Oregon’s Offensive Line and Everything’s Eventual
For some people, outcomes aren’t a matter of if, but when. Everyone knew Peyton Manning was going to win a Super Bowl, people just didn’t know when. Everyone knew the Miami Heat were going to lose in the playoffs, it was just a matter of when. Just like everyone knows some random semi-celebrity, who is famous for being famous (and bats**t crazy (Amy Winehouse)) in a generation where that actually means something to people, will die at 27 and people will join them, incorrectly, in the same group as talented musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobaine because they too died at 27.
Everything is inevitable, just like the Oregon offensive line and rushing attack being more dominant on land than Sherman in the Civil War on his march to the sea. But will the O-line be ready in time to give Oregon the hole shot for a second national title run? I’m not worried about Oregon being a special team. Oregon currently has 2/1 odds on winning the first PAC-12, to me that’s way too low, that’s a steal (Stanford is 3/1). In the greater scheme of things I think us Oregon fans need to remember that the greatest prize is a trip to the Rose Bowl, and anything greater than that is gravy.
This team has an opportunity to win the most hyped opening weekend of college football of all-time. Yes, of all-time. With a win they may get voted to number one in week 2 before dealing with cupcakes Nevada and Missouri State. Ready the body bags!
There are basically three returning starters for the Oregon offensive line. They only have 56 starts among the projected starting lineup but should be one of the top offensive lines in the country in terms of rushing yards and yards per carry. Although I’ve discussed in a previous article who can get a lot of the credit for those rushing totals.
The 2009 Oregon team that opened with Boise St. had to replace four starters and had 20 starts between them. The result was a game that featured 31 yards rushing and 152 total yards. The game was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen by an Oregon team. Jeremiah Masoli threw for a pick and just above 50% passing and the Broncos were able to stack up against the run on a team with a slow and overweight running back behind an offensive line that had yet to gel. This year’s team has dangerous threats on the outside, an amazing quarterback and running back, but there are still some lingering feelings I have about facing a dominant opponent in the first game of the season with any holes on the offensive line.
Darrion Weems started six games last year at left tackle, which should be enough to be considered a returning starter unless the media requires six regular season games or to take the majority of the starts at a given position. He is up to 302 pounds from 290.
A returning starter also holds the right tackle position. Mark Asper weighs in at 302 pounds. Asper started 12 of 13 games last year and had 54 pancake blocks, playa. He also led all linemen with a 500 pound squat in winter testing.
Left guard is going to be played by returning starter Carson York who weighs in around 292. York was a Phil Steele 1st team All-PAC-10 guard last year (Steele is one of the best single writers on college football).
Right guard is to the best of my knowledge to be played by Ryan Clanton, although I believe there is still somewhat of a competition for this spot. Clanton though weighs a good 300. Although it could be that walk-on Ramsen Golpashin gets the start after a very impressive spring (there’s a lot of shuffling of lineups in the first few days of spring practices).
Center is a three-way tie between Karrington Armstrong, Hroniss Grasu, and Hamani Stevens. Stevens returned from a religious mission and is coming in at 305 pounds. Grasu weighs in at 292 pounds. Armstrong I don’t think will win the starting position because he got to just above 280 pounds headed in to fall camp. All three centers have the quickness to pull, which fans haven’t seen since the 2008 season. A stretch play with a pulling center is what caused the only rushing touchdown of the Spring Game. Pulling centers are a huge advantage to the offense because it allows us to get two blockers in front of the running back on the perimeter.
If there’s one critique I have of the offensive line is they sacrifice size for speed. Where this poses a problem is when they get to offensive lines that are not only big but also fast. If Oregon is going to be an elite team that can play with anybody, the offensive line has to get bigger with the same speed. This line is a huge line compared to units in the past where there were maybe one or two players who weighed more than 290. Now all of them are above 290 pounds with 2 tipping the scales at 300.
The 2009 team that struggled so mightily at Boise State spent the next couple games trying to find themselves. Playing against Purdue at Autzen the line was able to create 170 yards rushing. Hosting Utah, LaMichael James broke open his game and showed that he should be the featured back. The line opened some gaping holes and created 217 yards rushing. The offense finally clicked on all cylinders against Cal in their throwback uniforms in one of the most glorious games ever played. The offensive line had 524 total yards, 236 of which were rushing yards.
Worst-case scenario is the offensive line against LSU gets pushed back consistently, Oregon can’t really get its mojo going and it becomes a struggle. Oregon gets two games to pull things together before opening PAC-12 play at Arizona.
Best-case scenario the offensive line lives up to it’s billing and performs really well. The guys playing on the offensive line were mostly highly touted recruits out of high school (except for the walk-on Ramsen Golpashin). It’s not impossible to see the Oregon offensive line do well against LSU’s defensive line, which is replacing two starters, including last year’s top player, Drake Nevis.
The defense fronts that cause the most problems for Oregon is when there’s a super star. It forces Oregon to double that player and take a blocker away from a linebacker who can now freely move to the ball, and in the spread there’s not a lot of mesh blocking that can occur when the defense is spread out and moving side to side, whereas in a pro style offense offense linemen can mesh block and then reach to the linebackers. Ohio State had Cameron Heyward and Auburn had Nick Fairley. Oregon tried to have Nick Fairley be the read guy, which worked for two quarters until the offense started doing play side zone reads (reading the defensive end that is on the side the quarterback will run to if the defensive end runs to the ball carrier, who is running in to the line on the side of the defensive end being read) and discovered Nick Fairley was too fast to the quarterback and could also cover the running back. LSU lacks a true playmaker on the defensive front four, and we’ll see if Oregon can match up better.
Worst case we have the inside track on the Rose Bowl, and down the road our recruiting classes with fast buffet busters on the o-line will be able to block everybody, leading us to the national championship game once again. It’s a matter of when, not if.