by Rob Moseley
Except on those days when it's Greig and Hamani Stevens. Or those on which it's Stevens and Benyard.
The No. 3 Ducks will hold their final scrimmage of fall camp late this morning, the last, best chance to sort out the few remaining unresolved position battles. While the team figures to rotate players at most every position, there's a certain pride in earning a starting job, and the trio of Greig, Benyard and Stevens has spent three weeks competing to replace Kyle Long and Ryan Clanton at guard.
Whichever duo is announced as the starters on Aug. 31 prior to Oregon's opener against Nicholls in Autzen Stadium, they will be familiar names. Greig and Benyard each started two games last season, and Stevens has made 20 appearances over the last two years.
"It gives me a great deal of confidence, that we're not going to have a green player in there," UO offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. "I'm comfortable with all of them; they've all played. I don't think I'll have any surprises, other than positive surprises.
"Obviously they've still got to perform. But it's nice to have that confidence."
Primarily, today's scrimmage will be a chance for young players to make their case for roles on offense, defense and special teams, rather than redshirting. But there do remain a few ongoing position battles:
- Along with the guards, the Ducks must identify two starting inside linebackers. Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone have the most experience, but Rahim Cassell and Joe Walker stood out in the spring while the other two were injured. The four have rotated throughout this month in various pairings, and Tyson Coleman has also taken some reps there;
- Alejandro Maldonado continues to push both Matt Wogan for the placekicking job and Dylan Ausherman for the punting duties;
- Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie have traded series throughout August with the No. 2 offense, with no clear leader emerging for the backup quarterback job;
- And sophomore Arik Armstead has made a serious push to start at defensive tackle, despite Ricky Havili-Heimuli playing some of the best football of his career this preseason.
The trio of offensive guards might be the most compelling story, however, because it involves three players who have toiled as reserves over the years, and finally have a chance to see their hard work pay off in a big way.
Oregon's other three starters on the line — Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone — have essentially been key contributors from the moment they first took the field. That's in stark contrast to the three contenders at guard.
Benyard is a fifth-year senior who made two spot starts last season. Greig came to Eugene as a walk-on, earned a scholarship in 2012 and then had his junior year cut short by a knee injury. And Stevens is a former top recruit who seems poised to realize his vast potential.
Whichever two players earn the right to start, perseverance will have been among their most valuable skills.
"It's a great lesson for all the young guys," Greatwood said. "If you look at Mana Greig, who would think he'd be a starting guard at a football program this caliber — at any football program in Division I? He's a computer reject; he's not tall enough, he's not fast enough, he's not any of that stuff. But he's dedicated himself and worked his tail off.
"If he's not our most intelligent offensive lineman, he's one of the top two or three, and he's a great technician. He's overcome his shortcomings and made himself the player he is."
Greig is a graduate of the storied Saint Louis School in Hawaii, and there must be something in the water there that breeds hard workers, because it also produced not only quarterback Marcus Mariota but walk-on linebacker Isaac Ava, a regular member of the UO kickoff return team, and walk-on defensive back Bronson Yim.
Greig, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 287 pounds, knew size would never be to his advantage. He found a way to overcome that at youth offensive line camps where he honed that technique Greatwood raves about.
When he got to Oregon, Greig focused on conditioning. He parlayed that into 10 appearances as a reserve in 2010 and 2011. Then, when money was tight and he was considering a move home to Hawaii, Greig was awarded a scholarship in the spring of 2012.
Carson York's knee injury opened up a starting job for Greig last fall, and though he made just two starts before a season-ending knee injury of his own, Greig is able to appreciate the long distance he travelled from walk-on to starter.
"The biggest thing for me is being in shape," Greig said. "When you're in shape you can do a lot of things I couldn't at first."
Benyard, a fifth-year senior from San Diego, has found that to be the case as well. Now listed at 6-7 and 305 pounds, Benyard is down some 30 pounds — soft pounds — from when he signed with the Ducks in 2009.
"It's a big difference," said Benyard, who has played in all 27 games the last two years, and made two starts at tackle in 2012. "My stamina is way better, my strength has gotten better. It's definitely a big change.
"I feel like by losing the weight, I was able to get more flexible. And my stamina got better, so I was able to focus on working harder and getting my strength up."
All that hard work over the last four years is now paying off, perhaps even with a starting job at guard.
"That's been a long, hard process," Greatwood said. "Everett's got that great mass, but right now I see Everett moving better than he's ever moved in his career — changing direction, being able to stay with his knees bent and play with a low base, becoming more explosive. That's really gratifying to see."
Stevens is the third candidate to start at guard — tackle Andre Yruretagoyena would be an option in the event of an injury — and has a different story than those of Greig and Benyard, who have had to reshape their bodies. Stevens has always had the physical tools, but has worked to hone his mental approach.
"Hamani's always been one of those kids that has flashed, and you see moments of really, really good things, and then, where does it go?" Greatwood said. "But through the last week, week-and-a-half, his consistency, his effort, has been much, much improved. And that's what I'm looking for."
Stevens said the presence of a young freshman class on the offensive line pushed he and the other veterans to be good role models. In the process, they elevated their own play.
Stevens' physical tools are most apparent in the weight room. He recently did one squat rep of 605 pounds, breaking a decades-old UO record for offensive linemen, and exceeding by about 50 pounds the next best current Duck.
But gains in the weight room haven't yet resulted in a prime role on the field. Stevens has yet to earn a starting assignment at Oregon. He hopes that's about to change.
"I've been fighting for spots ever since I got here," Stevens said. "I want to secure one for my junior year. I can't mess around. I want to make sure I show coach 'Wood I can do the job."
Stevens has spent the last three weeks trying to do so. Today comes one more chance, before Oregon's three potential starters at guard find out which duo will take the first snap on Aug. 31 against Nicholls.