Under Mario Cristobal, the Oregon offensive line has always been one of the best units in the Pac-12, and the same has occurred so far this season. The Ducks have opened up their depth up front a bit more than last season, returning all five/six starters while also inserting younger guys like Jackson Powers-Johnson and Dawson Jaramillo in important moments.
Cristobal and Offensive Line Coach Alex Mirabal have repeatedly emphasized the importance of cross-training to prepare for any situation and to give each lineman a versatile skillset to be the "next man up" when their name is called. That cross-training has paid off significantly in 2021, as guys like Ryan Walk, Steven Jones, and Powers-Johnson have played multiple positions, often even during games.
The Ducks' coaching staff has frequently rotated linemen in game, especially against Stanford, but against Cal, not a single starter was subbed out at any point in the game. With Alex Forsyth expected to return to the lineup, the question remains of whether the Ducks will continue rotating along the line or if they'll stick to the guys that give them the best chance to succeed.
Cristobal gave some insight into that dilemma both on Monday and on Wednesday.
"We still got a couple days to figure that thing out, but they were playing well," Cristobal said Wednesday of the offensive line. "Not to mention Dawson [Jaramillo] was playing really well too. We've got a lot of guys — when I say a lot, we've got about seven or eight guys that have shown that they can play. They do a lot of stuff. It's a very rep-intensive week of practice. We feel confident in those seven/eight guys."
On Monday, Cristobal was asked a similar question about the rotation against Cal and said it was due to the tight personnel the Ducks were dealing with up front due to some minor injuries, including the injury to Forsyth that kept him out for the second straight game.
"A lot of that had to do with the fact that we had some guys that were injured and did not get back until the latter part of the week. Didn't feel they were as sharp as they needed to be to play. Those guys that we play up front, we play them when we feel they've earned that time and they could really help us win, and they know that.
"Both Dawson and Jackson were not able to join us until the latter part of the week and felt that they weren't at the level necessary to play winning football. To protect them and to protect the integrity of what we're doing, that's why we went with five guys that had worked together, and if in the case that something would have happened, then those guys would have been plugged in."
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As the season enters its second half, the debacle may grow as the games get more important. If the Ducks want to keep their chances of getting into the College Football Playoff alive, they should probably keep their starters on the field for as long as the games are competitive.
While it's important to get young guys some experience, the Ducks want to have the most experience on the field possible because every snap from here on out is more important than the last.
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