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.
"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."