The Oregon Ducks could have the most potent offense entering college football in 2016, but “could” is the operative word. Much of the Ducks offensive success hinges on the fate of their offensive line. Entering 2016, just two starters from the line return to the fold from last season.
With a high tempo offense like the Oregon runs, lineman are at a premium. Especially with the amount of pre-snap reads and skill player movement, linemen not only have to be intelligent, but they have to be versatile, durable and athletic enough to get down field for those extreme Oregon playmakers.
Someone like Charles Nelson does not make it easy on his blockers with the type of quickness and change-of-direction skill he possesses. If his own linemen don’t know where he is going, the defense won’t find it any easier.
LEGEN...WAIT FOR IT...DARY
The former Duck and current Chicago Bear Kyle Long is one of the best offensive linemen in the game of professional football. He was chosen in the 1st round (20th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Long has never been granted the opportunity to stay at the same position for more than a year in the Bears rollercoaster offense, but his versatility only makes him that much more valuable. If it wasn’t for the great Joe Thomas in Cleveland, Long may be atop the National Football League ranks.
There are so many great Ducks from numerous positions in the NFL and the offensive line position has seen its fare share of NFL draftees. Jake Fisher was a 2nd round pick (53rd overall) of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2015 NFL Draft. And the Bears recently grabbed another Oregon alum when they choose Hroniss Grasu with the seventh overall pick (71st overall) in the 3rd round.
Max Unger was a 2nd round pick (49th overall) of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2009 NFL Draft. He was widely considered the best center in football by the end of his Seahawks’ career, helping lead block his offense to a Super Bowl title. Unger then was the centerpiece of the Jimmy Graham trade with the New Orleans Saints.
Mark Asper was a 6th round pick of the Buffalo Bills. Fenuki Tupou was the 159th overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Unger draft. And, Geoff Schwartz was the 241st overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in that same ‘09 draft. Interestingly enough, Schwartz had some inflammatory comments about Oregon’s preparation of linemen for the next level in an interview with The Oregonian.
CAMERON HUNT, RG:
The lone four-year starter of the bunch is senior Cameron Hunt. Prior to missing the Georgia State game in 2015, the durable linemen started in 16 consecutive contests. Hunt has the rare ability to play all five positions on the line, yet finding his best spot will be the true test for head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick. At 6-feet, 4-inches and 295 pounds, Hunt may be undersized for some, but is a perfect fit for the Ducks with their need of linemen with versatility and agility.
After returning from his injury, eight of his final 10 starts came from the right guard position. He certainly helped spring All-American candidate Royce Freeman on more than a few occasions and should be credited with some portion of his 1,836 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015. Hunt was awarded the All-Freshman Honorable Mention Scout Team by College Football News in 2013.
TYRELL CROSBY, LT:
The 6-foot, 5-inch and 310-pound Tyrell Crosby is the only other returning starter from the 2015 Ducks o-line. Like Hunt, much of the credit for Freeman’s success can be attributed to this former right tackle. Entering his junior season, the Henderson, Nevada native will be switching over to left tackle.
Alongside his teammate and senior leader Hunt, Crosby has been invaluable to the younger linemen who are trying to figure it out this year. The flexibility and willingness Crosby has exhibited to switch positions at a coaches request goes well beyond the playing field. It truly shows the younger players that nobody is bigger than the program, and to be successful, sometimes one must adjust on the run. Crosby has been vital to the success of the Oregon running game.
JAKE HANSON, C:
Redshirt freshman Jake Hanson has made quite the impression on his coaches in the early going of his college football career. Last season, it was said that the coaching staff was split on whether to redshirt him or not, but when push came to shove they had enough experience already to let him sit out his freshman campaign. The 6-foot, 5-inch freshman weighs 288 pounds right now, but clearly has room to grow over the next few years.
The type of maturity that Hanson possesses is what coaches and teammates seek out of the center position. There is so much communication and a need to know what is going on at all times, especially on audibles. The center position must be filled by someone mature beyond their years and Hanson fits that criteria to perfection. The Ducks are excited to see his response to their admiration during game action.
CALVIN THROCKMORTON, RT:
Joining classmate Jake Hanson, Throckmorton is the second redshirt freshman starting on the offensive line. At 6-feet, 6-inches and 290 pounds, the Bellevue, Washington native has room to improve, as well. Last season, the Ducks started the rocksteady Tyrell Crosby at right tackle, but now after his switch to left tackle, Throckmorton has big shoes to fill on the right side of the Ducks’ line.
Throckmorton was a highly touted defensive linemen in high school. In fact, he started for four years before accepting a scholarship to Oregon to play on the offensive line. In 2015, he was redshirted but saw a huge boost in playing time beginning in spring practice.
JAKE PISARCIK, LG:
The junior enters the 2016 season with valuable experience on the Ducks line from last season in the trenches. The slightly shorter lineman registers at 6-feet, 2-inches but his 300-pound frame certainly makes up for his vertical limits. In 2015, Pisarcik appeared in 12 of the Ducks 13 games, alongside 35 plays against Texas Christian University in the Alamo Bowl.
The east coaster from Medford, New Jersey played tight end in high school his first three years before switching over to the offensive line. The lone consistency in this starting group of Oregon o-linemen is their versatility and athletic backgrounds playing other positions. The Ducks want football players, period.
LONG AND SHORT:
Although the Ducks return just two starting offensive linemen from last season, the coaching staff feels confident in the balance they have struck with this group of five. There is nothing that can replace experience, but Hunt and Crosby will be there for guidance if any Duck wanders off their path.
The versatility of this unit can not be overlooked. Injuries are as much a part of the game as running the football. Unfortunate circumstances will occur one way or another and it is on the coaching staff to prepare their team for any and all possibilities. This group is more than prepared to answer the challenge when presented.
The veterans of the Duck line will be invaluable to the freshmen because these vets have played most positions on the line at one time or another. Crosby will be able to help Throckmorton at right tackle due to his experience there last year. Hunt will undoubtedly be able to guide the others with his strong understanding of every spot on the offensive line. The symmetry may take a game or two to find, but once this line gets going, Royce Freeman and company will only stand to benefit.