Jake Hanson

Ducks' OL better prepared for loss of Crosby than Fisher in 2014

Ducks' OL better prepared for loss of Crosby than Fisher in 2014

EUGENE - The left tackle position for the Oregon Ducks has become somewhat of a jinx with junior Tyrell Crosby being the latest victim of the injury bug. 

Crosby has been lost for the season due to a foot injury suffered during the team's 35-32 loss Saturday at No. 20 Nebraska. Two years ago, Tyler Johnstone injured his knee for a second time and missed the entire 2014 season. Later that year, Jake Fisher missed a couple of games due to injury and the offensive line fell to pieces. 

So what will happen to the Ducks' line this time around? Oregon (2-1) is confident it is in a much better position to absorb the loss of Crosby than it was to handle the absence of Fisher in 2014. 

"There's probably a little bit more versatility right now," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of the offensive line. 

Starting in place of Crosby will be redshirt freshman Brady Aiello, who showed well starting in place of Crosby against UC Davis and in relief of his fallen teammate at Nebraska. Behind Aiello is senior transfer Zac Morgan, who was a two-year starter at Dayton. Helfrich said that redshirt junior Jake Pisarcik, a backup guard, and starting right guard Cameron Hunt could slide to tackle if needed. Starting right tackle, redshirt freshman Calvin Throckmorton also could move to left tackle with his backup, redshirt junior Evan Voeller or Morgan able to play right tackle. 

In other words, the Ducks have options, far more than existed in 2014. That year, the Ducks had to ask Crosby, then a true freshman, to slide from right tackle to left tackle, a position he wasn't quite ready for. The Ducks replaced Crosby at right tackle with walk-on Matt Pierson. 

Both were exposed at Washington State on Sept. 20 and the following week in a loss to Arizona. Their inexperience contributed greatly to quarterback Marcus Mariota being sacked 12 times over that two-game stretch. Oregon allowed just 18 sacks over 13 games in 2013 and just 19 over the 13 games Fisher started in 2014. 

Oregon's recruiting prowess in recent years, and commitment to developing versatility has paid off.  Still, Crosby is the team's best offensive lineman and has been projected by some NFL draft websites as a potential first-round pick. 

"You can't really replace a guy like that," redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson said. 

The loss of Crosby hit the linemen hard. 

"Obviously we're really, not upset about it, but we're very disappointed," Hanson said. 

The team's next-man up mentality kicked in immediately.  

"We don't dwell on any injuries," Hanson said. 

Throckmorton said Crosby's leadership and expertise will be missed as much as his talent. But the young offensive line believes it can carry the load without him and were encouraged by their performance at Nebraska where the Ducks rushed for 336 yards and allowed just one sack. 

"We responded great," Hanson said of playing well without Crosby at Nebraska (3-0). "Brady stepped in and did a really good job. We didn't really skip a beat."

Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood expressed confidence in his young line that will start four redshirt freshmen, including guard Shane Lemieux, Saturday against Colorado (2-1) at Autzen Stadium. 

Greatwood said he was pleased with how the line handled playing in an environment such as Nebraska's and that they didn't have any procedural penalties or many missed assignments. He said the line played strong, physical football while displaying solid communication, although he added that there is room for growth in that area. 

"I think for a bunch of young guys getting their first start in a hostile environment we showed some things that we can grow from," Greatwood said. 

One negative has been Hunt being called for senseless penalties. Greatwood said the team has addressed that issue. 

"Cameron is a competitor, but he has to learn the difference between playing hard through the whistle and playing smart," Greatwood said. "The penalty he drew was a stupid penalty."

Colorado in the past has been an easy win for Oregon since the Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011. Not anymore.

"This is a team that's coming here believing they can win and it's going to be a dog fight," Greatwood said.

Hanson agreed. 

"They are a good team," Hanson said. "They are a lot better than they were in the past. It's not a game you can overlook at all."

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

EUGENE - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood usually tells it like it is, skips the hyperbole.

So when he sings the praises of his three starting redshirt freshmen linemen, his words should excite Ducks fans. 

Center Jake Hanson, right tackle Calvin Throckmorton and left guard Shane Lemieux are the program's next generation of impact linemen. Oregon has started some great redshirt freshmen offensive linemen in the past. Tackle Tyler Johnstone and center Hroniss Grasu started for the 2011 team that won the Rose Bowl championship team. Carson York started for 2009 team that went to the Rose Bowl.

Greatwood said the current trio is on par with those former stars, and have done a bit more to earn their starting jobs.

[LISTEN: The Ducks Squad Podcast with guest senior right guard Cameron Hunt]

“I think they’ve probably had to compete even harder to earn those spots,” Greatwood said. “When those other kids were starting as redshirt freshmen we just didn’t have the depth that we do now.”

The trio, who will make their debut for No. 24 Oregon on Saturday against UC Davis, were signed in the 2015 recruiting class, which included five offensive linemen. 

“We loved that class (of linemen), and still do,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “There were a couple of guys that were very under recruited in our opinion.”

The group also includes guard/center Zach Okun and guard Brady Aiello. Okun has been injured while Aiello is the backup left tackle to junior Tyrell Crosby. 

To earn starting jobs, Throckmorton had to fend off senior transfer Zac Morgan, a two-year starter at Dayton, while Lemieux outlasted redshirt juniors Evan Voeller and Jake Pisarcik. 

Hanson really didn't face much competition.  He is that good. Helfrich and Greatwood said they have no doubt he is the answer at center and has been praised in the same vain as Grasu, a four-year starter. 

All three, however, will face weekly competition. Greatwood plans on rotating several linemen. 

“I feel right now going into the game anyhow I have some depth I haven’t had the luxury of having the last several seasons,” Greatwood said.

The running backs like what they see upfront. 

“It looks solid…” redshirt junior running back Kani Benoit said. “Easy to pick holes through them and pass blocking is great.”

The question now is if the trio can deliver on game day. 

“I hope that they just trust their preparation, relax and take a deep breath and go,” Greatwood said. “But until you see them in that environment, as a coach, you just kind of keep your fingers crossed that they will trust their preparation going into the game and let her rip once the whistle blows.”

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Offensive line. 

Projected starters: Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby (6-5, 310), junior left guard Jake Pisarcik (6-2, 300), redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson (6-5, 288), redshirt freshman right guard Shane Lemieux (6-6, 310), senior right tackle Cameron Hunt (6-4, 295). 

Key backups: Senior-transfer tackle Zac Morgan (6-7, 280), redshirt freshman center Zach Okun (6-4, 310), redshirt freshman tackle Calvin Throckmorton (6-6, 290), redshirt junior guard Doug Brenner (6-2, 305), junior tackle Evan Voeller (6-5, 295).

Smelling like roses: The line certainly will be solid, at least. Crosby replaces Tyler Johnstone at left tackle while Hunt replaces Crosby at right tackle. Matt Pierson was a great story last season, but he should be adequately replaced by Pisarcik. The right-guard spot might be filled by the promising Lemiux. Center, left vacant by the departure of Matt Hegarty, could fall to Hanson, who has never played center in his life, but drew great praise during spring drills. If he is the next Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks will be in business. If not... the rest of the line could begin to ravel just a bit.

However, there is a wild card in all of this. Morgan, a transfer from Dayton where he started at both tackle spots, could easily slide into the right tackle position, which would keep Hunt at right guard. If that happens, the Ducks would have just one huge question mark along the line and that would be at center. 

Place your bets: Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood worked his magic last season while producing a very good mix after losing Grasu and Jake Fisher to the NFL. He might have more talent to work with this time around. But will it jell right away? The Ducks brought in Hegarty because they believed they needed to fill the hole left by the departure of Grasu. This time around they feel good about a young replacement at center. But he is young. If he proves to be a year away from truly being ready, the Ducks' offensive line could be weaker, leading to an offense that won't quite be championship-caliber. 

Odds are: The inclination is to believe that Greatwood will find the right mix, as he usually does. The addition of Morgan at right tackle would allow everything else to fall into place nice and neatly. 

Poker hand: Three of a kind. This group has a chance to be very good, but at the very least should be solid.  

Next up: Defensive line.  

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Defensive line; Linebackers; Defensive backs.       

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Oregon doesn't start fall camp on Aug. 8, so we're trying to kill time with a little prognostication here and there. Today, Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress count down their top three Ducks who must improve if Oregon is going to contend for the Pac-12 title in 2016.

NO. 3

Fentress' pick - Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III: - Ragin provides some experience within a group loaded with inexperienced returning players. To help Oregon's move to the 4-3, Ragin must provide consistency and leadership.  

Quote: "He was taken to media day. He needs to play like a guy taken to media day. Last year, just 20 tackles. He going to need 60 or 70 to have an impact on that defense." '

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby: - The three-year starter is on the quiet side vocally, but certainly creates noise on the field when he plows into defenders. Oregon could need him to provide leadership after losing seniors Tyler Johnstone and Matt Hegarty.

Quote: "He's got the physical abilities. We saw it last year. He started all 12 games. But he needs to become that emotional leader for the Ducks on the offensive line."

 

NO. 2

Fentress' pick - Redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson: - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood praised Hanson's development during spring drills. Problem is, Hanson has never before played center. 

Quote: His youth could be a red flag, but "the last redshirt freshman to start for Oregon at center was Hroniss Grasu, who went on to win a couple of Rose Bowls, etc."

Amaranthus' Pick - Senior defensive end Torrodney Prevot: - The former four-star linebacker recruit has had a spotty career to date, now he moves to defensive end, where he could excel as a pass rusher in Oregon's new 4-3 scheme. 

Quote: "He moved from linebacker to defensive line during spring ball... He's going to have to put on a lot of weight. He wants to get to 255 pounds."

 

NO. 1

Fentress' pick - Sophomore defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule: - The former four-star recruit has the talent to become a dominant force but has been limited by injures, including a major concucssion suffered last season. 

Quote: "He has been compared to Buckner and Armstead, who are gone. He needs to play like one or both of those guys in order for that front seven to elevate itself after losing six of seven starters." 

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior cornerback Arrion Springs: - Springs is ultra talented. Just ask him. But mental lapses and inconsistent play have prevented him from reaching his potential. That must change this season. 

Quote: "Definitely talks the talk. We have to see him walk the walk a little bit more."