Call them the Big Uglies, but what happens up front will ensure that college football’s highest octane offense remains a thing of beauty. With the possible exception of quarterback, nowhere on Oregon’s roster is there more reason for optimism heading into the 2014 season than in the offensive line. Provided Tyler Johnstone is able to rehab the torn ACL he suffered against Texas in the Alamo Bowl, every player on the O-Line returns — with ample depth behind them.
Hroniss for Houtland!
The “H” is silent in the name of the sure Outland Trophy watch list and All-Pac-12 center from Los Angeles’ Crespi High. As Grasu enters his fourth season as the Ducks’ starter at center, he can literally count on one Nike-gloved hand how many times he’s been on the losing end of the final score: 5 — And, for those who put stock in Numerology – it’s the same two numerals on his XXXL Jersey.
When news hit in early December that Marcus Mariota would forego certain first-round selection in the NFL draft for another year at Oregon, it was hardly a coincidence that the same was reported for Grasu. The two will team up for another National Title run in 2014, but will the third time be the charm?
Jake Fisher: Traverse City terror.
Know two things about Jake Fisher: a storied program such as Michigan doesn’t offer a schollie to just any O-Lineman from the Great Lakes state, and very few true freshman are ready to step in and play significant snaps their first college football game when the opposition is LSU. Three years ago, Oregon got someone Michigan wanted badly. Since then, big Jake has done little to disappoint.
Now pushing 300 pounds on his 6-6 frame, Fisher enters 2014 with complete command of coach Greatwood’s zone blocking schemes. He will be looked upon to help open the running lanes for Oregon’s backs and provide ample time for Mariota to work his magic. Been there. Done that.
Tyler Johnstone shall return.
No player’s season should come to an end the way Tyler Johnstone’s did in the Alamo Bowl — crumpled to the turf, holding his knee in anguish. It was a terrible end to a stellar sophomore season for the Chandler, Arizona, native. Though the Ducks lightest O-Lineman, Tyler was entrusted with manning the Left Tackle slot and protecting Mariota’s blind side. He did that well enough to be named Pac-12 Honorable Mention.
Now it’s the Oregon training staff’s turn to have Johnstone’s back. But if you’re going to need post-op rehab facilities, you couldn’t do better than those inside Oregon’s Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. The 6-6, 277-pound junior is reportedly determined to do what it takes to break the huddle with four other returning starters when Oregon opens against South Dakota on August 30. Don’t bet against him.
Humongous Hamani: elite, if not petite.
Hamani Stevens is the prototypical major college offensive lineman, which makes him somewhat atypical for Oregon. He tips the scales at 312 pounds, which is nothing unusual for players at his position. But at Oregon it is. As Duck fans know, the Oregon OL is built on the ability to move in space, to perfect zone gap blocking schemes that require great footwork, flexibility and field vision. Averaging around 290 pounds per man, the Ducks field among the “lightest” O-Lines in major college football. Athleticism and technique “win the day” over sheer size and strength – Duck O-Linemen don’t play in a phone booth.
Good thing because Hamani Stevens wouldn’t fit in one. The redshirt senior from Hemet, CA, is set to begin his second season as a starter at Offensive Guard. After redshirting his freshman year, then embarking on a two-year church mission, he’s among the most experienced players on the roster. And literally a big reason why the 2014 Oregon O-Line is poised to be among the nation’s elite.
The future is now for Cameron Hunt.
Evidently someone forgot to tell Cameron Hunt he was only a freshman in 2013. Because the highly-touted 4* prep out of Centennial High in Corona, CA, wasted little time validating all the hype surrounding his recruitment. There, he was taking significant back-up snaps for the first half of the season before earning the starting spot at Right Guard for the final six games. Little wonder Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was in his living room only days before he declared allegiance to the Thunder Green and Lightening Yellow!
Expect Hunt to continue his progression as a fixture on the Oregon OL in 2014. His first winter in the weight room followed by his first year of spring ball can only build upon the considerable foundation he’s already laid down. Watch No. 77 this year — he’s on the hunt for more.
Waiting in the wings.
You can’t have too many O-Linemen, right? Well, Oregon’s “next man up” mantra is bolstered by such up-and-coming big bodies as Evan Voeller, a talented 4* redshirt freshman from West Linn. The 2014 recruiting class included 6-5, 296-pound Haniteli Lousi from College of San Mateo. Named the top J.C. guard in the nation by 247 Sports, Lousi is already enrolled and attending classes in preparation for spring practices.
Other names to look for this spring and fall include Jamal Prater, Doug Brenner, Elijah George and Jake Pisarcik. Talented in-coming preps set to arrive for voluntary workouts this summer include 4* Tyrell Crosby (6-5, 290) out of Henderson, NV, and Braden Eggert (6-7, 305) from Napa, CA.
Oregon’s ascension to the elite ranks of college football has been achieved, in part, because of its ability to continually recruit the big, athletic offensive lineman needed to run its zone blocking schemes. Oregon’s OL will not outweigh those of teams such as Wisconsin or Alabama. But they’ll outrun them, and get to the edge and downfield to the second level quicker. And on Saturdays this fall, that’s how they’ll win the day.
What say you? I invite your comments below.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline