On paper, Oregon's achilles heal appears to be the offensive line. With Max Unger and Fenuki Tupou off to the NFL via the draft, along with the graduation of Mark Lewis, Jacob Hucko, and Jeff Kendall, the Ducks lose four starters and a key reserve.
Before writing off the Ducks this season, it is important to take a closer look at the facts.
Oregon's no huddle-spread offense forces their offensive linemen to run much more than traditional units. Oregon not only relies on an exceptional conditioning program, but also uses frequent substitutions to keep their linemen fresh.
Last year the Ducks rotated nine players in and out of the lineup. While the one constant on the field, Max Unger, is now playing up I-5 for the Seahawks, the Ducks do return four players with significant game experience.
Anchoring the 2009 Ducks offensive line will be C.E. Kaiser. The 6'4'', 290 pound Junior is the lone returning starter from last years unit. While Kaiser lined up last season mostly at guard, he will enter fall camp at right tackle this season.
Starting out at right guard this season will be Mark Asper. The 6'7'', 323 pound Sophomore played in seven games last season for the Ducks, including starting at right tackle for the Holiday Bowl game versus Oklahoma State.
Asper originally signed with the Ducks in 2007, but delayed enrollment to serve an LDS mission. After dusting off the cobwebs from not practicing or playing for a couple of years, Asper came on strong, inserting his way into the rotation.
A four-game starter and another key member of the rotation last season for the Ducks, is Jordan Holmes. Holmes was originally slotted to start at guard, but when Hamani Stevens decided last winter to put his career on hold to serve an LDS mission, Jordan moved over to center.
Holmes, a 6'5'', 285 pound Junior, brings the athleticism necessary to play the position for the Ducks, where centers are required to pull and lead the way on their bread-and-butter play--the read-option. Holmes ability to block in space will be key for the Duck running backs to once again turning five yard runs into long touchdowns.
Entering fall camp at left guard is another member of the heralded 2007 recruiting class, Carson York (6'5'', 285). The reshirt-freshman was a four star recruit, coming out of high school, was one of six Duck recruits to play in that seasons rivals.com Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, which was televised on ESPNU.
Protecting Jeremiah Masoli's backside this season at left tackle this season will be another key member of last years rotation, Bo Thran. Thran a 6'5'', 295 pound Junior, played in all thirteen games last season, and is versatile enough to play all offensive line positions for the Ducks.
While Asper, Holmes, and Kaiser are all vertual locks to start somewhere on the line this season, there will be some fierce competition at all positions this fall.
Two other four star recruits from the 2007 class who figure to be key members of this years rotation are Sophomores Darrien Weems (6'5'', 310 lbs) and Charlie Carmichael (6'4'', 295 lbs). Weems figures to be a strong challenger for one of the starting tackle positions, while Charmichael will likely be a backup, he did get a lot of reps with the first unit this spring.
Two of the most intriguing prospects for season are Nick Cody (6'5'', 270 lbs) and NaDerris Ward (6'5'', 266 lbs). Cody was key O-line recruit for the 2008 season, and earned the respect of coaches and teammates last year on the scout team. Cody could start at either tackle or guard this year for the Ducks.
NaDerris Ward was a top-100 recruit in 2006 at tight end for the University of Georgia. He transferred early last summer to Oregon to be closer to his sick mother. After sitting out last season, Ward was expected to contribute this season at tight end for the Ducks.
Due to the fact that Ed Dickson and Malachi Lewis have a lock on the playing time at tight end, the coaches moved Ward to O-line this spring to give him a better shot to get on the field this season. Ward, with his combination of speed, athleticism, and blocking ability could thrive at guard this year for the Ducks.
Three non-scholarship players also figure to challenge for playing time this season, Sophomore Ramsen Golpashin (6'6'', 280 lbs), Junior Max Forer (6'4'', 271 lbs), and redshirt-Freshman Cody Gates (6'4'', 299 lbs). Golpashin has game experience, appearing in three games last season for the Ducks.
Oregon signed four offensive linemen last season, Jamal Burrell (6'4'', 265 lbs), Everett Benyard (6'6'', 323 lbs), Karrington Armstrong (6'2'', 285 lbs), and Trevor Fox (6'4'', 295 lbs). While all four are expected to redshirt, they will be given the chance to compete, so don't be surprised if one of the newcomers is the backup center this season.
The most important person returning this year is offensive line coach, Steve Greatwood. He has done a marvelous job as the o-line coach the last three seasons at Oregon, as the Ducks have led the Pac-10 in rushing all three seasons and in sacks allowed two of the three seasons.
Because of his presence, Duck fans have high expectation for this season. As well as coaching the O-line, Greatwood will be the running-game coordinator for 2009.
In order for the Ducks to come close to matching their 280 yards-per-game rushing from 2008, they will rely on the magic of Chip Kelly and Steve Greatwood once again.
But don't tell them, they expect to run for more yards this season.