Jake Hanson

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. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 4 - Nose guard Jordan Scott

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 4 - Nose guard Jordan Scott

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is a look at one of the five reasons why you should care. 

No. 4: Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Scott. 

Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Scott, out of Largo, Fla.,  dominated high school football with his size in speed. Unfortunately, he maybe had a bit too much size, weighing in north of 350 pounds. 

Clearly a project, Scott originally committed to Florida before decommitting last November. Although, some say the Gators had cooled on Scott, anyway. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, on the other hand, was more than warm on Scott. He offered him soon after becoming Oregon's head coach in December and Scott accepted. He enrolled early and has made quite the impression during spring drills. 

He's leaned out a tad to a listed weight of 335 pounds. That has allowed him to become even quicker. 

Just ask UO center Jake Hanson. According to the redshirt sophomore, Scott's weight and speed at 6-foot-1 makes him tough to deal with. 

"He's just a load," Hanson said. "He's really hard to move. I love going against him at practice because he makes me a better player. He forces me to play with power and great pad level. Because if I don't, you can't move the dude...He definitely has great upside...He is going to be a key contributor for us this year. He has the potential to be a really great player for us in the future."

Scott has a chance to push for playing time at the nose guard position in Oregon's 3-4 defense. As a member of Team "Brave," look for him to plug some holes against Team "Free" today. 

Other entries: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen; No. 2 - CB Thomas Graham Jr.; No. 3 - Search for WR depth

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. 

Ducks' OL better prepared for loss of Crosby than Fisher in 2014

Ducks' OL better prepared for loss of Crosby than Fisher in 2014

EUGENE - The left tackle position for the Oregon Ducks has become somewhat of a jinx with junior Tyrell Crosby being the latest victim of the injury bug. 

Crosby has been lost for the season due to a foot injury suffered during the team's 35-32 loss Saturday at No. 20 Nebraska. Two years ago, Tyler Johnstone injured his knee for a second time and missed the entire 2014 season. Later that year, Jake Fisher missed a couple of games due to injury and the offensive line fell to pieces. 

So what will happen to the Ducks' line this time around? Oregon (2-1) is confident it is in a much better position to absorb the loss of Crosby than it was to handle the absence of Fisher in 2014. 

"There's probably a little bit more versatility right now," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of the offensive line. 

Starting in place of Crosby will be redshirt freshman Brady Aiello, who showed well starting in place of Crosby against UC Davis and in relief of his fallen teammate at Nebraska. Behind Aiello is senior transfer Zac Morgan, who was a two-year starter at Dayton. Helfrich said that redshirt junior Jake Pisarcik, a backup guard, and starting right guard Cameron Hunt could slide to tackle if needed. Starting right tackle, redshirt freshman Calvin Throckmorton also could move to left tackle with his backup, redshirt junior Evan Voeller or Morgan able to play right tackle. 

In other words, the Ducks have options, far more than existed in 2014. That year, the Ducks had to ask Crosby, then a true freshman, to slide from right tackle to left tackle, a position he wasn't quite ready for. The Ducks replaced Crosby at right tackle with walk-on Matt Pierson. 

Both were exposed at Washington State on Sept. 20 and the following week in a loss to Arizona. Their inexperience contributed greatly to quarterback Marcus Mariota being sacked 12 times over that two-game stretch. Oregon allowed just 18 sacks over 13 games in 2013 and just 19 over the 13 games Fisher started in 2014. 

Oregon's recruiting prowess in recent years, and commitment to developing versatility has paid off.  Still, Crosby is the team's best offensive lineman and has been projected by some NFL draft websites as a potential first-round pick. 

"You can't really replace a guy like that," redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson said. 

The loss of Crosby hit the linemen hard. 

"Obviously we're really, not upset about it, but we're very disappointed," Hanson said. 

The team's next-man up mentality kicked in immediately.  

"We don't dwell on any injuries," Hanson said. 

Throckmorton said Crosby's leadership and expertise will be missed as much as his talent. But the young offensive line believes it can carry the load without him and were encouraged by their performance at Nebraska where the Ducks rushed for 336 yards and allowed just one sack. 

"We responded great," Hanson said of playing well without Crosby at Nebraska (3-0). "Brady stepped in and did a really good job. We didn't really skip a beat."

Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood expressed confidence in his young line that will start four redshirt freshmen, including guard Shane Lemieux, Saturday against Colorado (2-1) at Autzen Stadium. 

Greatwood said he was pleased with how the line handled playing in an environment such as Nebraska's and that they didn't have any procedural penalties or many missed assignments. He said the line played strong, physical football while displaying solid communication, although he added that there is room for growth in that area. 

"I think for a bunch of young guys getting their first start in a hostile environment we showed some things that we can grow from," Greatwood said. 

One negative has been Hunt being called for senseless penalties. Greatwood said the team has addressed that issue. 

"Cameron is a competitor, but he has to learn the difference between playing hard through the whistle and playing smart," Greatwood said. "The penalty he drew was a stupid penalty."

Colorado in the past has been an easy win for Oregon since the Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011. Not anymore.

"This is a team that's coming here believing they can win and it's going to be a dog fight," Greatwood said.

Hanson agreed. 

"They are a good team," Hanson said. "They are a lot better than they were in the past. It's not a game you can overlook at all."

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

EUGENE - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood usually tells it like it is, skips the hyperbole.

So when he sings the praises of his three starting redshirt freshmen linemen, his words should excite Ducks fans. 

Center Jake Hanson, right tackle Calvin Throckmorton and left guard Shane Lemieux are the program's next generation of impact linemen. Oregon has started some great redshirt freshmen offensive linemen in the past. Tackle Tyler Johnstone and center Hroniss Grasu started for the 2011 team that won the Rose Bowl championship team. Carson York started for 2009 team that went to the Rose Bowl.

Greatwood said the current trio is on par with those former stars, and have done a bit more to earn their starting jobs.

[LISTEN: The Ducks Squad Podcast with guest senior right guard Cameron Hunt]

“I think they’ve probably had to compete even harder to earn those spots,” Greatwood said. “When those other kids were starting as redshirt freshmen we just didn’t have the depth that we do now.”

The trio, who will make their debut for No. 24 Oregon on Saturday against UC Davis, were signed in the 2015 recruiting class, which included five offensive linemen. 

“We loved that class (of linemen), and still do,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “There were a couple of guys that were very under recruited in our opinion.”

The group also includes guard/center Zach Okun and guard Brady Aiello. Okun has been injured while Aiello is the backup left tackle to junior Tyrell Crosby. 

To earn starting jobs, Throckmorton had to fend off senior transfer Zac Morgan, a two-year starter at Dayton, while Lemieux outlasted redshirt juniors Evan Voeller and Jake Pisarcik. 

Hanson really didn't face much competition.  He is that good. Helfrich and Greatwood said they have no doubt he is the answer at center and has been praised in the same vain as Grasu, a four-year starter. 

All three, however, will face weekly competition. Greatwood plans on rotating several linemen. 

“I feel right now going into the game anyhow I have some depth I haven’t had the luxury of having the last several seasons,” Greatwood said.

The running backs like what they see upfront. 

“It looks solid…” redshirt junior running back Kani Benoit said. “Easy to pick holes through them and pass blocking is great.”

The question now is if the trio can deliver on game day. 

“I hope that they just trust their preparation, relax and take a deep breath and go,” Greatwood said. “But until you see them in that environment, as a coach, you just kind of keep your fingers crossed that they will trust their preparation going into the game and let her rip once the whistle blows.”

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Offensive line. 

Projected starters: Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby (6-5, 310), junior left guard Jake Pisarcik (6-2, 300), redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson (6-5, 288), redshirt freshman right guard Shane Lemieux (6-6, 310), senior right tackle Cameron Hunt (6-4, 295). 

Key backups: Senior-transfer tackle Zac Morgan (6-7, 280), redshirt freshman center Zach Okun (6-4, 310), redshirt freshman tackle Calvin Throckmorton (6-6, 290), redshirt junior guard Doug Brenner (6-2, 305), junior tackle Evan Voeller (6-5, 295).

Smelling like roses: The line certainly will be solid, at least. Crosby replaces Tyler Johnstone at left tackle while Hunt replaces Crosby at right tackle. Matt Pierson was a great story last season, but he should be adequately replaced by Pisarcik. The right-guard spot might be filled by the promising Lemiux. Center, left vacant by the departure of Matt Hegarty, could fall to Hanson, who has never played center in his life, but drew great praise during spring drills. If he is the next Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks will be in business. If not... the rest of the line could begin to ravel just a bit.

However, there is a wild card in all of this. Morgan, a transfer from Dayton where he started at both tackle spots, could easily slide into the right tackle position, which would keep Hunt at right guard. If that happens, the Ducks would have just one huge question mark along the line and that would be at center. 

Place your bets: Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood worked his magic last season while producing a very good mix after losing Grasu and Jake Fisher to the NFL. He might have more talent to work with this time around. But will it jell right away? The Ducks brought in Hegarty because they believed they needed to fill the hole left by the departure of Grasu. This time around they feel good about a young replacement at center. But he is young. If he proves to be a year away from truly being ready, the Ducks' offensive line could be weaker, leading to an offense that won't quite be championship-caliber. 

Odds are: The inclination is to believe that Greatwood will find the right mix, as he usually does. The addition of Morgan at right tackle would allow everything else to fall into place nice and neatly. 

Poker hand: Three of a kind. This group has a chance to be very good, but at the very least should be solid.  

Next up: Defensive line.  

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Defensive line; Linebackers; Defensive backs.       

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Our top three Ducks who must improve for UO to contend

Oregon doesn't start fall camp on Aug. 8, so we're trying to kill time with a little prognostication here and there. Today, Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress count down their top three Ducks who must improve if Oregon is going to contend for the Pac-12 title in 2016.

NO. 3

Fentress' pick - Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III: - Ragin provides some experience within a group loaded with inexperienced returning players. To help Oregon's move to the 4-3, Ragin must provide consistency and leadership.  

Quote: "He was taken to media day. He needs to play like a guy taken to media day. Last year, just 20 tackles. He going to need 60 or 70 to have an impact on that defense." '

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby: - The three-year starter is on the quiet side vocally, but certainly creates noise on the field when he plows into defenders. Oregon could need him to provide leadership after losing seniors Tyler Johnstone and Matt Hegarty.

Quote: "He's got the physical abilities. We saw it last year. He started all 12 games. But he needs to become that emotional leader for the Ducks on the offensive line."

 

NO. 2

Fentress' pick - Redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson: - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood praised Hanson's development during spring drills. Problem is, Hanson has never before played center. 

Quote: His youth could be a red flag, but "the last redshirt freshman to start for Oregon at center was Hroniss Grasu, who went on to win a couple of Rose Bowls, etc."

Amaranthus' Pick - Senior defensive end Torrodney Prevot: - The former four-star linebacker recruit has had a spotty career to date, now he moves to defensive end, where he could excel as a pass rusher in Oregon's new 4-3 scheme. 

Quote: "He moved from linebacker to defensive line during spring ball... He's going to have to put on a lot of weight. He wants to get to 255 pounds."

 

NO. 1

Fentress' pick - Sophomore defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule: - The former four-star recruit has the talent to become a dominant force but has been limited by injures, including a major concucssion suffered last season. 

Quote: "He has been compared to Buckner and Armstead, who are gone. He needs to play like one or both of those guys in order for that front seven to elevate itself after losing six of seven starters." 

Amaranthus' Pick - Junior cornerback Arrion Springs: - Springs is ultra talented. Just ask him. But mental lapses and inconsistent play have prevented him from reaching his potential. That must change this season. 

Quote: "Definitely talks the talk. We have to see him walk the walk a little bit more."