by Rob Moseley
LT: Tyler Johnstone, So.; Matt Pierson, So.; Matthew McFadden, RFr.; Elijah George, Fr.
LG: Hamani Stevens, Jr.; Andre Yruretagoyena, So.; Jamal Prater, So.; Brigham Stoehr, Fr.
C: Hroniss Grasu, Jr.; Karrington Armstrong, Sr.; Doug Brenner, Fr.
RG: Mana Greig, Sr.; Cameron Hunt, Fr.; Jake Pisarcik, Fr.; Brandon Thomas, So.
RT: Jake Fisher, Jr.; Everett Benyard, Sr.; Brian Teague, Sr.; Evan Voeller, Fr.
Starters: While this is a review of 2013, let's start with a look back at 2012. That year, the Ducks led the nation by converting 80.82 percent of red-zone trips into touchdowns; that rate fell to 66.22 in 2013. In 2012, Oregon's lone loss, to Stanford, came on a day the Ducks weren't close to firing on all cylinders — in no small part due to how good the Cardinal were — but fought tooth and nail to the end, finally falling in overtime; in 2013, Oregon looked shell-shocked by its early struggles at Stanford and didn't rally until the fourth quarter, then never got on track after being similarly blitzed early on by Arizona. All of which illustrates that — for all the run-stopping abilities of Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso; for all of Dion Jordan's value as a pass-rusher; for all the various ways Kenjon Barner piled up yardage — the player the Ducks most missed in 2013 was offensive guard Kyle Long. The loss of his ability to clear a path at the goal line (along with road-grading 2012 senior guard Ryan Clanton) plus Long's maniacal intensity on the sideline was a significant factor in Oregon going 10-2 in the regular season, rather than 12-0.
Which is not to put both losses all on the offensive line, because Long's absence easily could have been overcome had Marcus Mariota not been injured, had the defense made a couple of critical third-down stops at Stanford, had other leaders been more effective at Arizona. The offensive line is a target for criticism the way a defensive coordinator is; when things are going well, other folks get the credit, but when the team is struggling, they're easy marks. Oregon set school records with 7,345 yards of offense and 565.0 yards per game in 2013, and you don't do that if your offensive line stinks. Grasu in particular was a standout, earning first-team all-conference honors from Pac-12 coaches and even all-America status by a couple of media outlets.
That said, the Ducks also weren't perfect up front in 2013. Greig's quick return from a 2012 knee injury finally caught up to him at midseason, and the true freshman Hunt took over as a starter. Hunt showed real encouraging signs for the future but also suffered the expected growing pains. Stevens has the ability to provide power at the other guard spot but still needs to play with more consistency. Fisher was dogged by penalty issues over the course of the season, and the lanky Johnstone typified Oregon's reliance on athleticism up front. The Ducks' style of offense is always going to place a premium on agility so that linemen can make blocks at the second level. But just as Don Pellum said he'd like to see his defense "push more weight" going forward, the offensive line could stand to do so as well.
Reserves: Once Greig was hurt, the Ducks relied heavily on their starting five plus the senior , who could play both guard and tackle. It seemed like Johnstone and Grasu never came off the field while a game was marginally close, until Johnstone's Alamo Bowl knee injury thrust Benyard into his spot. Backups like Yruretagoyena, Armstrong and Pierson played less than might have been expected. McFadden, Stoehr, Thomas and Teague were walk-ons who were mainstays with the scout-team offense along with Prater and the redshirts
Redshirts: Of the five true freshmen, Hunt was pressed into action and Pisarcik nearly joined him. He stayed on the travel squad all year for games, and rotated between the scout team and "varsity" in practices. Pisarcik is tough, mobile and smart, a future mainstay for the Ducks. Brenner, backed by Stoehr, centered the scout-team offense. George and Voeller were nicked up at times over the course of the fall, interrupting their progress a bit, but still have ample time to develop in their careers.
LT: Andre Yruretagoyena, Jr.; Matt Pierson, Jr.; Elijah George, RFr.; Tyler Johnstone, Jr. (inj.)
LG: Hamani Stevens, Sr.; Jamal Prater, Jr.; Brigham Stoehr, RFr.
C: Hroniss Grasu, Sr.; Doug Brenner, RFr.; Brigham Stoehr, RFr.
RG: Cameron Hunt, So.; Jake Pisarcik, RFr.; Brandon Thomas, Jr.
RT: Jake Fisher, Sr.; Matthew McFadden, So.; Evan Voeller, RFr.
With Johnstone out for the spring after knee surgery, his buddy Yruretagoyena figures to get first crack at replacing him with the first-team offense. That's a huge opportunity for the former top recruit to show he belongs in the Ducks' plans for 2014. With the other four starters back, you figure the Ducks are set up front. And the presence of three seniors means this projects as a very solid group come fall. Then, the intrigue is lower on the two-deep, where the redshirt freshmen battle with walk-ons for spots. One thing to keep an eye on will be how Brenner and Pisarcik are used; one school of thought holds that Pisarcik's future may actually be at center, while the burly Brenner could be a long-term fit at guard. We'll see if there are any indications of that in April. Also, the Ducks have signed a JC offensive guard, Haniteli Lousi, who is said to be a big, physical, nasty blocker, all attributes the line could use. If he's able to enroll for spring, Lousi can get a head start on bolstering those qualities in his new team.