They have his back

    Johnstone, Yruretagoyena are charged with protecting Oregon star quarterback Mariota
  • EUGENE — Offensive linemen are the secret service agents of football.
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  • EUGENE — Offensive linemen are the secret service agents of football.
    The job description includes safeguarding their leader from defensive players coming after the quarterback with bad intentions. The general public usually only notices these anonymous giants when something goes wrong.
    Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone is motivated to return to duty from a torn ACL in time for the 2014 season, because he knows a healthy and well-protected Marcus Mariota could deliver the program's first Heisman Trophy and national championship.
    "I want to be the guy out there, obviously. I like the responsibility of being Marcus' blindside protector. I take that really seriously," Johnstone said. "It's hard to trust someone else with that responsibility, but I do have a lot of trust in the guys backing myself and the rest of the starters up.
    "Whoever is in the game, they're going to get the job done and we're all confident about that."
    If Johnstone's surgically repaired knee isn't quite ready for the rigors of the season by Aug. 30, when the Ducks open against South Dakota at Autzen Stadium, Andre Yruretagoyena will be ready to start in his absence.
    Yruretagoyena, a 6-foot-5, 284-pound redshirt junior who appeared in seven games last season, has elevated his play during spring practices while getting first-team reps at left tackle.
    "I'm just learning as much as I can and playing as hard as I can," Yruretagoyena said. "Hopefully, I can earn a starting job or at least have a pretty big contributing role this season."
    Yruretagoyena, a four-star recruit coming our of Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz., arrived at Oregon with the talent to play at the Pac-12 level. Recently, he has made significant strides in the weight room and played to the standard veteran offensive line coach Steve Greatwood requires.
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