- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Oregon: C Hroniss Grasu
2012 production: Helped the Ducks average 315.2 rushing yards per game (third nationally), 537.3 total yards per game (fifth nationally) and 49.5 points per game (second nationally).
Why Grasu is so important: This is where the subjective element of this series really gets interesting. When talking about a team like Oregon -- a national championship contender with potential All-Americans on both sides of the ball -- it really comes down to personal preference.
As noted above, we've taken quarterbacks out of the equation to make this series more interesting. But behind every great quarterback (or in this case, in front of) is usually a great center. And Grasu is a great center.
In Oregon's offense, the center and quarterback share the line calls and protection assignments -- so Grasu and Mariota had better be on the same page. And they almost always are. "They work in concert and Hroniss and Marcus are telepathically linked," noted new head coach Mark Helfrich.
Oregon's offensive line doesn't always get the credit it deserves. It had to deal with an unfair stigma that because Oregon ran an up-tempo, unconventional offense, that the linemen were somehow soft. I'd argue the opposite -- that because of that pace, they are remarkably athletic. You don't finish in the top five nationally in rushing four out of the last five years by being soft on the line.
Naturally, comparing offensive linemen to players with more tangible stats is always difficult. But the 6-3, 295-pound Grasu enters 2013 as one of the nation's top centers and should be in the mix for All-American honors. Helfrich noted that his job is to be the "key communicator" in the run game and making sure everyone is on the same page. Given how quickly Oregon is up and running its next play, that requires some pretty quick thinking.
There are lots of other great options for the Ducks -- and strong arguments could be made for all of them. But for a team so prolific in the ground game, it's worth singling out the leader of the offensive line.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is that during this time of transition from Chip Kelly to Helfrich, Grasu stepped up his game this spring in the leadership department.
"Hroniss had a really good spring," Helfrich said. "He's a guy that's grown in his role as a leader. He's a great kid. Soft-spoken by nature, so we really tried to amp up his assertiveness, and he did a much better job of that this spring. Certainly more than he ever has before."