In order to live up to its place in the preseason polls, the Oregon Ducks are going to have to win a lot of games. Standing in the way of that task is the reconstruction of the offensive line following the graduation of six seniors after the 2008 season. Offensive tackle looks to be the strength of the unit.
In the first article of the offensive line feature series, we made it clear the young line struggled in spring ball. At the same time, two key veterans, juniors C.E. Kaiser and Bo Thran, were out for the duration of the festivities. When the team reconvenes for fall camp, both these two players should be back in the mix, and both project to be starting tackles in 2009.
Protecting the quarterback's blind side on the left when the team gets back together is expected to be Bo Thran. Thran played in all 13 games in 2008, starting in five of them, four of them at left guard, one at right tackle. On the quarterback's right side will be C.E. Kaiser, who started at that position ten times last year. Behind these two outstanding veterans the experience level drops off dramatically.
Sophomore Darrion Weems saw plenty of action this spring, and emerged going into fall second on the depth chart at left tackle behind Thran. While Weems only hit the field during three 2008 games, he couldn't seem to get out of the lineup this past camp.
"Darrion Weems got a ton of work out there at tackle," said offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. "Kaiser and Thran both have the capabilities of playing that position. It was good to get Darrion the work and thrown in the fray. If anything, we're going to develop depth at that position."
And that is exactly what spring did for Greatwood's offensive line. All the repetitions for Weems helped his prospects for 2009 playing time.
"He ran with the ones and in all honesty, I hope that he can continue to improve and hold onto that position," stated Greatwood. "It would just give me more flexibility. I think he's finally realizing that this is his time and it's time to step up and get it done."
Weems will get his chance to push Thran in the fall, as will another young tackle. Backing up Kaiser on the right side will be redshirt freshman Nick Cody. Like Weems, Cody was a snap-count warrior during spring camp, running with the first team offense for most drills. Greatwood noted his potential.
"Nick is going to be an excellent player," Greatwood predicted. "Getting all this work in the spring is going to help him. He is a viable guy to be a starter in the fall. It's not the way I would like to write the script. I would like to have someone else for him to learn from for another year but I don't have that luxury. I think he's capable of doing it but again, he needs all the work he can possibly get."
Another player who saw some action at tackle this past camp was sophomore Charlie Carmichael. Carmichael played all the positions this spring as Greatwood tested his limits, though he had originally projected more in the interior.
"Charlie ran out there at tackle more out of necessity," said Greatwood. "I think he did a good job and the more versatile he is it will help him get on the playing field."
The travails of spring will likely be a thing of the past for the offensive tackles. With Thran and Kaiser back in the fold, plus newly experienced youngsters to push them along, Coach Greatwood will be fielding a unit quite a bit stiffer on the edges than the one the Oregon defense pushed around a few months ago.