EUGENE, Ore. -- One of Oregon’s more imposing figures -- 6-foot-3, 297-pound senior center Hroniss Grasu -- is about to become even more imposing.
“Leadership-wise, I need to get better,” Grasu said. “[I need to not] be afraid what other people think about me. I’m going to get on their case if they’re not blocking well.”
There are certainly parts of Grasu’s game that can be elevated over the next year but after passing up the 2014 NFL draft, Grasu is looking at this spring as an opportunity to become more of a vocal leader for the Ducks.
After a disappointing 2013 season, which Grasu partly attributes to the offensive line falling off and losing its competitive edge, he has decided to make his final year with the Ducks a better memory, and he knows the only way he can do that is by leading the charge -- not only by leading by example, which his teammates laud him for, but also leading with his voice.
“I think he is being more of a vocal leader,” backup center Doug Brenner said. “On and off the field, he’s such a good role model for everyone. I’m just trying to learn everything I can from him before he graduates.”
But it’s not an easy transition for Grasu and it’s a problem coach Mark Helfrich has seen before. He has a team problem, which many coaches would consider the best problem to have -- too many nice, respectful guys.
“That’s kind of one of our great shortcomings is we have a lot of great guys in leadership positions that are naturally very quiet,” Helfrich said. “Especially in Hroniss’ case … he’s a guy who can play better and certainly also has the authority to speak up.”
“Naturally, I’m a nice guy,” Grasu added. “I’m nice with everyone. Even when I’m pissed off I’ll hold it in.”
But that’s coming to an end now. Grasu is beginning to hold the rest of the Oregon O-line to his own standards. And after last season when the offensive line let up, he was less than pleased.
For the Ducks' offensive line, that’s a very good thing because Grasu’s critiques should only improve the group. But Grasu’s standards are that of an All-American, Rimington Award candidate, so the offensive line is going to have a new standard starting this spring.
“The thing you always talk about with those guys is that it’s not a personal thing, it’s a standard of what’s acceptable both from themselves and from the guy next to him or the backup or whomever it may be,” Helfrich said. “It's, ‘Hey, that wasn’t up to our standard. Do it this way or step here or do this.’ ”
The Ducks finished the 2013-14 season with the second-best offensive yardage in the nation (565 yards per game) while finishing in the top 10 in yards per play (7.6, No. 2 nationally), yards per rush (6.3, No. 5 nationally) and yards per completion (10.8, No. 9 nationally).
But Grasu said all of those stats can improve next season, which was a big reason why he chose to return to Eugene. And with him becoming a more vocal force in the offensive line meeting room, it’d be a hard group to bet against.
“In many ways, he’s the glue of the offensive line,” Brenner said of Grasu. “Every play starts and ends with Hroniss.”
And is there anyone else he’d be more comfortable with in that position, especially now that Grasu is starting to hold everyone else up to that standard?
“No,” Brenner said. “Not at all.”