By Sam Finley, EDN
Ever since the end of spring football practices to the middle of fall camp, it has been asked early and often: How will Oregon’s offensive line hold up after losing Bo Thran, C.E. Kaiser, and Bo Thran to graduation? A valid question to be sure, since they were a big key in opening holes for LaMichael James, as well as giving Darron Thomas time to throw during last year’s BCS title run. But offensive line coach Steve Greatwood says there are changes on the front five every season.
“This is nothing new,” Greatwood explained. “We just have to try to plug in the best five guys and find the ones who will back them up and rotate them in. It’s all about shaking it up every day.”
At least one returning starter of last year’s line is tired of hearing the question about who isn’t around. Carson York says the line will be fine.
“I think we’re all pretty confident and that’s how we have to approach it,” said the 6’5, 292 pound junior tackle from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “Yes, we lost some key starters, but Mark Asper and I have 50 starts between us, and Darrion Weems has like 10 starts under his belt.”
York also states that while some of the younger guys haven’t started as many games, they have plenty of potential.
“Hroniss Grasu and (Junior) Ryan Clanton are two of the strongest guys on the offensive line,” he claimed. “They are ready physically, it’s just about making sure they are mentally ready.”
Carson has been especially impressed with Grasu, who is currently the favorite to take over Jordan Holmes’ spot at center.
“I honestly thought there’d be a drop off from the center position from a mental perspective,” said York about the 6’3, 292 pound redshirt freshman. “But since he’s been in camp, I haven’t seen any decline or at least not as much as I expected. So Hroniss did a really good job in the offseason of getting his head in the books and film.”
One of the more interesting prospects this year could be Hamani Stevens. A redshirt freshman was initially recruited in 2008, but decided to go on his two-year mormon mission in 2009. Having completed his spiritual journey, Stevens has returned and his coach believes there is major potential for him once he gets readjusted to the usual football.
“Hamani is getting the rust off so to speak,” Greatwood stated about the 6’3, 305 pounder from Hemet, California. “He’s been away from it for two seasons, but he’s getting better every day and he’s starting to get his football legs back under him, as are all the young guys.”
But the doubters will still point to the fact that the last time Oregon lost so many starters on the line was two years ago. That squad got off to a shaky start by losing to Boise State. True, the offensive line did gel after that game, and helped the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1994.
Nonetheless, Oregon opens their season against LSU in a game that could very well decide which one of these teams plays for the BCS title. With national championship aspirations in mind, the Ducks cannot afford a slow start at any position, especially from up front. That being said, York says he learned a lesson from the Boise debacle, and he’s determined to not have the same mistake happen again.
“I was one of the younger guys when we played in Boise,” York explained. “I think it’s possible that we took fall camp for granted, and thought of it more as a ‘let’s get through it’ type thing. What I took from it is, when you come into camp you’ve got to get better every day, even if it is finding one thing to get better at. That’s what we’ve got to get the younger guys to understand, and if they do, we’ll have a pretty good chance.”
How can each lineman find ways to get better? Perhaps by following what Greatwood has been telling them everyday.
“I’ve told them I want to see concentration,” said Greatwood. “I also want to see communication, and then I obviously want to see a physical style of play.”
As for the nagging question that keeps coming up about the loss of his key guys, Greatwood thinks that his current group of guys could become better than their predecessors.
“We not only have to match what they did,” he claimed. “We have to exceed that. I think we always have to play better as a unit. But I see signs of that with guys becoming more physical, and guys who made great strides in the weight room over the summer. So I like where we’re at right now.”
York agrees and says it’ll all come down to how well they bond as a unit.
“It’s sort of a trust thing,” he said. “I think we have some young talented guys here, and if we can all learn to trust each other as we did with Bo, C.E., and Jordan, then I think we’ll come together. That takes time and hopefully, during these next three weeks of fall camp, it’ll get done.”