Oregon Spring Ball Position Battles: Ducks’ OL enters spring with a clean slate
As we get into the start of spring football across the nation, it’s become increasingly hard to find either fans or media members who don’t hold some semblance of confidence when it comes to the immediate outlook for the Oregon Ducks.
After a successful 10-win season in 2022, Dan Lanning and his staff did a good job of increasing the level of talent on the roster and creating a culture of competition across the board going into spring practice, which starts on Thursday. One of the biggest areas of competition is going to reside with the big boys up front in the trenches.
The competition to secure the five starting spots on the offensive line is going to be contentious, and incredibly entertaining to watch.
For those aforementioned positive feelings about the Ducks to come to fruition, it’s going to be necessary for the Oregon OL to play at or near the level that we saw last season. The Ducks were among the best units in the country, allowing the fewest number of sacks in the nation and bolstering one of the best rushing units. Of course, with four of the five starters from a year ago now off of the team, matching that level of success is a big ask.
So you take a contentious position competition and add some relatively high stakes.
The result is entertainment for anyone who is paying attention.
Despite the relative lack of notable experience on the offensive front, the Ducks are loaded with talent across the board. You have Josh Conerly, a former 5-star who was the No. 1 OT in the class of 2022, Ajani Cornelius, the former Rhode Island player who was the No. 1 OT in the transfer portal this year, and you also have George Silva, the No. 1 JUCO OT this season as well. That’s just the competition at the tackle position. Throw in a couple of returners at guard, a few highly-rated recruits, and another veteran transfer addition, and you’ve got the makings of a loaded OL room, all competing for snaps.
Again, I can’t wait to watch this play out.
Of course, we likely won’t have an answer on who the starters are after spring ball concludes at the end of April, but we could get a pretty good sense for how things stand. Here are some players that I will be keeping a close eye on over the next several weeks on the OL in Eugene.
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Josh Conerly is the highest-rated offensive lineman to ever sign with the Ducks. While he could mostly bide his time as a true freshman, being used in a handful of jumbo looks throughout the season, he mostly sat in the waiting as a veteran OL excelled in front of him. Now the path is wide open for Conerly to establish himself as one of the stars of Oregon’s offense, potentially becoming the next dominant left tackle in Eugene, following in the footsteps of guys like Penei Sewell and Tyler Crosby. We’ll see if Conerly can establish himself as one of the alphas on the OL this spring.
While we expect Conerly to occupy the starting LT spot, it seems fitting that Ajani Cornelius would slot into the starting RT. He comes to Eugene from Rhode Island, where he was the No. 1 OT in the transfer portal this offseason. I know that Dan Lanning and the staff were incredibly high on him, and treated his addition as one of the biggest wins of the early signing day when he made it official. It’s hard to see him not earning a starting spot, but whether he fits at RT or LT is yet to be seen.
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Harper is the only returning starter from the 2022 unit that was so critically acclaimed, but that doesn’t automatically mean that he is going to have a spot on the starting line once again this year. There are a handful of players — notably Steven Jones and Junior Angialu — who will be vying for starting guard spots as well. Harper is going to have to fight hard to earn his starting spot back this spring.
(Photo by Zachary Neel | USA TODAY)
After missing a majority of the 2022 season with a lower-leg injury, Steven Jones announced that he would be coming back for one more year of eligibility with the Ducks. Jones is a proven commodity at the RG spot, and he will be a great candidate to take over as the starter, having multiple years in the system already. Of course, he will have to take down some really talented competitors in order to get the starting spot.
(AP Photo/Andy Nelson)
Jackson Powers-Johnson wasn’t a starter in 2022, but he got a lot of time on the field, working at both guard spots and acting as a backup center for Alex Forsyth. It seems likely that he will come in and take over the starting center position this spring, but we could also see him work at guard as well. Wherever he ends up, I would be surprised if JPJ was not a starter this year.
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Junior Angilau is a transfer who threw a bit of a wrench in the Ducks’ starting OL, in a good way. He brings a lot of experience with him from Texas, and he looks like a starting-caliber guard, whether that be at RG or LG. He’s going to have to beat out either Steven Jones or Marcus Harper to get a starting spot in my opinion, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him do it.
(Photograph via Zachary Neel)
I feel like George Silva is being overlooked a bit in the 2023 recruiting class. While he is a JUCO player and not a high school commit, he ranked as the No. 3 JUCO player in the class, and the No. 1 available JUCO OT. He’s got some really great competition at the tackle spot with both Conerly and Cornelius, but I think that Silva might surprise some people and at the very least excel with the second unit.
We’ve mentioned a lot of great players already, but these last two are more longshot guys who I think might establish themselves as really valuable backups. The first is Dave Iuli, a massive interior OL who was among the top recruits that Oregon signed in Dan Lanning’s first recruiting class. He projects to play at either guard spot, and like I said, could be a really solid backup this year, pushing for a starting spot.
Kawika Rogers is another member of the 2022 recruiting class that I think could move his way up the depth chart this spring. He has a massive 6-foot-6, 330-pound frame, and fits well at either the tackle or guard positions. I don’t see him grabbing a starting spot, but I think he will impress some people on the field.