Since head coach Mario Cristobal took over two years ago, he has had three goals. Two of them shouldn’t surprise anyone coming from a new head coach — he wants to rebuild the Oregon brand and develop strong relationships and accountability between players, coaches, and alumni. But Cristobal hopes most of all to recruit and develop his team both mentally and physically so that they can compete with teams from the south.
"The DNA of the program has to ooze out of everybody that's in the building," Cristobal told ESPN in May. "It has to feel different when you walk through the door.”
Having previously coached at Alabama under Nick Saban, Cristobal knows what it takes to be a high-level program. He would like nothing more than for Oregon to become the class of the Pac-12 again and give the conference a new national outlook. For the Ducks, this starts with preparation and becoming a “fourth quarter program.”
"We feel like we've trained the hardest in the Pac-12,” senior guard Shane Lemieux told ESPN. "You think about all the stuff that you've done in the past and how much more mentally and physically stronger you are and how much more you're going to dominate [them]."
Cristobal has had time to get his feet under him, time to instill his styles, his beliefs and most of all begin to recruit his type of players. The season opener against SEC powerhouse Auburn is the perfect opportunity for Cristobal and his Ducks to show the world the progress they’ve made.
Like any good coach, he understands the importance of the lines on both sides and knows that to build a team capable of competing with anyone across the nation, it must start in the trenches.
Next Saturday, two of the best lines in the nation will face off as Oregon’s deep and experienced offensive line will face Auburn’s perennially explosive defensive line.
“It’s hard to replicate the physicality they play with up front,” offensive line coach Alex Mirabel said. “It’s hard to replicate the size they got.”
Oregon’s group (from left to right) starts at tackle with sophomore Penei Sewell who missed six games due to an ankle injury during the back half of the season. While on the field, however, he was one of the better tackles in the nation as Oregon went 6-1 in his presence. To his right is senior Shane Lemeiux, who was recently named a preseason All-American by the Associated Press. In the middle sits Jake Hanson, who has started every game for the last three seasons. At the other guard spot is former Alabama transfer Dallas Warmack followed by another preseason All-American in senior tackle Calvin Throckmorton.
For Auburn, it starts in the middle with NFL prospect Derrick Brown, whose combo of strength and speed help contribute to the lines versatility. Next to Brown is first-time starter, junior nose tackle Tryone Truesdell. On the outside, three year starter Marlon Davidson and edge rusher Nick Coe who recorded 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks last season will put pressure on Justin Herbert.
“Good players playing good players,” Mirabel said of the Auburn defensive line. “Our guys have a tremendous amount of respect for them, for what they see on film, and it’s going to be an honor for us to be on the field with them.”
Follow Shane on Twitter @shane_hoffmann