Pac-10 Position Breakdown: Offensive Line – Oregon Ducks
Oregon’s spot alongside USC and Cal in preseason conference rankings is one of the biggest debates of this offseason. With an electric and innovative offense still led by Jeremiah Masoli, Legarrette Blount, and Ed Dickson, a fast and athletic defense, and three very important conference games all coming at home (USC, Cal, OSU), it’s easy to see why some are picking this Oregon team to do some serious damage this fall.
On the other hand, the Ducks have a lot of areas that need to be addressed personnel-wise, and none is much bigger than the offensive line. Oregon won’t be re-tooling the offensive line this season; they will be almost completely rebuilding it.
Losing three important depth linemen in Jacob Hucko (10 games), Jon Teague (7) and Jeff Kendall (12; 7 starts) is a serious blow, but it will be largely overshadowed by the loss of three key starters that are all currently on NFL rosters. C Max Unger (49th overall pick by Seattle), LT Fenuki Tupou (5th round pick by Philadelphia), and RG Mark Lewis (signed by Miami) were all excellent contributors last year, and leave huge shoes to fill for this year’s team.
For Oregon’s spread-option attack to succeed again in 2009, the Ducks will need a lot of new faces in the starting role to step up right away and pick up where their predecessors left off.
69 Bo Thran, 6-5, 303, Junior
74 Darrion Weems, 6-5, 310, Sophomore
- A rivals.com 3-star recruit in 2006, Bo Thran gained plenty of valuable experience last season. After redshirting in 2006 and missing virtually the entire 2007 season with injuries, Thran saw action in 12 games last season, and he started the last four at left guard. Thran didn’t miss a beat and proved himself capable of holding his own on the line, seeing 71 plays in the Civil War against Oregon State and 73 plays in the Holiday Bowl.
Thran was rehabbing a knee injury during spring practices, but looks to be ready to go for the regular season.
While lacking in experience, Darrion Weems is a massive prospect that just oozes talent and potential. The rivals.com 4-star recruit was ranked the 9th best offensive tackle in the nation in 2007 and he has a ton of upside. Weems isn’t a polished lineman yet, but on pure physical ability alone he will be tough to keep off the field, and should prove to be an asset in a reserve role in 2009.
77 Carson York, 6-5, 285, Redshirt Freshman
76 Charlie Carmichael, 6-4, 295, Sophomore
- Heavily recruited out of high school, Carson York received a rivals.com 4-star rating and was ranked 15th overall among offensive tackles in 2007. York has impressed coaches and scouts alike with his tenacity. He hits hard when making initial contact, and never gives up on a play or a defender. York’s natural talent coupled with his work ethic and drive on the field give him the look of a star in the making. But as is the question with all redshirt freshman starters, how steep will the learning curve be?
The future looks bright for York, but the present is one of the biggest question marks this unit faces heading into the fall.
54 Jordan Holmes, 6-5, 285, Junior
64 Max Forer, 6-3, 271, Junior
- Taking the place of superstar center Max Unger is Jordan Holmes, a well-rounded lineman that is fundamentally sound and possesses a great skill set. Holmes has steadily improved each season he has been with the program, starting in 2006 when he was named scout team offensive player of the week on four different occasions during his redshirt year.
In 2007 he saw action in eight games as a backup, and he appeared in all 13 games last season, including four starts at left guard. He has been listed on the depth chart as the backup at center for the last two seasons, and has been well groomed to take over this spot. He won’t fool anyone into thinking he’s Max Unger, but if he stays healthy he is as sure a bet as anyone on this line to play well consistently all season. Holmes will also be counted on to provide some leadership in this pivotal role.
4-star super-recruit center Hamani Stevens was being penciled in as a contender for this spot before his decision to leave the Ducks to take a two-year church mission took his name off the depth chart. He plans on returning to Oregon when his mission is completed.
79 Mark Asper, 6-7, 323, Sophomore
70 Ramsen Golpashin, 6-4, 280, Sophomore
- After taking a two year religious mission, Mark Asper came into the program and redshirted in 2007. As a redshirt freshman he saw action in seven games last season and steadily improved as the season wore on, eventually earning his first career start at right tackle in the Holiday Bowl.
A massive blocker that is just as powerful as his frame suggests, not many defenders will be able to do much against Asper in tight spaces. After adding even more strength this offseason, Asper looks poised to build on last season’s experience and take a step forward this year in the starting role. Assuming he does make this logical progression, he could prove to be an over-powering run blocker.
68 C.E. Kaiser, 6-4, 290, Junior
61 Nick Cody, 6-5, 270, Redshirt Freshman
- C.E. Kaiser may have been overshadowed by the slew of departed linemen mentioned in the intro, but his contribution to the offense last year was vital. Kaiser fought through a late-season injury to appear in all 13 games, starting in 10 of them at right tackle. He played the 3rd most snaps of any linemen on the team; not bad for a sophomore fighting an injury on a veteran line.
Kaiser’s toughness is matched by outstanding strength. Kaiser broke a 16-year-old Oregon record during winter testing in 2008 by posting a clean lift of 374 pounds; the most all time by an offensive lineman in the program. His strength translates well on the field as he often forces defenders to the outside with his initial contact.
Kaiser will provide leadership and stability this season, and if he can stay healthy and improve on last year’s success, he is a prime candidate to put together a special season.
Coaches are very high on Nick Cody, who was a rivals.com 4-star recruit and ranked the 25th best offensive tackle in 2008. Getting Kaiser off the field won’t be easy, but he may see time at other positions in a backup role if he continues to impress.
There is no arguing the severity of losing as much talent as Oregon did this offseason; its a huge blow. But it isn’t as if they are being replaced by a bunch of hacks; quite the contrary, this is an extremely talented unit that looks very capable of putting a strong season together.
How quickly Head Coach Chip Kelly and Line Coach Steve Greatwood can get this unit to gel together and play to their potential is anyone’s guess. September is a scary month with games against Boise State, Utah, and Cal. By the time the Ducks get to USC on October 31st, I’m pretty sure this line will be clicking. But will it be too late by then?
While it may sound cliche and obvious, in this case it really does come down to staying healthy. A quick look down the immediate depth chart shows only one upperclassman behind the starters; former walk-on Max Forer. This team has very little experienced depth, and on a line already sorely lacking experience, there just isn’t any room for injury.
If put on the spot to make a guess, I’d guess the line is going to turn out fine, and won’t be the Achilles heel some are making it out to be. Oregon’s offense is so innovative and so misdirection-based that with proper execution it has such an edge over defenses that a few shortcomings on the line would be easily overcome.
But we won’t need to wait long for our answer. The line will only get better as the season goes on, and Boise State and Utah will give us the answers we need. If Oregon heads into the Cal game at 3-0… look out.
Lastly, I know that would have been a fine note to end on, but man does the future look bright for this line. Ducks fans are obviously more concerned with the present than the future at the moment, but next year’s unit should be downright lethal, and with this core of young talent, this looks to be an exciting offense for a long time.