Unit’s cohesion paying big dividends

Ivar Vong

Five is one.

That is the motto the Oregon Duck offensive line lives by. Whatever they do, it’s together. Not one person. Not two, but five.

It’s so much a part of them that guys don’t even want to do photo shoots without the rest of their friends, even to promote their yeoman-like efforts on the field.

Sure, in the end they’ll do it, but not before letting everyone in the vicinity know that it’s the group that comes first. These guys do everything they can together. They go on triple or quadruple dates together along with their significant others. They eat as a unit, and when they are all not doing homework or at practice, they can be found just hanging out.

“We work as a group, as a unit,” junior center Jordan Holmes said. “Because if one of us screws up, the play doesn’t work. There are really no individuals on the offensive line because one guy can do a great job and four guys could mess up and the play is counter-productive. It has to be five guys working together as one, and that’s our mentality.”
That outlook has paid big dividends so far in 2009. After a decidedly rough opening game against Boise State on Sept. 3 in which the Broncos pushed Holmes and the rest of the line around, the constantly improving line has blocked Oregon to 4-0 in its last four games.

“We tried to focus on our technique and our communication because those were two things that really hurt us in that game,” Holmes said. “We had to come to realize that in order for us to win football games, we were going to have to do a good job. So we started working harder.”

Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said the five starters and five backups on the team have been able to grow closer to one another and gain some continuity.

Playing in the friendly confines of Autzen has been pretty helpful too, he adds.

“Obviously playing at home is great because you don’t have the noise issues,” Greatwood said. “But the same maturation would have occurred if we were at home or on the road. They’re getting comfortable playing with each other.”

Head coach Chip Kelly said it’s been a combination of staying healthy and getting the inexperienced players such as redshirt freshman Carson York and sophomore Mark Asper more repetitions that has helped the line improve so dramatically from week to week. In week one, Oregon had 31 yards rushing against Boise State. Last week against Washington State, the Ducks had 318 yards.

“The fact that they’ve played five games now and they’ve been intact is the key,” Kelly said. “C.E. (Kaiser) and Bo (Thran) were the only guys with experience, and they didn’t play at all last spring. They didn’t get a chance to work with Mark, Carson and Jordan. It was just a matter of getting guys quality reps at game speed.”

One man who is very appreciative of the work the linemen do in the trenches is senior tight end Ed Dickson. He’s also alongside them run blocking, and he knows how hard they all work.

“They are battling in there,” Dickson said. “They’re throwing themselves out there and sacrificing themselves for the running back and the receivers and they do a great job for us. After the game those are the first guys I congratulate, the O-line. We can’t do it without them.”

Senior running back Andre Crenshaw agrees, saying that once the rust wore off, the unit has been as cohesive as he’s ever seen them, and he says everything is “flowing right now.”

Much of the “flow,” as Crenshaw puts it, comes from being able to integrate guys like York, Asper, and freshman Nick Cody into the rest of the unit.

“They’ve been doing really well,” Holmes said. “I’ve been impressed with Carson and Darrion (Weems) and Nick. They’re working hard and coming along.”

“Each and every game I see improvement,” Greatwood said. “These last for games have been great in terms of these guys maturing as players, maturing as a group and learning how to play well.”

But it all comes back to five is one. No individuality on the field for these guys.

They don’t get a lot of stats, and what they do each game doesn’t show up in the box score, but they don’t care. It’s about winning football games, as Holmes says.

As for their head coach, Kelly thinks in the long run, and he said he likes the progression of the line from even a month ago.

“Am I happy with the progression? Yeah,” he said. “I’m not happy with where we started, but I’m happy with where we are now.”

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