If teams are supposed to take on the personality of the head coach, then the Ducks appear to be ahead of schedule.
Oregon’s deepest and most experienced position group in 2018 is the offensive line, which is the best place to start as far as first-year football coach Mario Cristobal is concerned.
“That’s the way every position on the team is going to be eventually,” Cristobal said. “Where you have talent and you have talent coming in. There’s nothing more comfortable for a coach than to have a team that’s uncomfortable.”
Left guard Shane Lemieux, center Jake Hanson and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton are entering their third season as starters after cracking the lineup as redshirt freshmen in 2016.
Another redshirt junior, Brady Aiello, has 10 starts at left tackle and three starts at right tackle under his belt.
After a developmental season, tackle George Moore (6-foot-6, 312 pounds) can also help fill the void created by the graduation of standout left tackle Tyrell Crosby.
The Ducks have a list of promising redshirt sophomores (Logan Bathke, Jacob Capra and Sam Poutasi) and redshirt freshmen (Alex Forsyth, Cody Shear and Ryan Walk) ready to push for playing time during what should be a fierce fall camp battle.
The offensive linemen seem to have embraced Cristobal’s belief that competition is the backbone of a championship program.
“We keep saying this team is like an exclusive club,” Capra said. “You’ve got to work hard to be a part of this club, and it’s going to be a winning club.”
Cristobal will coach the offensive line in concert with Alex Mirabal, his former offensive line coach at Florida International, and graduate assistant Cody Woodiel.
Officially, Mirabal is coaching the centers and guards, and Woodiel is coaching the tackles. But Cristobal and both assistants were doing a three-man instructional weave around the entire unit during spring practice.
“I’ve known him for 34 years,” Mirabal said of Cristobal. The two were teammates in high school in Miami before working together at FIU. “His mindset, his culture, his upbringing is my mindset, my culture, my upbringing. It’s really not a difficult deal.”
Oregon ranked 12th nationally in rushing last season, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt and 251 yards per game.
Crosby, now a member of the Detroit Lions, did not allow a sack during his senior season. However, the Ducks allowed 1.92 sacks per game, which ranked 56th.
Keeping quarterback Justin Herbert healthy and helping Tony Brooks-James and the other running backs replace Royce Freeman will be critical for the veteran offensive line.
“There’s a lot of intensity, a lot of physicality,” Lemieux said during spring practice. “We’re making some really big jumps. Our backups are improving a lot, so we have a little more stability on the offensive line. Our starters are also really improving their game a lot.”
More extremely big men are preparing to step on campus.
Alabama graduate transfer Dallas Warmack plans to enroll at Oregon this summer and compete for a starting spot.
“I am going to play my last two years for the coach that I believe in most!” Warmack tweeted in May. “Coach Cristobal let’s take Oregon to the highest level!”
The Ducks’ 2018 recruiting class includes five offensive linemen — Penei Sewell (6-5, 349), Dawson Jaramillio (6-5, 295), Chris Randazzo (6-7, 330), Steven Jones (6-6, 340) and Justin Johnson (6-7, 342).
Cristobal, who had a cup of coffee in the NFL after a stellar collegiate career at Miami, wants his players to fight for their position like it’s a professional training camp.
“Unless you train for that mentality and prepare for that level of competition, it’s going to be hard to make it happen at the next level,” Cristobal said. “And if you don’t provide that as a coach, you’re doing your team a disservice, because it’s going to apply to the job market once you’re done playing football. You have to be the provider for their family and they have to go out there in the real world and make it happen.
“It’s amazing how much competition fixes. It’s absolutely amazing the urgency levels that all off a sudden go through the roof, the attention to detail that all of a sudden is heightened. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Spring rewind: Hanson was unable to practice in the spring because of an injury, which allowed Throckmorton a chance to hone his skills at center. The rest of the first-string unit for the spring game was Aiello at left tackle, Lemieux at left guard, Capra at right guard and Moore at right tackle.
Fall outlook: Hanson is expected to be healthy for the start of camp. If Warmack is admitted into a graduate program and Sewell lives up to his recruiting ranking, they will have an opportunity to overtake Capra for the starting right guard job held for most of last season by Jake Pisarcik. Cristobal said Forsyth has the ability to play all five positions and is also a threat to crack the starting five.
Projected depth chart: LT — Brady Aiello, George Moore, Logan Bathke; LG — Shane Lemieux, Sam Poutasi, Cody Shear; C — Jake Hanson, Alex Forsyth, Ryan Walk; RG — Dallas Warmack or Penei Sewell or Jacob Capra; RT — Calvin Throckmorton, George Moore or Alex Forsyth
Monday’s position review: Wide receivers/tight ends