The two most important positions in football are quarterback and left tackle. This much is especially true when you run the most dynamic offense in college football.
Unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, they’ve lost one half of that important battery.
News broke last week that starting LT Tyler Johnstone, who some had graded out as a first-round pick in 2015, has re-torn his right ACL and will miss the 2014 season. Johnstone originally tore his ACL in the Alamo Bowl in December 2013 against Texas.
Not only is it a huge blow to the Ducks, but it is the second big ACL injury they’ve suffered this year—the other involves star wide receiver Bralon Addison.
While the Ducks won’t confirm the extent of the injury—according to Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, the official stance, as always, is “day-to-day”—the loss of the redshirt junior means the Oregon offensive line will now scramble to once again become a cohesive unit.
Johnstone, the 6'6", 286-pounder who has started 26 consecutive games for the Ducks, will now be relegated to helping get his replacement, Andre Yruretagoyena, ready for the 2014 season opener against South Dakota.
Marcus Mariota, the team's QB and Heisman candidate, loses his backside protection with Johnstone going down, but he suggests Johnstone can still play a vital role for the Ducks in 2014.
“Any time you have injuries, it's tough. It is unfortunate. We're praying for him but he's going to work back to getting healthy and he'll still make his contribution to this team,” he told reporters.
Mariota will now be leaning on Yruretagoyena, the 6'5" and 290-pound redshirt junior who has made 11 career appearances for Oregon.
Yruretagoyena won’t be completely unfamiliar to Mariota and the rest of the Ducks offense, as he has taken first-team reps during the spring and summer as Johnstone’s replacement.
It is now the job of the leaders, like Mariota, Johnstone and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, to coach Yruretagoyena up and turn him into the “first-string talent” that Johnstone described when talking about his backup last week.
According to Alger, Greatwood thinks Yruretagoyena will be just fine and the reps he got with the first team this spring prepared him for the spotlight:
It immensely prepared him. You look at him and he's going against one of the premier defensive lineman in the country in DeForest Buckner every snap. That can't help but get you better and better. He's competing at a very high level. ...
I'm confident we're not going to drop off at Tyler's spot.
If the Ducks have any shot at competing for a berth in the College Football Playoff this season, they’re going to need to protect their best asset: Mariota.
The loss of Johnstone will be felt across the entire offensive line. However, the Ducks' mantra, started by Chip Kelly, has always been “next man up.” Well, next man up.
Welcome to the show, Andre Yruretagoyena.
Follow Jason M. Gold on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.