Offensive lineman are used to getting little notoriety. It comes with the territory. Yesterday, the Ducks picked up a verbal commitment from 3-star offensive lineman Jacob Capra adding him to the long list of under-the-radar recruits who have developed into elite...
With no current player on the Oregon roster wearing #79, we decided to go with a blast from the past with Mark Asper. Asper is the last player to don the #79 jersey for the Ducks not currently on the roster.
Before joining the Ducks, Asper was a three-year varsity letterman on the offensive and defensive line at Bonneville High School (Idaho Falls, Idaho). As a senior he earned first-team all-state honors as an offensive lineman and first-team all-High Country Conference for both lines. At 6’7″, he was also a nightmare to guard on the hardwood. Asper lead his team to the 2003 4A basketball state championship and with a win finished No. 1 in the state.
After high school graduation in 2004, Asper took two seasons off from football to pursue a religious mission trip.
In 2007, Asper redshirted his first season in Eugene and continued to develop his skill sets as an offensive lineman. Being two years removed from the game, an extra year of development seemed a no-brainer.
In 2008, Asper appeared in seven games and started at right tackle in the Ducks’ final game of the season, a 42-31 Holiday Bowl victory over Oklahoma State. But Asper did see time at every position on the line in spring drills besides center. He spent the bulk of the season at left tackle. The LT position is considered by many to be the most important position in football outside of quarterback as LTs are responsible for protecting a quarterback’s blindside.
In 2009, Asper started 12-13 games at right guard with his only missed start coming at home against USC on Halloween night. He finished the season with 54 pancake blocks, one shy of Jordan Holmes who led the team with 55 on the year.
In 2010, Asper started 11-13 games moving over to the right tackle position switching spots with C.E. Kaiser who moved over to guard. Asper showed his incredible strength by posting 1,137 total lbs in the combination clean, squat and bench press. He also was tied for the team-high in the squat at 500 lbs.
In 2011, Asper started 13 games at right tackle and one game at right guard. He earned all-Pac-12 honorable mention and was honored with the Ed Moshofsky Trophy as the team’s most outstanding offensive lineman. Asper also dominated in the classroom, earning all-Academic honors.
Following his career with the Ducks, Asper entered the 2012 NFL Draft and was selected in the 6th round (Pick 176) by the Buffalo Bills. He was let go by the Bills on August 31, 2012 but was picked up the very next day by the Minnesota Vikings. Asper is currently a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars entering his second season in the league.
As the NFL wraps up another round of roster cuts, many former Ducks are getting news — both good and bad — about their future in the league.
Alex Shoemaker, EDN Sports Editor
With the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft, what might be more shocking to Ducks fans are the players who were not taken as opposed to those who were.
While the University of Oregon is the only football program to play in three consecutive BCS Bowl games, only four players were drafted with three coming off the boards in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds.
But with each round a Duck went undrafted, it reemphasized just how great of a coach Chip Kelly really is.
What truly makes a coach special, is getting the most out of his players and being able to win with what he’s got.
Oregon has not been one of the top teams in the draft year-in and year-out, but they find a way to win with the good players they have.
How else would they be the reigning three-time conference champions, and the ones to dethrone the Trojans of USC?
Four players from the Ducks were drafted, and two more signed in free agency.
Here’s a look at who from the Ducks was drafted, signed in free agency, and still waiting to get that phone call.
Those Taken in the Draft
LaMichael James: Round 2 Pick 29 (61) to 49ers
James was the first to go off the boards for the Oregon Ducks, patiently waiting for his name to be called. Nearing the end of the second round, Ducks fans were beginning to worry about James’ chances of dropping down the board as team after team passed on him.
Finally, he found his home – the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’m so thankful to be in the position I’m in thank you god for blessing me lets go 49ers words can’t express how I feel!” James tweeted on Friday, just after his name was announced.
James’ lone concern will be finding his role on a stacked 49ers depth chart at running back. Lucky for James, he’s one of a kind.
“There seems to be no reason why James cannot find success in the NFL on the same level as someone like Darren Sproles,” said Joe Penkala, a featured writer for Bleacher Report. “Like Sproles, LaMichael James can make up for a lack of size with agility, speed and elusiveness.”
The 49ers, led by power back Frank Gore, have all big backs on their roster, with James now being the compliment “speed back”. I have no doubts James will be on the active roster for the start of the season.
James joins former Ducks defensive tackle Will Tukuafu.
Josh Kaddu: Round 5 Pick 20 (155) to Dolphins
Kaddu, an underrated and often overlooked linebacker over the past three years, was the next Duck to be drafted. Kaddu will join a rebuilding Miami Dolphins team, a team still looking for an identity.
“So excited to be a part of the @MiamiDolphins #blessed” Kaddu said via his Twitter account.
Kaddu received numerous shoot-outs from numerous Ducks, including former Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Being taken with a late draft pick, Kaddu will have to compete to earn a spot on team. Spring and summer practices will go a long way in determining his role on the team.
Kaddu may be asked to play special teams, or scout team, if a role on the defense isn’t available.
Mark Asper: Round 6 Pick 8 (178) to Bills
When the Buffalo Bills took Asper with eighth pick in the sixth round, he became the first Ducks offensive lineman to be drafted since Fenuki Tupou in 2009 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Asper will be a strong addition to the Bills, and could see playing time after a few years of adjusting to the league.
He joins former Ducks’ safety Jairus Byrd with the Bills.
David Paulson: Round 7 Pick 33 (240) to Steelers
Fans were beginning to worry that the loveable tight end from Renton, WA would go undrafted after three standout years in college.’’ During his three seasons with the Ducks, Paulson recorded 67 receptions for 1,041 yards (15.5 YPC) with 10 TDs.
Paulson would have joined former Oregon great Dennis Dixon, but the one time Ducks quarterback was cut from the team.
Those Not Taken in the Draft
After a shocking decision to enter the NFL Draft, for Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas went undrafted. This prompts more questions of why Thomas chose to leave school early and forgo another chance at a national championship.
Thomas has yet to be signed, but his agent Drew Rosenhaus has yet to express concern on the situation.
During his time at Oregon, Thomas passed for 5,910 yards and a school record 66 career TDs. Thomas also rushed for 719 yards and nine TDs.
The Houston, TX native will look for a team to acquire his talents this offseason.
Harris also went undrafted, after a rocky career at Oregon, but didn’t have to wait long to hear from NFL teams. Harris has signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and could see immediate playing time if he impresses in practices.
Philadelphia’s acquisition of Harris is similar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ signing of LaGarrette Blount a few years ago, with character issues playing a large part of him going undrafted.
The Eagles have decided to take a chance on Harris, arguably the most talented player who went undrafted, and it could pay great dividends in the long run. Philadelphia will have to replace starting cornerback Asante Samuel (Atlanta Falcons) this offseason, and while Harris will likely not be the frontrunner for the job, he’ll be in the hunt for significant playing time.
Haris joins former Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews in Philadelphia.
Pleasant has been such a vital part of Nick Alliotti’s defense for the past four seasons, it will difficult to replace his leadership and experience.
After playing as a linebacker for his first two seasons, Pleasant switched to rover/strong safety for his final two seasons to fix a glaring hole in the defensive backfield. While Pleasant might have been more suited as a linebacker, he transitioned relatively smoothly a found a nice role on defense.
Questions have been asked about his ability to cover in the secondary, but he silenced most of his critics with a two-interception performance against Washington last season.
Pleasant was picked up by the Houston Texans. He joins Ra’Shon Harris and Jeff Maehl.
Tuinei went undrafted but was quickly picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. He joins a depleted offense that was one of the worst in the entire NFL. His presence could be felt immediately.
Tuinei joins Walter Thurmond III and Max Unger in Seattle.
Turner will wait to see if a team will sign him. If not, he plans on returning to school and possibly pursuing a master’s degree.
The Vikings drafted OT Matt Kilil (USC) with the No. 4 pick in the draft, so Weems is not expected to compete for the starting job. But as is the risk of injury in the NFL, you can never have too many linemen.
Weems addresses a big area of concern for the Vikings: depth on the offensive line. There is a great chance Weems will be on the roster for the start of the NFL season.
Weems joins former Duck Geoff Schwartz on the offensive line.
LOS ANGELES — The No. 6 Oregon football team continued its pre-Rose Bowl activities this morning as coach Chip Kelly and the entire Ducks roster took questions from reporters at Media Day.
The event marked the final media availability for players this week, while Kelly and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema will hold their final press conferences Saturday morning beginning with Kelly at 8 a.m.
Having been in Los Angeles since Monday, it was clear that both teams are more than ready to just play the game. Oregon’s season ended 28 days ago (27 for the Badgers), and by most measures, the Ducks are no longer phased by the bright lights and extravagancies that accompany the Granddaddy of the Them All.
Two years ago, that might not have been the case.
“I think that two years ago that’s what was happening,” Oregon senior Mark Asper said. ”The older guys were trying to tell the younger guys what was going to happen and how this was going to be and everything. But even they hadn’t really been on a big stage, a BCS game or anything like that.
“So it was the blind leading the blind a little bit.”
Much has changed for the Ducks since that 26-17 loss to Ohio State in 2010. Of course, Oregon has gone through a nearly identical week leading up to the game. Practices are still held at the Home Depot Center, Disneyland opened its doors for the Rose Bowl Welcome Press Conference, and the annual Beef Bowl at Lawry’s The Prime Rib even added a little more excitement this time around.
During Oregon’s 30-minute presser this morning, the Ducks fielded plenty of questions about getting off to a strong start offensively. Sluggish starts were commonplace during the regular season, though they rarely played much of a factor in the game’s outcome.
In the last two BCS games, however, Oregon’s slow starts have put more pressure on the defense as well as the passing game to try and play catch-up. Against Ohio State and Auburn, the Ducks were held scoreless in the first quarter of play and relied on big second quarters to climb back into the game before halftime.
Asper — one of three Oregon players to compete in four straight bowl games — said there’s been added emphasis on effective starts since last February.
“I can’t speak for everybody’s attention,” Asper said. “But Coach Greatwood has specifically spoken to the O-line and had us focus on starting fast, starting physical, getting out there and setting a tempo for the game.”
Oregon’s biggest catalyst in establishing offensive tempo remains in the hands of redshirt junior running back LaMichael James. In two BCS bowl game starts, James has carried the ball a combined 28 times for 124 yards without a rushing touchdown. Granted, Ohio State and Auburn were chalk-full of NFL caliber defensive linemen, but James noted that Wisconsin presents an equal challenge with a talented group of high-effort guys.
The key, he said, will be sustaining drives in the opening quarter, particularly in facing a Badgers offense that tries to dominate the time of possession.
“I feel like if we get the drives going in the game, I think we’ll be fine,” James said. “If you start punting the ball, there’s going to be more time outs so we have to get the drives going.”
Fellow redshirt junior Kenjon Barner had arguably the best game of his young career against the Buckeyes two seasons ago. His 227 all-purpose yards were a game-high by more than 100 yards (Ohio State’s Brandon Saine tallied 120), and he was named the team’s offensive player of the game.
Barner’s all-around game has steadily improved over the last two seasons, and he reportedly received a very positive draft evaluation from the NFL earlier this month.
A third backfield mate, true freshman De’Anthony Thomas, will make his postseason debut on Monday. The co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year seemed happy to be back in his hometown of Los Angeles, and even more so to get back on the field after missing most of Oregon’s Pac-12 title game with a head injury.
Kelly spoke at length about the relationship he’s developed with Thomas this season during their one-on-one position meetings. The third-year head coach admitted he misses position meetings from his days as offensive coordinator, and enjoyed the opportunity to work with Thomas individually in 2011.
“The one thing I love about De’Anthony is consistency,” Kelly said. “He comes in every day with a smile, he’s eager to learn, and it’s a lot of fun being around him like that.”
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- UO player saves Duck fan with Heimlich maneuver
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Tim Chuey Weather:
Your Thursday will be very wet and it doesn’t look like the rain will go away anytime soon. A bit of a break for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but it’s back to wetter Sunday night into next week.
Rain: 2″ possible
The jet stream has positioned itself to send a strong fetch of moisture to the Pacific Northwest. This frontal system spreads even more rain over Oregon. The rain chance diminishes Saturday and Sunday. Another frontal system will move in to start off the New Year with even more rain. Mt. Ashland is open for the season. Hoodoo is closed for December 29-30, but will be open Saturday December 31st and Sunday January 1st. Still not enough snow yet for Willamette Pass to open for skiing. Please check their web sites for details and updates.
Forecast for the Southern and lower Mid Willamette Valley including Eugene-Springfield and Albany-Corvallis: Mostly cloudy with a good (50%) chance of showers this AM, rain (0.50 in. of rain possible) this afternoon, rain (1 in. of rain possible) tonight, heavy at times late at night, AM rain, showers (0.50 in. of rain possible) Friday afternoon (small hail possible), showers likely (60%) and colder Friday night, a slight (20%) chance of showers Saturday AM, a mix of clouds and sun in the afternoon, then mostly cloudy with a slight (20%) chance of showers Saturday night highs 54-44 lows 46-36. Mostly cloudy with a slight (20%) chance of showers Sunday (New Year’s Day), cloudy with a (40%) chance of showers Sunday night, a good (50%) chance of rain Monday, a (40%) chance of rain Monday night, a slight (20%) chance of rain Tuesday, a (40%) chance of rain Tuesday night, then cloudy with a good (50%) chance of rain Wednesday highs 48-46 lows 35-39. (seasonal averages high 45 low 33)
- Forecast for the Umpqua Basin including Roseburg
- Forecast for the South Oregon Coast including Coos Bay and North Bend
- Forecast for the Cascades of Lane County
Because weather forecasting is a combination of science, intuition, and timing there can be no absolute guarantees that individual forecasts will be 100% accurate. Nature is in a constant state of flux and sudden unexpected weather events can happen.
Keep Current on the Weather: timchueyweather4u.com
By Sam Finley, EDN
Hamani Stevens has heard it all about the Mormon faith. The young Oregon offensive lineman from Hemet, California wasted no time explaining certain stereotypes that have been applied to his religious beliefs.
“The usual misconception about Mormonism is that we all believe in polygamy and stuff like that,” claimed the 6’3, 305 pound redshirt freshman. “However, most of us don’t have 10 wives or practice any weird off-the-wall kind of things. People may think that, but we’re regular people that go to church on Sundays, focus on families, and are here to serve one another.”
Part of that service took him away from football for a short period. After utilizing his redshirt in 2008, Stevens spent the next two years on his Mormon mission in the Philippines.
“There was a lot of knocking on doors and sharing of my beliefs,” said Stevens about his time abroad. “It was a great experience, and it tests you physically, mentally, and spiritually. I wouldn’t say it was an easy two years because it was very difficult at times, but it made me stronger and it built up my faith.”
Hamani did confess that, as rewarding as his mission was, he did miss a certain game.
“There is no doubt that I missed football,” he admitted. “I thought about it all the time when I was out there. It wasn’t too much of a distraction, since I served outside of the states and they don’t follow the sport as much in the Philippines. But I still missed it a lot.”
What he didn’t expect, after returning to Eugene this year, was how difficult it would be to get back into footbal shape.
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” laughed Stevens about getting back into the typical football rigors. “I thought I’d just come back, pick it up, and just start going with it. But I had to pick up all the stuff on offense such as all the plays and get back into hitting every single day. I also had to get used to running, and putting the pads back on.”
Although Hamani Stevens is not quite where the Ducks would like him yet, his efforts have not gone unnoticed by his teammates or his coaches.
“Hamani did a good job this offseason,” said senior offensive lineman Mark Asper. “He got after it in the weight room, and he is one of the strongest guys on the offensive line. If he continues to learn the playbook and really focuses, then he can work himself into a steady part of the rotation this year and he’ll definitely be a major contributor next season.”
“He’s progressed quite a bit in the past several weeks,” explained offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. “I was able to get him in the Nevada game last Saturday, and he’s getting his fundamentals back. He’s seeing more things, and I’m pleased with his progression so far.”
As Greatwood mentioned, Stevens finally got some playing time during the Nevada game and relished the opportunity.
“It was great to make my debut,” he claimed. “It was the first time I actually played as an Oregon Duck. You know, you sit on the sidelines, and it is entirely different from actually getting into the game. It’s just so overwhelming and exciting, and you just want to go out there do your best. It’s just amazing.”
With the Mormon mission now behind him, Hamani has a different mission he’d like to accomplish.
“I’m just trying to get back into normal life,” he said. “The mission life is quite different than everyday life, because you have to wake up at certain times and talk to people. So right now, I’m just trying to get re-adapted.”
That normal life he seeks seems to be defined by taking it to the next level on the gridiron, as well as focusing on what needs to be done in the classroom.
“I haven’t declared my major yet,” he stated, but I’m thinking about doing journalism or something similar. So school and football are my main priorities at the moment.”
He may be wearing a different number on his jersey this season, but there’s no question Darron Thomas is still the No. 1 man at the head of the Oregon offense.
After switching to No. 5 this offseason and giving his old No. 1 to sophomore wide receiver Josh Huff, Thomas is set to be the first returning starting quarterback since Chip Kelly joined the Oregon program in 2007.
Thomas certainly made a name for himself as a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer last season, and proved his toughness in a very physical BCS National Championship Game last January. He spent the spring and summer keeping Oregon primed and ready for its first season in the Pac-12 North Division and will be rewarded with a trip to his home state of Texas to play the No. 4 LSU Tigers on Saturday.
Thomas and Huff are both Houston natives, while junior LaMichael James (Texarkana), freshmen Anthony Wallace (Dallas), Brennan Doty (Port Neches), Tra Carson (Texarkana) and sophomore Blake Cantu (Southlake) will each be making their first, and likely last, appearances in Texas during their Oregon careers.
It’s an opportunity that Thomas and Huff both said they’ve been looking forward to for some time, considering many of their friends and family will be spectators for the first time since moving to the Pacific Northwest.
“Oh, trying to keep the pressure off, but it is a little pressure that their coming out,” Thomas said. “Getting their first time to watch me, it’s a lot of their first times watching a lot of us play. So it’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re not really too worried about it.”
Thomas spearheads the nation’s leading offense from a year ago with three new starters surrounding him. Walk-on wide receiver Justin Hoffman, a 2008 Churchill High School graduate, will make his first start after working his way into a scholarship last spring.
Up front, redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu is expected to make his collegiate debut at center, filling a major void left by the graduation of two-year starter Jordan Holmes. By his side will be first-time starter Ramsen Golpashin at right guard, also a walk-on from Saugus, Calif.
The Ducks have experience up front, but the losses of C.E. Keiser and Bo Thran, in addition to Holmes, are sure to be felt in the early going. With junior Carson York and senior Mark Asper helping the younger guys along through fall camp, communication has been a major focus.
“Once you narrow down the playbook, then it narrows down the amount of calls that you have to be able to make,” said Asper, the 6-foot-7, 325-pound right tackle. “During fall camp, you have to prepare for every play, every formation and anything can happen at practice. But when you start game planning for somebody, that gets cut down to about a quarter.”
It’s been two years since Oregon has truly had questions to answer along the offensive line, which resulted in a sloppy season-opening loss at Boise State in 2009. York, a 6-5, 292-pound guard out of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, made his first collegiate start in Boise and went on to start in 12 of Oregon’s 13 games that season opposite Asper.
“It starts up front,” Kelly said. “Whenever we’ve been very successfully offensively its because of those guys.”
Fortunately for the Ducks, LSU features a similar youthfulness to its defensive front. With only two seniors — defensive end Kendrick Adams and defensive tackle Dennis Johnson — on the roster, the Tigers have six sophomores and six freshmen in the mix up front with three juniors also expected to contribute.
As a team, LSU allowed more than 307 yards of total offense per game (137.3 on the ground and another 169.8 through the air) last season, while posting just over 341 yards of offense per contest.
On the other hand, Oregon rushed for more than 286 yards per game and gained another 244 through the air in leading the nation with 530.7 yards of total offense that led to a 47-point scoring average.
And when Asper was asked what the particular focuses would be for Oregon during its final week of practice would be?
“Nothing extravagant,” he said. “The focus has been on good technique. They’re big and athletic and when you play big, athletic people, it comes down to technique and the little things: hand placement, leverage, speed, knowledge of the game.”
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.”