It’s hard to imagine Oregon’s offensive line getting better after losing its best player to the NFL last year. Even after Tyrell Crosby was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the third round, the Ducks return an offensive line with more experience than any other position group on the team.
Preseason award watch lists players Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux and Calvin Throckmorton are the stalwarts, having been starters since they were freshmen. Now the juniors get to mentor in the next great linemen recruiting class, a unit so physically imposing that it’s given a new meaning to power-football in Oregon.
Last year, Oregon finished 12th in the nation in rushing, averaging 251 yards per game. Even after losing Crosby and Royce Freeman — arguably the greatest running back in program history — the Ducks could be better running the ball.
Hanson is the brains of the operation, having the ability to dissect opposing defensive fronts and communicate among his best traits. But after a minor surgery caused him to miss some time this offseason, he’ll be playing catch up during camp.
“I’ve had to recover from surgery about ¾ into the spring,” Hanson said. “I definitely feel strong and ready to go — my body feels very prepared.”
Lemieux and Throckmorton bring a bit of nastiness to the unit, both playing with an edge that’s needed among the soft-spoken group.
Filling the void left by Crosby could be left tackle Brady Aiello, another member of the junior class. Aiello has plenty of experience after playing opposite Crosby the final three games of last year, proving his capability of protecting quarterback Justin Herbert’s blind side.
Redshirt sophomore Jacob Capra saw action last year, making one start at right guard against UCLA. He’s in the running to start at right guard, a position he knows well.
Redshirt freshmen Alex Forsyth and Cody Shear spent all of last season diving into the playbook. Now they're in line for playing time if they can add some more weight — neither weighs above 286 pounds. Junior George Moore and sophomore Sam Poutasi are also players who bring experience and knowledge to the unit.
Already possessing an athletic — although slightly undersized— offensive line with the returners, head coach Mario Cristobal put his ideal plan into action when he went out and got the beef.
Of the six incoming freshmen and one transfer, the average combined weight is 359.7 pounds while the average combined height is 6-foot-5. Not a single Duck returning from last year’s squad is that size, let alone not a single projected starter weighs that much.
Cristobal’s vision of making Oregon a power running team improved when Alabama transfer Dallas Warmack committed during the summer. Warmack was recruited to the Crimson Tide when Cristobal was a coach there and instantly brings a championship mentality to the unit.
Freshmen Steven Jones and Justin Johnson look like a future pair of tackles, both standing 6-foot-7 and weighing over 375 pounds. Surprisingly athletic for that size, it’s a scary idea to think what these boys will be like after a year in Oregon's strength and conditioning program.
A four-star prospect in high school, Penei Sewell was a huge win in the recruiting world and is another newcomer who could be in line to see action as a freshman.
Freshmen Chris Randazzo and Dawson Jaramillo are other big-time recruits who provide depth but could be in line to redshirt with so many returners.
Gone are the days of Oregon having a smaller and more athletic group of linemen. After a year in coach Aaron Feld’s strength and conditioning program, this unit has never looked bigger. Throckmorton and Lemieux immediately standout as players who look physically different compared to last year.
Combined with Hanson, Throckmorton and Lemieux are the three penciled-in starters. Aiello is expected to start but could easily be pushed by Johnson or Jones if they prove capable of understanding the offense. It should be noted that as of now during fall camp, neither Jones nor Johnson are among the two-deep.
I think Warmack starts the opener over Capra because his size and familiarity with Cristobal will win out in the end. But, Capra has been getting the majority of first team reps in practice. That’s a position battle I expect to be very intense over the coming weeks.
With Hanson as the cerebral part of the group and plenty of competition to push every day in practice, this unit could easily be among the best in the nation by season’s end. And what makes this squad even scarier, there isn’t a senior among them.
Projected Starters: Junior LT, Brady Aiello — Junior LG, Shane Lemieux — Junior C, Jake Hanson — Junior RG, Chance Warmack — Junior RT, Calvin Throckmorton
Projected Backups: Freshman LT, Steven Jones — Freshman LG, Justin Johnson — Redshirt Freshman C, Alex Forsyth — Redshirt Sophomore RG, Jacob Capra — Freshman LT, Penei Sewell