rivals.com), Clanton was a JC all-american at the same school that produced Jeremiah Masoli, Blake Ferras and Matthew Harper.
What more do you say about a unit that returns so much talent and experience. They know the schemes, they know the adjustments and they understand what it takes to win a championship. If that's not enough to get you pumped, I'll throw out this tidbit...
Consider Oregon's 2010 schedule. Four of the Ducks six first games include likely cakewalks in New Mexico and Portland State, and the two teams voted by the media to finish ninth and tenth in conference, Arizona State and Washington State. There's a bye week following those first six games. It is reasonable to assume that the veteran starters will sit out large portions of some of those first-half games, and that the back-ups will be getting valuable playing time. Experience for Cody, Weems, Charmichael, Forer and Clanton should rise exponentially. Redshirt freshman like Everett Benyard, Karrington Armstrong and Trevor Fox should be seeing their first live snaps. It's plausible that the Ducks will enter the second half of 2010 with starters well rested and their back-ups even more game-ready.
That bodes well for Oregon making another late-season run at a Pac-10 championship.