If you ask anybody to take on the job of blocking a 6’4″, 250 lb. linebacker running at full speed, I’ll bet few would be up for the job. This is something Tyler Johnstone, starting offensive lineman for the Oregon Ducks, embraces — and lives for.
Through every play, every practice and every moment surrounding Ducks football, Tyler Johnstone is the guy you want on the line. His dedication and ability to perform on and off the field is incomparable, and he is back for another season.
Before Oregon came calling, Tyler was another talented high school football player from Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, that coaches had their eyes on. It is every high school football player’s dream to take their talents to the next level. Tyler shared the same dream and looked to the University of Oregon for his future.
“I took an unofficial visit here my junior year of high school and I just got a good feeling here. I walked around campus and loved it, and had a really good connection with the coaches. I knew I would fit in here.”
The Oregon “swagger” as some call it, and multifaceted brand name helped Tyler, and several other younger generation players, make their decision to come to the University. ”Oregon’s branding over the past five or six years has been incredible, just from [that] standpoint. It’s a growing national brand and people relate Oregon to swagger. I love seeing that; it’s fun to be apart of it.”
Last season, Tyler suffered a knee injury during the Alamo Bowl that left players and coaches with an uneasy feeling about his (questionable) return. When watching play, you’ll notice that most linemen wear knee braces to protect themselves from injuries such as Tyler’s. However, the small chance of a “freak accident” is always lurking within.
Four months later, Tyler has this update: “The knee feels great, still on schedule. I’m not getting down on myself at all. It has been a lot easier process than I thought it would be. I was still able to lift a bunch, not the legs of course, but mostly upper body.”
What it takes physically for a player’s body to be prepared for Saturday game days throughout the season is nothing short of pure dedication. Countless hours of difficult practice and off-field workouts, including lifting, are just but some of the physical toll a body takes.
On the other side of the equation, the mental preparation is equally as important: hours of watching film, studying opponents, compiling strategy and execution on the field.
I asked Tyler if he looks for anything specific in his opponent when studying film: “I don’t really look at individual players that much because what I found was I do worse against players by trying to find their tendencies. I try to figure out what they do most.
“I look for the basics: do they bull rush or are they speed guys? That’s the only thing I look for when it comes to the other player. I look for their tendencies of the defense as a whole: their formations, where the linebackers are lined up, when they come on a blitz. So those are the things I look for, I don’t tend to look at individuals too much because, like I said, it gets in my head and I try to play them instead of playing my game.”
Looking at the upcoming schedule for the Ducks, you will notice one game in particular that will be the most anticipate early on: Michigan State. The Spartans will prove to be a test early on for the Ducks, one that will be on the players’ and coaches’ minds constantly.
As as player, Tyler is eager to face the Spartans. ”I’m really looking forward to the Michigan State game. We usually don’t get that much competition right off the bat; it’s going to be fun to be tested earlier rather than later in the season.”
Each conference in Division I football is known for bringing something different to college football, which makes the preparation for these out of conference games vitally important. ”It’s a little different style of play. [Players from] other conferences I think are a little bit bigger but they are also a bit slower. So that’s something you got to gear up for, knowing that you’re going up against guys that might be stronger. But you also have to know they might not have the finesse or athleticism our team does. That’s what we play for. We’ve been putting on a lot of weight this off-season, kind of getting away from the skinny guys on the block.”
Who is in charge of protecting the quarterback? Or creating lanes for the Ducks speedy running backs? Or holding off blitzs? Not all the credit can be given to Marcus Mariota’s arm or the shifty moves of Byron Marshall. The offensive line, Tyler included, has a great amount of pressure on them every week. They work as one movement, one force.
“That’s the thing about the offensive line: it’s all chemistry. We hang out as much as possible. It’s a lot of trust. When we are practicing, we allow everybody to coach everybody [else] up. There are no guys thinking they know everything and can’t be told by their teammates because they’re too good. That just doesn’t happen on our line. We got to develop that trust with one another, and like I said, once the chemistry is there, it’s really tight-knit and everyone knows exactly where everyone is, which makes for a better play.”
Especially when you have a quarterback such as Marcus Mariota to protect – it takes mobility, strength and above all else, trust. ”He trusts me a lot,” says Tyler, “It’s the worst feeling when he gets sacked but he knows I would sell out for him. I like the job; I like being that guy, because when you love someone like that, you want to be responsible for him. It’s that feeling of wanting to be in control of what happens.”
With every snap of the ball, the Ducks are off and flying. All the pieces of the Oregon offense, including linemen, receivers and backfield need to be in complete unison and trust in each other in order for that type of up-tempo offense to work. After all, it takes just a blink of the eye to get lost in that offense.
And the record shows that it does. Though spring football just began, the Ducks are flying high and fast once again — with Johnstone and the rest of the OL setting the tempo.