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By Jason Vondesmith/Portland Tribune/Unit is tight, and has depth, athleticism, size

PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - JAKE HANSONEUGENE — Good teams have good offensive lines, as the thinking goes in college football.

If so, the Oregon Ducks could be a good team in 2019, and when they debut at 4:30 p.m. PT Saturday against Auburn at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Ducks will feature four experienced seniors and a sophomore star up front, and seemingly plenty of depth, leading the way for the likes of running backs CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio and in protecting quarterback Justin Herbert.

"We've talked about the expecations for ourselves and the unit," center Jake Hanson said. "We've talked about how it's very realistic that we can win the conference and get to the (national) playoff.

"We know how hard of a task it is, especially with our road schedule. We've got to be real road warriors. We know there's no other option, we've got to buckle down and do it. That's our mentality, no matter where we were play."

Hanson, tackle Calvin Throckmorton, guard Shane Lemieux and guard/tackle Brady Aiello began playing as redshirt freshmen on the 4-8 2016 team. Guard and fellow senior Dallas Warmack joined them last year, transferring from Alabama, where he played under UO coach Mario Cristobal.

Oh, and 6-6, 325-pound Penei Sewell burst onto the scene last year, establishing himself as a young star before an injury derailed his true freshman season.

"He's just one of those once-in-a-generational type of talents. He's really that good," Hanson said. "He will be a special player for Oregon as long as he decides to stick around," meaning Sewell could jump to the NFL after 2020, his junior season.

Hanson reiterates that it's their time to shine.

"My appoach and mentality hasn't really changed much over the last four years," he said. "We always have the expectations of having the best unit, and want to be best O-line in the country, want to win Pac-12. Those goals are more achievable. We all realize that. This is the year it's going to happen. That's what we're working toward."

Hanson, Throckmorton and Lemieux have been entrenched four-year starters. Aiello started 10 games as a redshirt freshman but has seen more sporadic playing time since then. He and Warmack have been battling in camp to be the fifth starter.

The Ducks also have some young depth, with Warmack saying there are "more than" nine guys contending to play.

It's a tight unit, players said.

"We just have a connection with all guys, it'll be something great to see this year," Warmack said. "Everybody on the O-line is a dog — aggressive, smart and intelligent. We have a special group. ... It's a perfect year for us. Everybody's understanding what's at stake, what we can do. It could be something amazing."

Cristobal, who along with Alex Mirabal coaches offensive linemen, has been recruiting large O-linemen, although Hanson (6-5, 295), Throckmorton (6-5, 310), Lemieux (6-5, 315), Warmack (6-2, 310) and Aiello (6-7, 310) are not exactly small.

"We all have athleticism," Warmack said. "Everybody's moving, everybody's lighter than we were last year, capable of moving in the open field."

The offensive line allowed only 22 sacks last year while paving the way for combined 1,800-yard rushers Verdell and Dye.

Throckmorton said it'll be a great year to play with linemates.

"The last go-round, it's a weird sensation, we've been through it so many times," he said as camp broke and Auburn preparations began.

Said Hanson: "I'm just really excited for the last year to get to play with those guys."


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