Oregon O-Line: ‘O’ as in ‘Outstanding’

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.

#55 Hroniss Grasu

Craig Strobeck

No. 55 Center Hroniss Grasu checks down on his OL calls.

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?

#75 Jake Fisher

Andrew Shurtleff

No. 75 Jake Fisher

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.

#64 Tyler Johnstone

Craig Strobeck

No. 64 Tyler Johnstone

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.

#54 Hamani Stevens

Craig Strobeck

No. 54 Hamani Stevens

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.

#77 Cameron Hunt (Center).

Craig Strobeck

No. 77 Cameron Hunt

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.

A continuous influx of talent keeps Oregon tough in the trenches.

Kevin Cline

A continuous influx of talent keeps Oregon tough in the trenches.

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

Print Friendly
Casey Fluegge

Casey Fluegge

Casey Fluegge grew up on a farm west of Junction City, Oregon. Today he is a self-employed advertising copywriter living and working in West Des Moines, Iowa. He is far, far away from Autzen Stadium, Matthew Knight Arena, Hayward Field and PK Park, and thus he thinks the Pac12 Network is one of the greatest advancements in recorded history. He thinks the fact that DirecTV doesn’t carry the Pac 12 Networks is one of the world’s great travesties. (Because Dish really sucks!) Casey is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, circa 1987. After 25 years of working in advertising agencies in San Diego, Kansas City and Minneapolis, he is now the sole owner of Casey Fluegge Creative, LLC (visit his site at caseyflueggecreative.com). Call, email or tweet him sometime if you need help with your company’s advertising. Or if you just want to talk Ducks.

  • Duckn8r

    Thanks for the great article Casey! I’m excited to see so many great players back on our line. They rarely get the recognition, but they are all amazing players that play a huge part in making our “skill” players look as good as they do.

    • cfluegge

      Thanks Duckn8r! And I think this unit will be even better with another year of working together.

  • Platypus1

    Unfortunately, these guys were owned against Stanford. I understand the emphasis on agility, but more physicality and attitude is needed.

    • SeattleDuck

      If you go back and watch the line, they had little issue with Stanford’s defensive line. The problem was with the linebackers, as Skov was the difference in that game. Grasu had a terrible game identifying and picking up blitzing linebackers, and if you watch a tape of the game you’ll see that, too.

      • Platypus1

        Agreed, just getting tired of being pushed around on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

    • cfluegge

      In assessing the O-Line against Stanford, I would ask anyone to consider this: how many plays did it take Stanford to realize that the Quarterback wasn’t going to keep the ball? Probably the mere sight of Mariota’s brace. Losing the run threat from the Q.B. was a huge blow to the Ducks.

  • Bruce

    Excellent article Casey, thanks. It’s time to stop living in the past, though. :) “Storied” Michigan program? Michigan has won a total of 38 games the last 5 seasons. The Ducks have won 58. That’s 11.6 wins a season BTW, for those of us who like to accentuate the positive!

    • cfluegge

      Thanks for your take, Bruce. “Storied” is certainly the correct word to use in the case of a program that is literally number one all-time in wins, as Michigan is. Look it up. Would I rather have Oregon’s last decade than Michigan’s? Of course. But there is still a lot of juice to the Maize and Blue. Heck, it wasn’t that many years ago that Alabama was a so-so program. These things tend to be cyclical.

  • Howard

    Wow i hope what u write comes through but thats some serious green kook aide u are drinking, their guard play was really bad, couldnt run inside all year and now they are world beaters?

    • SeattleDuck

      The guard play on run blocking was really bad for most of the year. I’m feeling like a jerk calling the guy out twice in one article, but a lot of that was on Grasu, too. Between getting blown up and backpeddaling into Mariota on a regular basis (especially bad in the Arizona game) and not being able to open any holes inside, he had a pretty bad year.

      • cfluegge

        Gee, Seattle, you need to tell CBS Sports.com they don’t know what they’re talking about. They have Grasu as the #1 Center prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft:) How can they be so wrong?

        • SeattleDuck

          Ha, It’s not far fetched that I’ve spent more hours watching the Oregon offensive line play (watching them, not the ball) than CBS has.

          • cfluegge

            I’m certain you have, Seattle…

          • SeattleDuck

            Outsourcing opinions is a strategy to try not to have one of your own. Maybe you can site that there is a Hroniss4Heisman twitter account? Must mean he’s a 1st rounder.

            Obviously I’m not saying he’s not a good player. But he did have a bad year. He did his best work getting a hat on linebackers on stretch plays, but just didn’t do the job up the middle and I think he knows that because he told a reporter his offseason priority is getting stronger in the weight room. Watch the Arizona game and count the number of times Mariota is forced to move around because Tevin Hood blows up Grasu.

  • JCM

    I’m sure you have good intentions. But this article is a cotton-candy fluff piece devoid of any analysis, any honest discussion into what the line did and did not do well this season. The team already has cheerleaders; can you show your readership some respect?