Oregon’s offensive line has evolved through experience to protect Justin Herbert
The Ducks entered the 2016 season with questions on the offensive line. The unit had two returning starters and planned to start three redshirt freshmen.
Junior tackle Tyrell Crosby injured his foot and was lost for the season, tossing in another redshirt freshman into a starting role.
Crosby’s injury meant Oregon had to start one veteran, Cameron Hunt, and four young players: Brady Aiello, Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson and Calvin Throckmorton.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of time to grow,” Hanson said. “From our first game to now, the amount of experience we’ve got has been the biggest thing for us to continue moving forward. It doesn’t feel like we are the young guys anymore. We feel like seasoned vets and each game is just another game.”
Two-thirds of the way through the season, it’s safe to say the unit has overachieved. What was once considered a question mark and potential downfall to Oregon’s high-octane offense has now turned into perhaps its most consistent position group.
“Learning how to compete, understanding how to compete and having confidence in themselves has really allowed this group to thrive,” offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. “The way they prepare every game has led to great chemistry and a group that will help lead us back to where we want to be.”
While outsiders might struggle with understanding how this unit has been able to gel so quickly, it comes as no surprise to Greatwood. Last year, all four of the redshirt freshmen played together on the scout team offensive line. It was there that they learned each others tendencies and how to communicate, something that has bene vital to their success.
Hanson, Oregon’s center, has been the anchor of the unit. He has been widely praised by coaches and teammates for his attention to detail and his unwavering demeanor. For a player who has been thrown into the fire from day one of this season, there has never been a situation that has been too big.
“I really haven’t seen him blink at all,” Greatwood said of Hanson. “He’s really just excepted and embrace this role as to what we need him to do. He has that presence about him where nothing seems to faze him and that demeanor he has is something I’ve never had to coach.”
Hunt is the veteran of the unit — the Duck who gives Oregon that extra edge when needed. His leadership alone has a calming effect on the team.
The other three guys all have personalities that do a great job of balancing out the rest of the line.
“We are a really close, tight-knit group on and off the field,” Hanson said. “Brady is more of the funny guy. Shane is the meathead country boy. Calvin is the smartest as a human physiology major, and Cam is the leader we’ve all needed.”
The offensive line is the driving force behind Oregon’s season averages so far: 248 rushing yards, 271 passing yards and 40.5 points per game. Though the Ducks are close to missing a bowl game, Oregon has set itself up for a successful 2017 on the offensive line as the unity learns to play together.
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka
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