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A 'grinder' at center, Jake Hanson made it work at Oregon

Ducks head coach appreciates invaluable role Packers’ sixth-round pick played in his offense and program

C Jake Hanson
C Jake Hanson

GREEN BAY – Mario Cristobal remembers the film piquing his interest.

Now the University of Oregon head coach, Cristobal three years ago was on a flight to Eugene from Alabama, where he'd been Nick Saban's assistant head coach and offensive line coach, to start his new job as the Ducks' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

Spending his time in the air reviewing film of Oregon's previous season, Cristobal couldn't help but be intrigued by a few young players he knew would be crucial to his offense's success.

One was obviously quarterback Justin Herbert, a true freshman starter at the time who would go on to be drafted No. 6 overall just a couple of weeks ago.

The others were redshirt freshman linemen Shane Lemieux and Jake Hanson, the latter a prospect the Packers just plucked in the sixth round after he amassed 49 college starts at center for the Ducks.

"Jake really popped," Cristobal said, in a phone interview with, of that initial glance at the film. "We always say a center has got to be the most confident guy in the room. You cannot recruit a center or have someone play the position that is not really 'the dude.' Everyone has to feel it.

"He was excellent."

Hanson didn't disappoint the rest of his Oregon career, the last two seasons of which were with Cristobal as the head coach.

Upon arrival in Eugene, Cristobal learned he could count on Hanson's mental acuity to help install his offense quickly and efficiently. He also knew he had a center who wouldn't shy away from the physical demands of the job.

"Conceptually, he would grasp everything," Cristobal said. "We went to such a drastically different system, it was going to require mental gymnastics for some guys. But for him it was a smooth transition.

"And he looks for contact. When he's freed up, man, look out. He's going to find a chunk of ribs, you know, a chunk of hips. He makes his presence felt in so many ways."

Also making Hanson invaluable to the offense was his ability to adjust, both pre- and post-snap.

At the line, Hanson could change a protection call or the direction of a running play instinctively, keeping everyone on the same page. Out in space on a pulling run or screen pass, he also could find the right guy to block at the right moment to make a play work, even if the defender wasn't his specific assignment.

Plays like that made Hanson's awareness "off the charts," according to Cristobal, and why he thinks Hanson will have no trouble picking up a new playbook or switching to guard, which a cross-training team like the Packers may try with him.

Questions about his size and power were most likely why Hanson lasted until the sixth round, but since finishing his career in the Rose Bowl, he has worked to address those.

A two-time, second-team All-Pac-12 selection, the 6-foot-4 Hanson was listed at 295 pounds as a senior at Oregon. He had bulked up to 303 by the scouting combine and then pumped out 33 bench-press reps at 225 pounds.

"He's taken another big dive into strength and conditioning, and put on required mass to hang in there in that world centers and nose tackles live in," Cristobal said. "That's like Jurassic Park in there. Giant creatures going at it all the time."

Reflecting on Hanson's career, Cristobal said he was most proud of how he – and by extension the offensive line as a whole – rose to its biggest challenge in the Pac-12 title game vs. Utah.

The Utes came in with the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the country. With three defensive linemen who would all be chosen on Day 3 of the draft, Utah had allowed just 56 yards per game on the ground.

Oregon powered its way to 239 rushing yards in a three-touchdown blowout over the (then) fifth-ranked team in the country.

"We just put our chinstraps on a little tighter, bit down a little harder on our mouthpeices … we're going to run inside zone, run some gap schemes, and we're gonna make it work," Cristobal said of the line's all-business approach, led by his own Day 3 draft picks, Hanson and Lemieux (Giants, fifth round).

"Watching them go against those big bodies, knocking out A gaps, getting to the second level … When I think of Jake Hanson, I just think of a grinder, I really do. A guy just completely committed to the craft."

Where Hanson will fit best with the Packers remains to be seen. The Packers rarely have had a pure center as veteran Corey Linsley's backup, and Linsley is in a contract year with other, higher-priced players possibly higher priorities to re-sign.

The backup guard spots could produce interesting battles, too, with the Packers projecting their other two sixth-round linemen – Michigan's Jon Runyan and Indiana's Simon Stepaniak – as guard candidates.

Count Cristobal as promising Hanson will be an asset however he's used.

"I tell everybody he's going to play 10 years in the NFL," Cristobal said. "He's what you want to draw up your center as. He knows the game inside and out. He's the guy you want out there for the coin toss, he's a guy you want leading out of the locker room, and he's a guy you want speaking when things aren't going real well. He has all those traits naturally.

"He was the center of a class that walked in at 4-8 and left a Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion. He deserves so much credit for that. This doesn't work, doesn't happen, without Jake Hanson playing center for us."

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