Last spring, Oregon was tasked with a monumental challenge: replacing one of the most experienced offensive lines in all of college football. Not only did the Ducks have to develop five new starters up front, they had to learn offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s new system and prepare for a season plagued with challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite losing three 2020 NFL draft picks (Jake Hanson, Calvin Throckmorton, Shane Lemieux) and a 2021 projected first-round pick (Penei Sewell), as well as two experienced seniors (Dallas Warmack and Brady Aiello), the revamped Oregon offensive line played well in 2020. All five starters return for year two of Moorhead's offense, and they are expected to take their game to the next level.
“We know where the standard needs to be,” guard Ryan Walk said. “We’re trying to elevate that every day.”
Elevating the standard will be tough for a group that had zero combined starts coming into last season, but Walk, Alex Forsyth, T.J. Bass, George Moore, and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu started all seven games for Oregon. The group is gaining experience and confidence, especially in a somewhat normal spring. However it is without Aumavae-Laulu, who is missing spring football with an injury.
“I think after seven games playing together, we know what to expect from each other,” Walk said of his group. “We’re trying to expand on what we did last year and grow the offense.”
Moore said he feels like he and his teammates are developing chemistry.
“We’re working a lot better,” said Moore, who is entering his fifth season at Oregon and his seventh season of college football. “That chemistry is just coming more and more to where we want it to be.”
All throughout spring, Offensive Line Coach Alex Mirabal has said that his underclassmen are coming along nicely. Logan Sagapolu is someone who hasn’t played football in two years because of his LDS mission, but he's captured the attention of his teammates, particularly the veteran linemen.
“This spring, he has stepped up to the plate,” Moore said of Sagapolu. “He’s been a lot more coachable and he’s understanding the playbook better. He’s like a sponge; he wants to soak in all the knowledge he can and just put in the work.”
“I think Logan has really stood out so far this spring,” Walk said. “He’s really taking some good steps as a player, and I think that’s really going to help us as a team having guys on the second unit that are ready to play this year.”
Oregon stuck with a six-man rotation up front last season, with Steven Jones serving as the sixth man. This spring, the starters have improved, but as Walk mentioned, so have the young guys.
Much of that improvement can be credited to Coach Mirabal, who Coach Mario Cristobal called “the best in the business,” as well as Coach Moorhead.
“He just grinds, and he’s got endless amounts of energy,” Walk said of his position coach. “He’s definitely the hardest coach I’ve ever had in terms of technique and fundamentals.”
“He (Moorhead) trusts his players to where he can call anything and we’ll execute it as best as we can,” Moore said.
The young players also have experienced guys in the locker room like Moore, Forsyth and Jones to learn from.
“When I came on my official visit here, Ryan (Walk) and Alex (Forsyth) were the people that showed me around,” Bass said. “I stuck around them at first. They helped tremendously with the chemistry we built.”
The Ducks’ offensive line will be put to the test in week one, as it will face a Fresno State team that finished third in the country in sacks per game last year (4.17) and returns its three sack leaders.
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