Calvin Throckmorton

Oregon's offensive line could be considered the greatest in program history by season's end

Oregon's offensive line could be considered the greatest in program history by season's end

EUGENE - Oregon's offensive line should be a wrecking crew in 2017. 

When it's all said and done, this group could be considered the greatest in program history. The line's combination of size, strength, agility and tenacity across the board is unmatched by any previous Ducks line. It's so good, that the line could be the unit that transforms the Ducks from fledgling bowl team to one that could actually challenge in the Pac-12 North Division. 

“I think it all starts up front and if there is one position group on this football team that’s very solid and together and I’m really excited about, it’s the offensive line,” UO coach Willie Taggart said.

The Ducks return four redshirt sophomores who saw starts last year.  Center Jake Hanson, guard Shane Lemieux and tackle Calvin Throckmorton each started 12 games. Tackle Brady Aiello saw 10 starts. Most importantly, UO returns senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby, the team's best offensive lineman who missed 10 games last season mostly due to a broken foot. Toss in senior Jake Pisarcik, who played in six games and will compete to start at guard, and senior backups Doug Brenner and Evan Voeller and the Ducks have a loaded group to work with.

“There’s so many guys that we can plug in there and I’ve got complete confidence in all of them,” sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. “They’ve done a great job this offseason and they really know what they are doing.”

They experienced some great lessons last year and came out looking pretty good. Consider that the Ducks, despite running back Royce Freeman have a down season due to injuries, finished second in Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (226.4) and tied for the conference lead with Arizona in yards per attempt (5.5).

Not bad. But there was tons of room for growth. 

“I think we’re going to be tons better," Lemieux said. "Just looking at film from last fall camp to this last spring, it’s just like a total different offensive line.”

Different in size, strength, techniques and smarts. 

The Ducks line has increased its strength and bulk, going from about a 290-pound average to 310. The added physicality will be needed to operate in a new rushing attack. Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal has installed a more physical attack based on what he did as line coach at Alabama and Taggart's schemes. 

Oregon wants to be more downhill in its attack. Straight ahead. Powerful. Tough. They will still get to the edges, which the previous scheme lived off of, but the new attack wants to enforce its will on opponents. The change in attitude takes time to build. 

"We're getting there," Cristobal said. "I wouldn't trade these guys for anything...You see the power...When you have a backfield like we have you can't help be excited to come off the ball and knock people back."

The trick is to build that depth through competition. 

"You can't let them feel comfortable," Cristobal said. "If they played to a certain standard then that standard has got to be higher...You're going to need depth. And you're going to need someone at some point in time to step in, or at some point in time be better than what's being done."

Unity and synergy are also important. Crosby acted as a mentor last year while sidelined. Now he is a leader and likes how the group has gelled. 

“We’ve all really grown together,“ Crosby said.

That, and experience, should lead to better communication. Last year, Herbert, playing as a freshman quarterback, sometimes had trouble communicating checks with such a young line. A season together, and a strong offseason complete with team bonding should make on-field communication more efficient. 

“When we see something that we don’t like we can change the play and we’re all on the same page,” Herbert said. “Last year, just five or six guys coming together that haven’t played much together communication stuff wasn’t great but having a year with them has been awesome. We’re so comfortable together that if Jake says something we know we are all going to follow him.”

Last season ended on a negative note for the Ducks. They led at Oregon State in the second half before the rains came. The passing game went down hill while OSU began to pound its running game at a weak Oregon defense. The Ducks' running game never answered. Oregon won 34-24. 

“There’s obviously some freshman mistakes that shouldn’t have been there by the end of the season” Lemieux said.

But that was then. This is now. 

“Our play has changed a lot," Lemieux said. "Our demeanor has changed a lot. Where last year I can look back and early in the season our strength wasn’t up to par as it should have been. There were some technique issues that shouldn’t have been happening that late in the season. Definitely I think the freshmen mistakes are obviously out the window.”

And that's bad news for opposing defenses. 

Mario Cristobal eager to mold Ducks' young linemen

Mario Cristobal eager to mold Ducks' young linemen

Oregon's offense will have a similar feel to what fans have grown accustomed to seeing at Autzen Stadium the past 12 years, but the goal is to accomplish the same potency with a different level of size and toughness. 

Ducks co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Mario Cristobal came to Oregon after spending the past four seasons as the offensive line coach at Alabama. The Crimson tide offensive lines have been built to bulldoze opponents while the Ducks have used a bit more finesse while running their spread offense, whether coaches ever wanted to admit that, or not. 

On Wednesday, when the Ducks began spring drills, Cristobal said he looked forward to infusing some of what he did in a pro-style offense at Alabama under coach Nick Saban with what Oregon's plans will be under new head coach Willie Taggart who employs a spread offense. 

“It was an incredible four years [at Alabama],” Cristobal said. “You learn everything from regimen to structure, practice planning, how to look ahead and schedule out an entire year for the pitfalls that come with certain phases of football. I’m certainly bringing everything over here and applying it as it fits to coach Taggart’s plan. That’s the most important thing."

Cristobal takes over a line that helped the Ducks finish second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense with four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen leading the way. The Ducks return redshirt sophomores, Jake Hanson, Brady Aiello, Calvin Throckmorton and Shane Lemieux, along with senior Tyrell Crosby (injured most of last season) and redshirt senior guard Jake Pisarcik, who started at guard before and after Crosby went down.

That's quite a group, but it's one that Taggart said needs a lot of work in order to meet his standards for strength and attention to detail. Cristobal indicated about the same.  

“This is a development game and the offensive line is probably the most significant development position in terms of, it takes a little bit longer,” Cristobal said. 

His enthusiasm about molding this group was obvious. 

“I don’t want to use clichés but I’m jumping out of my skin right now,” he said.

Cristobal said he came to Oregon for the opportunity to be a coordinator at a great program and to work with Taggart. 

“I think coach Taggart has infused juice into the program," he said. "Players have bought in.”

Cristobal added that he likes Taggart's philosophies on building young men, maintaining great attention to detail and creating good people who can win. 

“We’re in the people industry," Cristobal said. "In my opinion, this game is played from the inside out...We want to make sure we do the best by our players as student athletes, as players."

The overall goal, he said, is to get Oregon back to where it was before the coaching changes made after a 4-8 season a year ago. 

“Oregon football has been outstanding for a long, long time," Cristobal said. "There’s been several great things accomplished here….Like I tell everywhere I’ve been; we’re borrowing these jerseys, we’re borrowing these coaching hats. It’s our responsibility, our obligation to raise the standard, to elevate the standard, to uphold the legacy. That’s our job.”

How Oregon's recruits fit in: OL - New signees shouldn't be needed in 2017

How Oregon's recruits fit in: OL - New signees shouldn't be needed in 2017

Oregon coach Willie Taggart last week signed his first recruiting class, which Rivals.com ranked No. 18 in the nation. Now CSN is taking a look at how each new recruit could fit into the Ducks' plans next season.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backs and Wide receivers/tight ends, defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Offensive line.

New Ducks: Alex Forsyth (6-5, 310, West Linn H.S., West Linn), Popo Aumavae (6-4, 315, St. Mary's H.S., Stockton, Fla.), Cody Shear (6-4, 285, Sheldon H.S., Eugene) and George Moore (6-7, 308, Deer Valley H.S./College of San Mateo, Antioch, Calif.). 

Projected 2017 starters: Left tackle Tyrell Crosby, Sr., (6-5, 310), left guard Shane Lemieux, RSo., (6-6, 310), center Jake Hanson, RSo., (6-5, 295), right guard Brady Aiello, RSo., (6-7, 290), right tackle Calvin Throckmorton (6-6, 300). 

Key backups: Guard Jake Pisarcik, RSr. (6-2, 300), center Zach Okun, RSo., (6-4, 315), guard/center Doug Brenner, RSr., (6-2, 300), tackle Evan Voeller, RSr., (6-5, 295)

The situation: Oregon lost senior guard Cameron Hunt but will return senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby, who missed 10 games last year with a foot injury. He will join four redshirt freshmen, who carried the line last season. Redshirt senior Jake Pisarcik rounds out the top six linemen on the depth chart.

Another 10 returning linemen will compete for spots on the two-deep depth chart. That leaves little room for three freshmen and a junior college transfer to fit in. 

The verdict: All three true freshmen should redshirt for the future. It's possible that Moore, an ideal offensive tackle, would play his way into being a backup.

Next up: Defensive line. 

Oregon 2017 Outlook - OL: Greatwood left behind a group poised for greatness

Oregon 2017 Outlook - OL: Greatwood left behind a group poised for greatness

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsTight ends, Wide receivers, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs.

Today: Offesive line.

Key loss: Senoir Cameron Hunt moves on after starting for the past three seasons and part of his freshman year. 

Projected 2017 starters: Left tackle Tyrell Crosby, Sr., (6-5, 310), left guard Shane Lemieux, RSo., (6-6, 310), center Jake Hanson, RSo., (6-5, 295), right guard Brady Aiello, RSo., (6-7, 290), right tackle Calvin Throckmorton (6-6, 300). 

Key backups: Guard Jake Pisarcik, RSr. (6-2, 300), center Zach Okun, RSo., (6-4, 315), guard/center Doug Brenner, RSr., (6-2, 300), tackle Evan Voeller, RSr., (6-5, 295).​  

What we know: Former Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood left his replacement, new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, with plenty of strong pieces to work.  

The return of Crosby from an injury suffered at Nebraska  that ended his season, and the further development of four talented redshirt sophomores who carried the line last year could give the Ducks one of its best set of offensive linemen in program history. 

The potential starting group is one of, if not the, most athletic groups ever to play for Oregon. And they are huge. The Ducks started four redshirt freshmen for most of the season in a Pac-12 Conference that saw only a couple of other freshmen linemen make starts. 

Still, the Ducks finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (226.4). 

The scary part is that there remains great room for improvement. Oregon did allow 29 sacks, tied for eighth in the conference, and had enough silly penalties and mental errors to at times be a detriment in key moments.

However, all of that was to be expected for such a young group. 

What we don't know: How exactly will this lineup shake out? Hanson, Throckmorton and Lemieux began last season as starters while Aiello backed up Crosby before he suffered his season-ending injury.

Crosby's return pushes Aiello back to second-string tackle unless shuffling is done to find a spot for him along the line. The question is if he can play guard. If he can, he slides into right guard, vacated by Hunt's graduation. If not, then maybe Throckmorton slides to right guard to make room for Aiello at right tackle. However, Throckmorton is at right tackle for a reason and could become the starting left tackle once Crosby moves on to the NFL.

If Aiello and Throckmorton simply best belong at tackle with one as a backup then Pisarcik could start at guard. Heck, maybe Okun makes a move at guard, or Brenner.

Final word: This potentially special group should allow Taggart to get his run-friendly offense that racked up 285.7 yards per game last season at South Florida going in high gear from the opening game. 

Position grade: B-plus. 

Next up: Defensive line.