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.
“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.”