Oregon Ducks: Hroniss Grasu

It might be a very different looking Oregon team that takes the field next fall … and not because of the uniform changes (though, those are sure to be something different). Instead, the guys wearing those uniforms might fill them out a bit differently.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOregon is hoping the weight gained by player like Johnny Mundt will not affect the team's speed advantage.
Through this winter, several players went through some significant weight changes by making minor tweaks in the strength and conditioning program. But coach Mark Helfrich is hoping that the weight gains aren't just shown physically but in how the players take the field, as well.

“Hopefully a lot of that is confidence,” Helfrich said. “Just that edge of you feeling a little better about yourself, you’re moving a bit more, you’re physically bigger. It’s just you’re coming into the play with more confidence and that’s a big deal.”

Defensive lineman Sam Kamp put on the most weight of any player, packing on another 29 pounds and fellow lineman T.J. Daniel added 22. Not to be outdone, the offensive linemen packed on more than 100 pounds as a unit, with guard Doug Brenner leading the way with 26 pounds and Matt Pierson, Cameron Hunt and Elijah George all bulking up at least 20 pounds.

“I think we’ve kept our speed and athleticism,” center Hroniss Grasu said. “The added weight gain is just there to get us more physical and blowing the defensive line off the ball where we lacked that toward the end of the season.”

But it wasn’t just the big men making significant changes. Tight end John Mundt packed on 20 pounds and in the linebacker group, guys like Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker and Tyrell Robinson all put on at least 15 pounds.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is up to 218 pounds and hopes to be at 220 for the start of the 2014 season, while both leading backs made some important changes -- Byron Marshall lost six pounds (down to 201 pounds) while Thomas Tyner added 14 pounds and is up to 215.

With all of the weight gain the main concern would be that the high-powered offense the Ducks feature might be lacking some of that Oregon speed, but the players have tried to keep up their speed with the added weight. Mundt said that one of the focuses was finding that sweet spot for each player at which he stayed as fast as possible but got as big as possible.

“We were all pushing each other in the weight room and in conditioning,” Mundt said. “We’ve all gotten better and stronger, so that’s a good thing. … I think we have more strength and size across the board, but we’re still moving fast.”

Added bulk is certainly going to benefit this team,and as long as each guy can still move the same, the only teams struggling with the weight gain with be opponents. In May, if a player doesn’t appear the same when he takes the field for the spring game, it’s not the uniform, it’s the guy in the uniform.
The true mark of a great offensive line is for it to never be talked about, for it to be the silent wall that moves the pile and allows for others -- the running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers -- to shine.

It’s an unfortunate position in that regard because it means really the only time people will talk about it is when it’s playing poorly -- none of the fame, all of the blame.

But it’s a part of the position. For players like Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, it’s almost better because rather than just having receiving stats or passing stats or rushing stats, the O-line gets to celebrate all three.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiSenior center Hroniss Grasu has taken it upon himself to be a vocal leader on Oregon's O-line.
“As an offensive lineman, that’s your characteristic,” Grasu said. “When our running backs score a touchdown, we take a lot of pride in that or when Marcus [Mariota] has six, seven seconds to sit in the pocket and throw a touchdown, we feel like that’s ... our moment of glory. A lot of people don’t see it that way but as offensive linemen, we understand it.”

So from that perspective, the Oregon offensive line racked up the stats last season. It was top 20 in the nation in passing yardage, top five in the nation in passer efficiency, and top 10 in the nation in rushing yardage.

But it was in the losses when the O-line gained its moments of bigger recognition that stand out the most clearly to Grasu and his group.

“They wanted it more,” Grasu said of the opposing defensive lines. “That’s very hard to say.”

They didn’t win the line of scrimmage, didn’t hold their blocks as long as they should’ve, didn’t play with a low enough pad level. All of the basics, all of the things that group needs to go unrecognized, weren't executed. And suddenly, they’re deficiencies, and recognizable ones at that.

The Ducks rushed for 198 yards in their loss to Arizona, averaging 5.1 yards per rush. However, when the three longest runs of the game are taken out of the equation that statistic drops to 4.1 yards per rush, more than two yards below their season average.

The same was true in the Ducks’ loss to Stanford, except that they only rushed for 62 yards (2.6 yards per rush). And when the three longest runs in that game are taken out, that number drops to just 1 yard per rush.

Against the Wildcats, Oregon reached the red zone five times but only converted on three of those attempts (two touchdowns, one field goal). Against the Cardinal, the Ducks got there just three times and only scored one touchdown.

“When we’re getting down in the red zone it’s on the offensive line,” Grasu said. “We have to score the ball. When we get down on the 5-yard line against Stanford or the 1-yard line against Arizona, that just, for an offensive lineman, takes a lot of pride out of you.”

So re-instating that pride became a focal point for Grasu and the rest of the line during the offseason, which means they want to go back to being as anonymous as possible in the public while providing obvious production.

They started in the weight room, packing on more than 100 pounds as a unit. The competition started there, with each guy trying to one up the other on each rep each week, resulting in a much bigger O-line at the start of spring practices.

“I think as far as from the size aspect we’ve always gotten a little bit of bad press for being a little undersized,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “And I think we’re turning that around this year. ... We’re bigger and stronger and a little more fierce this spring ball for sure.”

Johnstone, who isn’t participating in spring practices as he rehabs his knee, has become a player-coach of sorts, coaching the group up from the sideline.

He, like Grasu, is becoming more vocal, pointing out the smallest of errors on the line. After the size gain in the offseason, that has become the focus of his spring -- making the minutiae the most important and making sure every member in the offensive line meeting room feels the same way.

Being that vocal enforcer isn’t always easy, though.

“The issue was that since we’re all such good friends, we don’t want to upset someone else,” Grasu said. “If someone isn’t playing hard enough we don’t want to get on their case, we’re going to wait until the coach does so we don’t look like the bad guy.”

Grasu said that winning games now trumps being the “bad guy,” and that players are pushing each other more and more as they look back and film and realize how different a play could’ve been if they had just held a block a moment longer or stayed in the film room to study gap assignments for just 10 more minutes after practice one day.

“It’s very easy to look back and say ‘Hey, if we just move our feet six inches and don’t hold on this play, it’s a touchdown,’ ‘If you execute here it’s the difference between a huge win or not,’” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “We need to get a little edge of toughness, a little edge of physicality while still being extremely disciplined. That absolutely is a topic this spring.”

And as long as the O-line gets edgier and more physical on the field, they’ll be as anonymous as they want everywhere else.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 23

January, 21, 2014
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s Top 25 players from the 2013 season continues.

You can review our 2013 preseason Top 25 here.

No. 23: Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

2013 numbers: As is always with the case with offensive linemen, it’s tough to gauge their individual statistical impact. But he anchored the line for the No. 1 scoring offense in the Pac-12 (45.5 points per game), the top rushing offense in the league (273.5 yards per game) and the No. 1 total offense in the league (565 yards per game). The Ducks line also allowed just 18 sacks in 13 games, the third-lowest total in the league.

Preseason ranking: No. 23

Making the case for Grasu: When we started making the postseason list and evaluating offensive linemen, there was no debate. “Grasu has to be there,” your Pac-12 bloggers said in sitcom-like unison. Named an All-American by several publications, Grasu gave the Ducks an instant boost by announcing he’d return for another season alongside quarterback Marcus Mariota (spoiler alert: Mariota is somewhere on this list, too). Grasu has been the Pac-12 first-team all-conference center for two seasons and was one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy after starting all 13 games. He also paved the way for yet another 1,000-yard rusher from Oregon as Byron Marshall totaled 1,038 yards. Expect Grasu to be on most 2014 preseason All-America lists -- and more than likely the postseason ones as well.

The countdown:
No. 24: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
No. 25: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

Postseason honors in Pac-12

December, 16, 2013
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While the Pac-12 was shut out of the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver and Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end, so the postseason has seen some individual accolades for the conference.

Further, a number of Pac-12 players are on their way to consensus and unanimous All-American honors.

While we still await the AP, FWAA and the American Football Coaches Association teams, here's how things stand so far with 12 different Pac-12 players receiving note on at least one first team.

PAC-12 FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICANS

ESPN.com

Offense: RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona, WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State, OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford

Defense: DT Leonard Williams, So., USC, LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon

Walter Camp

Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey

Defense: Murphy, LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA

The Sporting News

Offense: Cooks, Yankey

Defense: Barr, Murphy

Specialists: KR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford

Athlon

Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey, OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon, All-purpose Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA

Defense: Barr, S Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State, S Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford

Specialists: Montgomery

SB Nation

Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey

Defense: Barr, Murphy

Specialists: Montgomery

Humble Alamo Bowl win a must for Ducks

December, 11, 2013
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From a public relations standpoint, Oregon lost too many days in 2013.

From former tight end Colt Lyerla leaving the team and his subsequent drug-related arrest to high-profile players making verbal miscues -- and of course the world’s most watched snowball fight -- the Ducks had more drama than their first-year coach probably would have preferred. A bad November on the field didn’t help, either.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCoach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks could get to 11 wins with a victory over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
So it was no surprise that after a disappointing bowl placement -- disappointing in the fact that it’s not a BCS bowl game -- Oregon had two of its most respected and well-spoken ambassadors handle the talking.

In the first five minutes of chatting with the media following Sunday’s bowl selection, quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu -- both who have decided to pass up the NFL for one more season -- couldn’t work in the words “honor” and “blessed” enough when talking about their spot in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas.

Maybe that’s how they really feel. Maybe it’s not. But from here on out, as the Ducks look to rehab their image, the message has to be one of sheer elation and excitement to be playing in a bowl game. Any bowl game.

“This season has been a blessing and an honor to be able to play for such a great team,” Grasu said. “It’s been a lot of fun. A couple of things didn’t go our way but there is no one to blame for that but ourselves. We wouldn’t be in this position if we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. But it happened. You have to move on. Now we have to worry about what we can control and that’s getting better. Going through finals and then preparing to play Texas in the Alamo Bowl, which is a big honor to play in. That’s all we can control right now.”

Another word they both used a lot was “opportunity.” That’s the key.

This is a big opportunity for Oregon. It’s an opportunity to get coach Mark Helfrich his first bowl victory and reach the 11-win mark, something Chip Kelly didn’t do in his first year. It’s an opportunity to show the recruits that the month of November was simply a hiccup and Oregon football isn’t going anywhere. It’s an opportunity to show the rest of college football that Oregon has neither been exposed nor is on a downward trend.

“It was tough and it is unfortunate,” Mariota said. “But we put ourselves in this predicament. We didn’t give ourselves a lot of room. We had the opportunity. But we’re blessed and it’s a great opportunity and we’re looking forward to it … I think for the most part guys are going to be exited. We have a lot of guys from Texas. A lot of guys that haven’t been to Texas. It’s going to be an awesome, awesome venue. We’re playing one of the most traditional programs in the country.”

Almost every college football fan in the country -- yes, even a few in Oklahoma -- wanted to see Alabama-Oregon in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Even if it weren’t for a national championship, it’s still a dream matchup that has been speculated on for years. But geography, travel and the fact that the SEC and Big 12 have a schedule alliance coming were all contributing factors to the Ducks being on the outside -- despite only losing to Pac-12 champion Stanford and the nation’s best running back in Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. That those losses came in November magnifies their impact.

If there is disappointment in the ranks, and there has to be, now isn’t the time to let it show. Now is the time to exude confidence and humility at the opportunity placed before them. Now is the time for Mariota, who said he hopes to be 100 percent for the bowl game, to go out and show why he deserved to be in New York as a Heisman finalist. He could also start off his 2014 campaign with a bang.

“I don’t think anyone is disappointed,” Grasu said. “It’s an honor to play in this bowl game against Texas. Getting a bowl win in the Alamo Bowl against Texas would a big momentum boost in the offseason and getting ready for next season. It’s really exciting. We have a lot of guys coming back, but we can’t look to next season because we’re preparing to play Texas.”

Oregon’s reputation as an elite program, combined with a bowl win, likely gets them into single digits in the final rankings. Mariota’s return makes them a preseason top-10 team in 2014. There will be many, many more days to win. And it has to start on Dec. 30.

Preferably, quietly.

After a trying second half of the season, Christmas came early for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich when quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday that he would return for his redshirt junior season instead of entering the NFL draft, in which he almost certainly would have been an early first-round selection.

As a stocking stuffer, two-time first-team All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu also announced he will return. Goducks.com, the school’s athletics website, announced the news for both.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will return to Oregon next season as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
While the Ducks probably are going to say goodbye to receiver De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who have yet to announce their intentions, Mariota's decision does make one thing clear: Oregon will be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014, the first year of the four-team College Football Playoff.

Mariota, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection for a second consecutive year, will be the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as he captains an offense that looks like it will welcome back eight starters, a calculation that doesn't include DAT or RB Byron Marshall, the Ducks leading rusher.

While the Ducks' defense will take a few hits, Helfrich's second team appears stacked and ready for a potential bounce-back season. North Division rival Stanford will be replacing a number of key stars on both sides of the ball, including eight players who earned first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Mariota completed 227 of 360 attempts for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He set a Pac-12 record from the end of last season into this year by attempting 353 passes without an interception. He ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com Stats & Information's Total QBR.

Of course, a knee injury suffered against UCLA on Oct. 26 hampered him over the second half of the season, most notably in the Ducks' first loss at Stanford. Still, the Ducks "down" year produced a 10-2 record, a sixth consecutive 10-win season with a bowl game left to play.

Mariota's return means that as many as 10 conference teams could welcome back their 2013 starting quarterback. We still await word from UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion on whether they will enter the NFL draft. The return of Utah's Travis Wilson is up in the air due to health issues.

Only Arizona and Washington started seniors at QB this year.

The dual return of Mariota and Grasu means the brains of the Ducks' offense will be back in 2014. Grasu, perhaps the nation's top center, should have a mastery of the Ducks' offensive line calls, while Mariota figures to own an Andrew Luck-like knowledge of the nuances of the Ducks' offense as a third-year starter.

That's a huge advantage heading into 2014.

Further, their return is a vote of confidence in Helfrich. If one or the other didn't believe in the Ducks' first-year coach, they almost certainly would have moved on.

The only Ducks who might be unhappy with Mariota's decision are backup QBs Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who will be redshirt sophomores next season. They probably expected to be in a hotly contested competition for the starting job this spring. That said, they might benefit from another year of seasoning playing behind a future high NFL draft choice.

Of course, sometimes the celebrated return of a QB doesn't always work out (see: USC's Matt Barkley in 2012). Fans and NFL scouts will expect Mariota to be even better next fall. Comparable numbers might be viewed as a sign of his plateauing.

But that's a potentiality that isn't worth fretting over today.

Oregon fans were frustrated when the program lost two of its final four games and fell out of the national title race. Here's a guess that those frowns just turned upside down.

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.

Q&A: Oregon's Hroniss Grasu

October, 11, 2013
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The No. 2 Oregon Ducks enter Saturday’s game with Washington riding a 17-game winning streak on the road and boasting the league’s top offense. Center Hroniss Grasu took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog this week about Oregon’s offense, prepping for Washington, the non-distraction of Colt Lyerla and exactly who would get his Heisman vote.

Is it safe to assume that Oregon will be OK without Chip Kelly?

Hroniss Grasu: (Laughs) Yeah, I think so. Coach [Mark] Helfrich and the coaching staff have been a great job since he departed and everything is still the same.

That was sarcasm, just so we’re on the same page.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiHroniss Grasu (55) is looking forward to the hostile atmosphere at Washington.
HG: I got you. Wasn’t sure if you were serious so I wanted to be sure I gave you a good answer.

It’s hard to ignore what you guys are doing offensively. I know you don’t focus on the numbers, but do you at least take a step back to reflect on what you have been able to do so far?

HG: No, we don’t. I think if you take a step back, you’re going the wrong direction. You have to keep going forward and keep looking forward and try to get better every day. We’ve done a good job of that.

Are there any goals in the locker room among you guys? Five straight games of 55 points is impressive.

HG: Nah, we don’t ever make any of those kinds of goals. Our only goal is to play up to our standard and set a new standard daily. If we keep meeting that standard that we set, I think we can be a pretty good football team.

What were some of your personal goals this year?

HG: My personal goal is to be the best leader on this team and do whatever it takes to help this team win. So far I think everybody on the offensive line has done a great job. They’ve all been great leaders with me, giving Marcus [Mariota] the time he needs and opening up the lanes for the running backs.

The relationship between quarterback and center is a delicate one, so to speak. How have you and Marcus gotten in sync the last couple of years?

HG: He’s an easy guy to build a relationship with. He’s the type of guy you want to be around. He always has positive energy and you want that to rub off on you. He’s the most humble person I’ve ever met. His character speaks for itself. Off the field we’ve built a better relationship.

What do you do off the field?

HG: We went golfing and we play some pool and just hang out. We had a barbecue at my house. Stuff like that.

Who’s the better golfer?

HG: I’ve been golfing longer. It’s kind of a funny story. When we first went, I was trying to teach Marcus how to tee off and I shanked it into the driving range. I was teaching him not to do that. Then he steps up and drives it right into the fairway. That’s typical Marcus. He’s good at everything.

If I promise not to tell anyone, is Washington week different?

HG: It’s not any different at all. It might be extra competitive, but we don’t treat it any differently. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We know we’re the team that is going to be circled on everyone’s schedule. We’ve been through it. We get excited when we see a hostile crowd. The atmosphere is electric. We just have to go in and do our job and execute our game plan.

You guys have won 17 in a row on the road. That’s the longest streak in the country. What do you guys do that enables you to be as successful on the road as you are at home?

HG: We just treat it like any other game. Our practices are much harder than our games. We play the loud music and simulate the noise. We stick to our game plan and listen to the coaches. We always have a good week of preparation and it’s fun and exciting to go on the road. The away games are fun because it’s us vs. the whole stadium. It helps you bond with your teammates because it’s you vs. all.

Oregon isn’t a team that you typically hear about having off-the-field distractions. But this week you had one with the departure of tight end Colt Lyerla. How much of a distraction was that to you guys?

HG: It hasn’t been a distraction at all. We haven’t really discussed it because we know it can’t be a distraction. It’s a bummer that we lost Colt because he’s a great athlete and a good person. He needs to get back on track and we can’t let that distract us.

What’s your favorite part about the new facilities?

HG: My favorite part is that we have elevators. The whole building is amazing. When the pictures came out, I was in awe. Then you see it in person; you just can’t compare it to pictures. My jaw was dropped the whole time. I can’t believe that’s our new home. It’s a blessing to use that building.

If you had a Heisman vote, who would get it?

HG: The entire Oregon Ducks football team.

Pac-12 lunch links

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
3:00
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Hello everyone.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 1

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
11:00
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s top 25 preseason players in 2013 concludes.

A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won’t make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2012 postseason top 25 here.

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

2012 numbers: In his redshirt freshman year, Mariota was the league’s most efficient passer and second nationally per ESPN’s QBR rating. He completed 68.5 percent of his throws for 32 touchdowns and 2,677 yards with only six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 57.8 yards on the ground. And yes, we didn’t forget, he caught one ball for two yards and a touchdown. That was the beginning of the end for the dynamic Bryan Bennett-to-Marcus Mariota connection.

2012 postseason ranking: No. 1

Making the case for Mariota: He ended 2012 as our No. 1, and we see no reason to penalize him for getting better in the off season. Yes, he should be even better in 2013. With an outstanding line and cast of players around him like De'Anthony Thomas, Colt Lyerla, Josh Huff and a surging Byron Marshall, expect Mariota to build off his incredible numbers that made him an All-American honorable mention last season. Look for the postseason accolades to increase as well -- maybe even the bronze guy with the stiff arm. It's fun to wonder what his numbers might have looked like last year had he not sat out of the second half of a few games because Oregon couldn't help but put up 40-plus points in the first half. And given Oregon's early schedule in 2013 -- it's possible we could see Mark Helfrich treat his quarterback the same way Chip Kelly did last year. Still, as long as he’s running Oregon’s offense with fantastic precision, he’ll put up the kind of dual-threat numbers that Heisman voters love. The fact that Oregon starts the year ranked in the top five and will be a national championship contender helps. In this quarterback-driven league, Mariota stands at the top of his position and the top of our preseason list.

2. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
7. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
9. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
10. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
11. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
12. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
13. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
15. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
16. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
18. Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
22. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Pac-12 lunch links: QB Wood to start

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
11:30
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I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 8

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
1:00
PM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-12’s top 25 preseason players in 2013 continues.

A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won’t make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2012 postseason top 25 here.

8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

2012 numbers: Was Oregon’s fourth-leading tackler last season with 63 stops. Broke up 16 passes and was seventh nationally in passes defended (20). He had four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He also forced six fumbled and recovered another.

2012 postseason ranking: No. 18

Making the case for Ekpre-Olomu: Emerged as one of the premier defensive players in the country last year and was a turnover machine with his four picks and six forced fumbles. Now he comes into 2013 regarded by many as the top cornerback prospect in the country. Much like Ed Reynolds' numbers are bolstered with safety Jordan Richards playing along side him at Stanford, Ekpre-Olomu certainly benefits from Terrance Mitchell playing across the field. Together, they make up the most feared cornerback tandem in the country and with teams throwing away from Mitchell last year, Ekpre-Olomu made the most of his opportunities, earning third-team All-America honors. This might be the best Oregon secondary in school history. And with the Ducks returning their entire defensive backfield from a year ago (a group that led the country in interceptions) look for them to again be one of the top secondaries in the country with Ekpre-Olomu again in the mix for All-American honors.

9. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
10. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
11. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
12. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
13. Austin Seferian Jenkins, TE, Washington
14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
15. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
16. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
18. Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
22. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 23

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
11:37
AM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2013 continues.

A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2012 postseason top 25 here.

23. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

2012 numbers: Helped the Ducks lead the league in rushing offense (315.2 yards per game, 48 touchdowns) while part of an unit that allowed just 19 sacks on the season (third in the league).

2012 postseason ranking: Unranked

Making the case for Grasu: Voted by the coaches as a first-team all-league selection last season, Grasu returns as one of the top centers in the nation. He's on the Rimington watch list and anchors what should be another stellar group of linemen for Oregon. Last season he helped Kenjon Barner to 1,767 rushing yards and will again be carving paths for De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner et. all. As is always the case with offensive linemen, it's never easy to quantify their contributions to a team. But know that as the center, he works hand-in-hand with Marcus Mariota in making all of the offensive protection calls -- which in itself is the most crucial part of any play. Expect him to once again be in the mix for postseason league honors -- and perhaps national honors such as the Rimington Award and all-America status.

24. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
Oregon UniformsUSA TODAY SportsQuarterback Marcus Mariota, wide receiver Keanon Lowe and running back De'Anthony Thomas are all possibilities to leave Oregon early for the NFL.

The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2013 season having lost a possible top-five pick to the NFL draft, the No. 2 rusher in the Ducks' history and two all-league linebackers. The loss of Dion Jordan, Kenjon Barner, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay will hurt, but potential losses after the 2013 season could sting a lot more.

The 2013 recruiting class was solid, but not spectacular. Next year, the potential of losing De'Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Terrance Mitchell, Hroniss Grasu and Colt Lyerla early to the NFL would be a huge blow to the Ducks as they try and continue their run of BCS appearances. The Ducks will definitely lose three impact players on the defensive line, two safeties, a linebacker and star wide receiver Josh Huff to graduation.

With heavy losses ahead, the Ducks must land a strong recruiting class in 2014. There are negatives to having a roster loaded with NFL talent, and the Ducks are about to learn that the hard way.


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Oregon recruiting mailbag 

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
9:00
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Questions about the Ducks' 2014 targets are starting to pour in.

Shaun A. (San Francisco): Who do you think will be the Ducks' first commit in the 2014 class? Are there any in-state kids worth an early offer that would accept and become the first commit in the class?

DuckNation: There are a couple worthy of an early offer and Mark Helfrich will likely continue the Ducks' recent trend of locking up the top in-state recruits. DE Connor Humphreys (Portland, Ore./Central Catholic) and OLB Joey Alfieri (Portland, Ore./Jesuit) will both have a lot of early interest and Oregon will likely have offers to both by the time the summer rolls around.

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