Steve Greatwood

Cal's Wilcox talks hiring former UO O-Line coach Steve Greatwood

Cal's Wilcox talks hiring former UO O-Line coach Steve Greatwood

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - When California named Justin Wilcox head football coach on Jan. 14 he wasted little time extending a job offer to former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. 

"Whatever day it was that I got hired, I want to say that he was there the next morning," Wilcox, a former Oregon defensive back, said today during Pac-12 Media Days. 

In fact, Wilcox already had Greatwood in place in anticipation of landing the Cal job. Cal announced Wilcox as its next head coach on Jan. 14.  CSN broke the news that same day that Greatwood would be headed to Cal.

"I think the world of him as a person," Wilcox, 40, said. "I think his track record speaks for itself in terms of his coaching and we're fortunate to have him on our staff. He's the type of guy that everybody can learn from. I know he's energized. It's been really great to be back around him. It's been a number of years since I've got to see him a lot. Just really fortunate for us. A lot of experience."

Wilcox and Greatwood, 59, have Oregon connections but weren't there at the same time. Wilcox played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996 through 1999.  Greatwood coached offensive line and tight ends from 1982 through 1994 before moving on to the NFL, Maryland and then USC. He returned to Oregon in 2000 and remained there until the entire staff was let go last fall following a 4-8 season.  

Greatwood, however, did coach Wilcox's older brother Josh, who played tight end at UO from 1993 through 1996. The Wilcox brothers are the sons of Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and former Oregon star Dave Wilcox and hail from Junction City, Ore. 

California running back Tre Watson, whom Greatwood helped attempt recruit to Oregon, said the offensive line appears to be responding well to its new coach. 

"He definitely makes it simper for the offensive line so they're able to pick things up," Watson said. "He brings a different dynamic."

Sources: Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood headed to Cal

Sources: Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood headed to Cal

Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood will join new California coach Justin Wilcox's staff, according to sources. 

Greatwood spent 27 of his 37-year coaching career at Oregon with 24 years devoted to coaching the offensive line.  He and the rest of Oregon's assistant coaches lost their jobs when former Ducks' coach Mark Helfrich was fired last Nov. 29. 

Greatwood began his career at Oregon as a graduate assistant in 1980 before becoming a full-time assistant in 1982. He coached offensive linemen and tight ends from 1982 to 1993 before becoming strictly the offensive line coach in 1994. That season the Ducks won the Pac-10 Conference championship under coach Rich Brooks. 

Brooks became the coach of the Los Angeles Rams the following season and took Greatwood with him to coach tight ends in 1995 and then offensive line in 1996. 

Greatwood then spent one year at Maryland and then two seasons at USC before landing back at Oregon in 2000 to coach defensive line. 

It was during Greatwood's time away from Oregon that Wilcox played defensive back for the Ducks from 1996 through 1999. However, Greatwood did coach Wilcox's brother, Josh Wilcox, who played tight end at Oregon from 1993 through 1996. 

Greatwood coached the Ducks defensive linemen until 2005 when he returned to coaching the offensive line throughout the rest of his career at Oregon. Along the way he helped mold offensive lines that helped the Ducks win four conference championships, win two Rose Bowls and appear in two national title games.

He did one of his best coaching jobs in 2014 when the Ducks reached the national title game. Along the way, Greatwood dealt with several injuries that forced him to juggle lineups in order to keep Oregon's offense humming.

Greatwood produced seven offensive linemen during that stretch, Adam Snyder, Mark Asper, Geoff Schwartz, Darrion Weems, Hroniss Grasu, Kyle Long and Jake Fisher. 

Those linemen helped pave the way for several great Oregon running backs, including Jonathan Stewart, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Royce Freeman. James, Freeman and Barner are Oregon's top three all-time leading rushers. 

Greatwood will be replaced at Oregon by Mario Cristobal. The former Alabama assistant will also operate as the Ducks offensive coordinator under new coach Willie Taggart.  

Greatwood leaves Oregon with a strong stable of offensive linemen, including four talented players who started in 2016 as redshirt freshmen. The group, which includes senior Tyrell Crosby, could be considered the most gifted group Oregon has ever had. 

 

SOURCES: Wilcox has finalized deal with Cal, Greatwood could join him

SOURCES: Wilcox has finalized deal with Cal, Greatwood could join him

Two sources have informed CSNNW that Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has finalized his deal with California to become its net head coach.

Wilcox will replace Sonny Dykes, who was fired after going 19-30 over four seasons. 

Wilcox, a defensive back at Oregon from 1996-1999, spent the 2016 season at Wisconsin. Before that he was the defensive coordinator at USC for two seasons from 2014 through 2015. From 2012 to 2013 he held the same position at Washington under coach Steve Sarkisian. 

According to a source, one of Wilcox's first hires could be former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who lost his job with the Ducks along with the entire staff after former UO coach Mark Helfrich was let go on Nov. 29. 

Don't expect any former Oregon assistant coaches to return under Taggart

Don't expect any former Oregon assistant coaches to return under Taggart

It's becoming increasingly unlikely with each passing day that new Oregon football coach Willie Taggart will retain any of the assistant coaches from former coach Mark Helfrich's staff.

In fact, let's just say right now that barring some dramatic twist of fate, none will return.

Taggart has named just one assistant coach since his introduction on Dec. 8, and that's defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, hired away from Colorado in a deft move to help rebuild the defense. Jimmie Dougherty, according to reports, will become the new wide receivers coach. But Oregon has not officially announced his hiring.

Their selection means the end to the Oregon careers of defensive coordinator Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Matt Lubick. Leavitt will also coach linebackers, which means that long-time assistant Don Pellum is also likely out.

According to sources, Taggart has not spoken to any of the former assistant coaches about remaining at UO, and has made it clear to some that he is going in a different direction with his staff. This comes despite Taggart stating during his introductory press conference that he would at least talk to former assistants. Just one assistant coach, according to sources, has had any contact at all with Taggart and that came about because of a chance meeting within the team's complex.

The assistants received termination letters within days after Helfrich was fired on Nov. 29, and were given until Dec. 31 to clear out their offices. Their contracts run out in late January. Some have already started looking for new jobs. Former UO offensive coordinator Matt Lubick has landed at Ole Miss as wide receivers coach. Other support staff members have also been terminated, according to sources.

So what's taking Taggart so long to fill in the coaching vacancies?  For starters, Taggart's former team, South Florida, still has a game to play. The Bulls face South Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Birmingham Bowl (Alabama). By Dec. 30, expect Taggart to start naming new Oregon assistant coaches as he raids the Bulls' staff.

It's also likely that Taggart will hire assistant coaches from other teams involved in bowl games, as well as some coaches from losing teams. However Taggart chooses to fill out his staff, the inclusion of holdovers from Helfrich's crew appears unlikely.  

Taggart appeared on ESPNU earlier this month, stating that he is looking to complete his staff as quickly as he can.

"I don't want to rush it and just do it, but I want to make sure we get the right guys, the right fit to come in here and help me take care of our players," Taggart said.

That, of course, is entirely Taggart's prerogative. An argument could be made that holding over a couple of assistants could help with Taggart's transition and adaptation to coaching in a Power Five conference. On the other hand, a counter argument could also be presented that the controversial firing of Helfrich and his staff after they had achieved so much success with some stretching back more than 30 years almost requires a completely fresh start in order to allow Taggart to fully redirect the program in an entirely different direction of his design.

That said, there certainly could be value found in at least having talks with former assistants, even if only to pick their brains about what went wrong during a 4-8 season, and about returning players that Taggart must win with over the next few seasons. But those talks have not happened.

Instead, Taggart is going full-speed ahead with his plans to retool the entire department in the mold of what he built at USF.

One USF staff member already in the fold at Oregon is David Kelly, who was/is South Florida's director of player personnel. According to sources, Kelly will hold the same, or a similar position with Oregon, and he has already been spotted at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.

Kelly is regarded as a high-end recruiter but has had one run-in with the NCAA over rules violations.

In 2010, Rivals.com named Kelly one of the top 25 recruiters in the country, according to the USF website bio on the coach. Kelly has coached at LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Duke, in addition to a controversial stint at the University of Central Florida. 

Kelly was a successful recruiting coordinator at the UCF before he was fired following a NCAA investigation that determined he had violated recruiting rules. The investigation occurred in 2011 and consisted of great similarities to the Willie Lyles case that got Oregon into hot water with the NCAA, also in 2011. 

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Kelly, who had denied any wrong doing regarding this case, was accused of violating rules during his association with Ken Caldwell, who mentored Chicago high school football and basketball players. According to the article, Kelly, along with then UCF athletics director Keith Tribble and basketball coach Donnie Jones were all accused of allowing Caldwell to steer athletes to UCF, much like Lyles was accused by the NCAA of steering running back Lache Seastrunk to Oregon in 2010. 

Kelly was fired from UCF. According to the Orlando Sentinel article, that led to a decline in the program's recruiting, and that led to a decline in victories. UCF went 12-1 in 2013 and then 9-4 and 0-12 in 2015. UCF then hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost to take over the program before the 2016 season.

Kelly resurfaced this year at USF and now will try to work his recruiting magic at Oregon, which needs help. Taggart has brought in two high-end recruits, but the Ducks have lost several decommits. UO's 2017 class currently consists of just 12 commits and is ranked 51st in the nation by Rivals.com.

That ranking will spike quickly after Taggart has his staff in place and they hit the recruiting trail for a final four-week push before National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

Even signing just eight three-star recruits would get Oregon's class ranking back into the low 20s, which is where it was before Oregon fired Helfrich.

 

Oregon OL recruit Alex Forsyth excited about Taggart, program's direction

Oregon OL recruit Alex Forsyth excited about Taggart, program's direction

West Linn High School senior offensive tackle Alex Forsyth committed to Oregon in June hoping to play for coach Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. 

However, the developments over the past two weeks changed those plans. Helfrich was fired on Nov. 29 after a 4-8 season. Nine days later, the Ducks introduced Willie Taggart as the new head coach.

Forsyth said the program's rapid change of direction surprised him but never made him flinch on his commitment to the Ducks. 

A lifelong UO fan, Forsyth would likely still play in Eugene if The Oregon Duck mascot became head coach. That said, Forsyth is pleased that his disappointment over Helfrich's firing has been lessened by the excitement surrounding Taggart. 

“I think they hired someone who is very good and very qualified," Forsyth said of Taggart, who rebuilt programs at South Florida and Western Kentucky. “I just really liked his energy and the way he talked about having 'a great day if you want to.' He just seems like a great guy and a great recruiter. Great coach."

Taggart certainly lit up the room during his introductory press conference last Thursday at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He comes to Oregon with loads of potential but is unproven in a Power Five conference. 

Forsyth (6-foot-5 290-pounds) said that numerous reports about Helfrich's potential demise lessened the shock of the news when it happened. Still, he was surprised given all that Oregon had accomplished under Helfrich, and that the 2016 team experienced a lot of bad luck, including numerous injuries to key players and several close losses. 

“There was a lot of things that were very, very unfortunate that happened,” he said. 

Taggart is in the process of putting together his coaching staff and said that he would reach out to current assistants to see if they fit his future plans. Forsyth said he hopes to see Greatwood stick around. 

“It is a little disappointing knowing that he might not be there," Forsyth said of Greatwood. "I hope they keep him. But if they don’t it won't affect my commitment."

Forsyth, a four-star recruit and the top-rated player in the state according to Rivals.com, anchored West Linn's offensive line that helped lead the Lions to a 62-7 victory over Central Catholic in the 6A championship game on Dec. 3.  Also on that team was four-star defensive back Elijah Molden, whose father Alex Molden played for Oregon in the 1990s.

It was widely assumed Elijah Molden would follow in his father's foot steps, until he didn't. Molden on Nov. 12 committed to Washington, a development that reflected poorly on Helfrich and Oregon. Forsyth said his good friend's decision surprised him a bit but he understands Molden's reasoning. 

"It was a hard decision for him," Forsyth said. "He just saw a lot in all of the schools. I know it was a close decision for him....He wanted to blaze his own trail. Carve his own path.”

When Helfrich got fired, a few recruits decommitted from Oregon, knocking the team's class ranking from No. 23 to No. 43. It's now No. 42. 

"Some I could see coming," Forsyth said of the decommitts. "They really wanted to play for Helfrich."

Taggart will have his chance to bulk up the 2017 class. He has already flipped one recruit, athlete Darrian McNeal out of Florida. He had been committed to Arizona.  

Other UO commits, Forsyth has spoken with, have remained on board and are pumped up to play for Taggart. So is Forsyth, who believes the Ducks will rise again very soon.  

“I see that there’s going to be a turnaround," Forsyth said, "which is reassuring."

Taggart plans to talk to current Oregon assistants

Taggart plans to talk to current Oregon assistants

EUGENE - New Oregon coach Willie Taggart said during today's introductory press conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex that he planned to meet with each of the Ducks' assistant coaches to see if they fit with his plans moving forward.

"I'd really like to talk with those guys and see if they are a good fit for what we're trying to do," Taggart said. "I think it's really important that we get the right fit. That's so important in hiring a staff. For me personally, I want to make sure that we hire a staff that's going to capture the hearts and the minds of our football players. That's probably the most important thing for me. They have to be great mentors to our guys to help them accomplish all of the things that they want to capture as a young man." 

Taggart, hired Wednesday to replace Mark Helfrich who was fired last week after four seasons, will be in charge of putting together his own staff, and he must do so quickly. Taggart and his new staff must get to work on salvaging the 2017 recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks 43rd in the country. It ranked in the low 20s before Helfrich was fired and some key recruits withdrew their commitments.

Oregon has several long-time assistant coaches who have been at Oregon from between 14 and 34 years. But chances are that Taggart doesn't keep any more than one or two assistants if any at all. 

It's almost a lock that the entire defensive staff will be replaced, starting with defensive coordinator Brady Hoke. 

University president Michael H. Schill, who spoke first during the press conference held in a team theater, joked that his only football advice for Taggart was for him to "go find a great defensive coordinator."

Taggart himself later said that doing so was one of his top goals.  Oregon ranked 126th out of 128 teams in total defense.

Offensively, coaches like offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, running backs coach Gary Campbell, who could be set to retire, and quarterbacks coach David Yost appear to have the best chance to stick around. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick will likely be replaced. 

Greatwood has developed a strong offensive line that includes four redshirt freshman while Yost has helped with the development of freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, a promising star.

Still, chances are that none will be retained. This change has the feel of a complete reboot. 

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

A Tweet stating that Phil Knight is willing to pay $10 million per year for a football coach to lead Oregon to a national title should be dismissed on arrival with a chuckle because it couldn't possibly be true. 

Or could it?

A question regarding ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell's tweet was posed to UO coach Mark Helfrich on Sunday, a day after the Ducks lost 45-20 at USC to fall to 3-6 on the season. 

His response: "That's the nature of the profession. It would be cool if it was that easy." 

After a pause, Helfrich added: "I take it, it wasn't me that's getting the $10 million?"

Laughter followed.

In actuality, Helfrich would be receiving $11 million in the deal. More on that later. 

What's more pressing is how such a report, if it's true, defines how perspective levels around Oregon's poor season have reached such gutter levels that one must consider that everyone remotely associated with the program - fans, boosters, media - have all lost their damn minds. 

There is not a coach alive that's going to magically bring a national title to Oregon no matter how much Knight, or anyone, pays that person. In fact, I don't think there is a coach alive who believes he could guarantee Oregon a national title, but there are plenty who would take the ridiculous paycheck and give it the ol' college try. 

The idea of throwing that type of money around sounds like an act of desperation rather than one born from deep thought. It's an overreaction to problem that will naturally correct itself. 

Maybe I'm not as alarmed by the current state of UO's program because I saw the eventual demise coming years ago, stated as such and wrote about it while at The Oregonian in 2012. I reiterated that point in 2014 when writing that the national championship window would close after Marcus Mariota moved on to the NFL, and prior to this season called it a year of transition for a young and inexperienced team.

I certainly didn't predict 3-6 at this point, but I did predict that the rest of the conference would catch up with the "blur" offense and the Ducks' talent level would not be able to sustain a string of dominant seasons without the benefit of a fantastical, yet gimmicky offense leading the way. 

However, I also believe that the program will recover when a new influx of talent, led by a transcendent star, were allowed to develop. That star is freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who will at least become the second greatest quarterback ever to play at Oregon when his career is over (baring injury, of course). 

Allowing this all to play out requires minimal patience, something sorely missing in this day and age. 

What's happened is that fans and boosters have so attached their own egos and emotions to the success of UO's football program that they almost believe they created that success. So, now that things have gone south the first reaction is to punish someone. 

That someone is Helfrich, who had the misfortune of following Chip Kelly, propped up as a football God because he had four great years primarily because from 2009 through 2012, most of the conference had no clue how to handle the Ducks' dizzyingly fast-paced offense.

That has changed and here we are. Those with an open mind recognize that the downfall could have happened to Kelly, as well, and in fact partly did because the final two recruiting classes he oversaw had players all over the 2015 team, and some remain this season on a team virtually void of quality senior leadership.  

Those who believe in the Kelly mythology - and haven't been watching him getting crushed in the NFL - want to believe that Helfrich ruined a good thing, and that Kelly would have kept the gravy train going into eternity. 

Not possible. 

Every program in the conference has the same amount of scholarships and is also free to hire good coaches. Simple math and probability dictate that some of those teams were going to eventually become really good and that Oregon would eventually have a rebuilding season.

What's being ignored at an alarming fashion is that this team on paper had no chance to contend this season. It's far too young and inexperienced, and the Ducks have suffered a crazy amount of injuries.  

The answer to how Oregon returns to glory is not found in simply firing a staff that consists of most of the men who played a huge part in the Ducks' greatest successes. At least don't do so after one bad season. 

Allow me to repeat that: One. Bad. Season. 

Not two. Not three. Not five. One. 

Firing everyone two years after arguably the greatest season in program history would be the lazy thing to do. It requires no imagination. Requires no foresight. No thought. Place blame. Feel superior. Prop up someone else as the savior. Feel better about yourself. 

But there's just one little problem: Who ya gonna get?

I keep waiting for someone, anyone, to name this magical coach that for $10 million will bring the Ducks a national title and never, ever have a bad season. Ever. 

Is Alabama's Nick Saban coming to Oregon? Not a chance. 

Ohio State's Urban Meyer? Ha!

Even if either one did take Knight's money and head to Eugene, there is no guarantee that they bring UO a national title. Recruiting to Eugene is far more difficult than recruiting to Alabama or Ohio State, or their former stops, LSU and Florida. 

Saban, who makes $6.9 million per year, quit on the Miami Dolphins because he didn't have the talent-gathering advantages he enjoyed at LSU. I don't think he would relish trying to win it all at Oregon. 

And if either Saban or Meyer ($6 milllion per year) have trouble winning it all for the Ducks, then who else could possibly do it?

I would assume that this God of a coach already has a national title, correct? Helfrich and company have been to two national title games, one with him as head coach. So an upgrade would have to be someone with a national title already on his resume. 

So are we talking about former championship coaches who have fallen from grace such as Mack Brown, Jim Tressel, Gene Chizik? They could be had.

Maybe Oregon tries to steal Jimbo Fisher ($5.25 million) from Florida State, or Bob Stoops ($5.25 million) from Oklahoma.

Money talks. Anything is possible. 

But why would any of those men guarantee a national title for Oregon? All won big at programs with greater advantages than UO provides. 

Don't get started on the notion that Oregon should ride its facilities to uninterrupted successes. They get Oregon into the recruiting game on a national level, but they don't win that game. 

But let's say the Ducks do land a "big name," that would lead to the irony of ironies. Should that coach returns the Ducks to to prominence in 2017 or 2018, he would be doing so with Helfrich's recruits.

Oops. That would then destroy the narrative that Helfirch can't build a winning team. He already destroyed the idea that he couldn't coach a championship-level team by going 11-2 and 13-2 in his first two seasons. But his haters always seek to point out that Helfrich won with Kelly's recruits. So, to be fair, if a new coach wins early, Helfrich would have to be credited for putting the players together, starting with Herbert. 

If there is room for extreme blame to be placed at the feet of Helfrich and the coaching staff - that includes Kelly, former defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and former offensive coordinator Scott Frost - its for the lack of an adequate amount of impact players on this team. Oregon is young and inexperienced at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker because the current starters beat out older players who didn't pan out. 

For example: Herbert is starting as a freshman only because Morgan Mahalak (2014 four-star recruit) and Travis Jonsen (2015 four-star recruit) didn't reach expectations. Similar scenarios have played out at other positions.

That has led to a young team simply not ready to win.  The staff certainly is to blame for this predicament. However, what those aching to release their venom are too blind to see is that the benefit of losing with a young team is that the players will gain experience and improve.  

We've seen this play out at Oregon before. 

The 2004 Ducks (5-6) and the 2006 Ducks (7-6) struggled with maturity and consistency, but the 2005 team (10-2) and the 2007 team (9-4) were top five teams before injuries at the quarterback position. The 2005-2006 Oregon basketball team missed the NCAA Tournament while losing many close games with four prominent sophomores and a junior leading the way. The following season the Ducks reached the Elite Eight.

There is every reason imaginable to believe that these current Ducks will also rise, and do so under Helfrich. Herbert is a superstar in the making. The offense line is loaded with four potential NFL players who need time to grow. The defense will return 10 starters next season, and there are a host of freshman and redshirt freshmen, other than linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brendan Schooler, that should be very good in the near future. 

But recognizing all of that requires effort. Vision. A willingness to think rather than react. To project, rather than punish. 

Let's forget about Helfrich for a second, because it's not all about him. A new $10 million coach would likely bring his own staff. Are those associated with the program ready to tell Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, John Neal, Jim Radcliffe and Steve Greatwood that it's time for them to go after one bad season in 10 years? 

"Thanks for helping Oregon become a national power but, you had one losing season every 10 years for the past 20 so it's time for you to go."

That doesn't seem right. 

The Oregon Ducks will rise again with the current coaching staff. No doubt. Then, it will have a down season at some point. 

A new coach could win big at Oregon. No doubt. Then he too would eventually have a down season. 

At the very least allow this staff the chance to grow this young roster. See if they can turn things around. Helfrich, an Oregonian from Coos Bay, cares about the program more than anyone else UO could hire. He will work his tail off to fix things. If he fails and the Ducks don't show improvement in 2017, by all means, make a change.

But firing him after one bad season, eating $11 million of buyout money, also buying out the assistants while firing such long-time fixtures, and then throwing crazy money at a big name out of desperation would be unseemly for the Oregon program. 

It would make the Ducks look desperate and common. Not special. Not unique. 

From Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich, Oregon has done things the right way in the head coaching department, and it has paid off. 

Change directions now and UO would veer down an uncertain path that could lead to disaster, a revolving door of overpaid coaches in it just for the money who could ultimately leave the program in ruins. 

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."

Oregon's true self will be revealed at Nebraska

Oregon's true self will be revealed at Nebraska

Oregon is going to get smacked in the mouth on Saturday. 

Nebraska is going to come out like Mike Tyson circa 1986 and try to drop the No. 22 Ducks where they stand when the two teams meet at Memorial Stadium, sure to be filled with nearly 90,000 Cornhuskers fans

The question is, can Oregon take a punch? Can they rise from the canvas after being knocked down, which they most certainly will be?

We don't know. Oregon (2-0) might not even know. But we will find out on Saturday, and what we learn will have reverberations throughout the rest of the season.

"They're a physical football team, they've been known to be a physical football team for a lot of years," Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said of Nebraska. 

Oregon has prided itself on being physical despite holding the label of being a finesse team because of its use of the no-huddle spread offense. Of course, there's nothing "finesse" about 235-pound running back Royce Freeman pounding through a hole. With that said, there is mystery surrounding the Ducks' offensive line and front seven in terms of their abilities to hold up against a physical team. 

Nebraska will put that to the test Saturday. Can three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen handle Nebraska's aggressiveness on defense? Will the front-seven, gashed for 220 yards rushing by Virginia's running backs last week, stand up to the Cornhuskers rushing attack?

"When you look at what they've had success doing, and what we haven't necessarily had success stopping, it sure would make sense to just pound it," UO coach Mark Helfrich said. 

And pound it and pound it and pound it. 

"I like games like this because it's more physical," Oregon junior defensive end Henry Mondeaux said. "You kind of don't have to think as much. It's more of just one-on-one matchups."

That's where the game will be decided. Nebraska (2-0), coached by former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, will certainly attack Oregon with the run to find matchups that can be exposed. If the Ducks stand up to it, they could win. If not, it will be a long day for the Ducks, and quite possibly a long season.  

The rest of the Pac-12 will be watching. There is no more vulnerable Ducks team than one that loses at the line of scrimmage. No. 7 Stanford and No. 8 Washington will surely take apart the Ducks if they cannot handle Nebraska. 

However, if Oregon stands strong, even in defeat, that would bode well for their chances to make noise in the tough Pac-12 North Division. 

Oregon could lose a close game while still proving its toughness, not just against Nebraska's physicality but also against a rabid fan base that will make life difficult for the Ducks. 

Nebraska is out for blood. Riley most certainly wants some measure of revenge for all the times the Beavers got blasted by Oregon. Nebraska is out to return to national prominence and views a win over the Ducks as a gateway toward respect and the Top 25 after a 6-7 season in 2015. 

"We're going into a hostile environment," Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. "And how we prepare and how we react in that kind of environment will really kind of set the tone for the rest of the season."

 

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.”