It has been a long time since the Ducks have been looking for a center. As has become a tradition at the University of Oregon, one excellent player held down the middle of the offensive line for many consecutive games. But after a 26-game stretch of starts for NFL-caliber Jordan Holmes, the job is vacant going into spring.
And it's not just vacant, it's very vacant. This is because graduated senior Jordan Holmes started the last two years, and when he wasn't in the game, classmate and fellow graduate Max Forer substituted for him. Duck fans will be able to follow both young men in the years to come, as Holmes works to earn a spot on an NFL roster, and Forer continues his studies at the University of Oregon School of Law. Unfortunately, the continuing success of his graduates will not help offensive line coach Steve Greatwood man the gap this spring.
The irony of having the center position solidly manned two-deep the last two seasons is since both guys were from the same class, nobody on the current roster will have had college game experience snapping the ball. The good news for Greatwood is that he has a couple promising youngsters to compete for the job, both of them recruited with center on their resume.
Hroniss Grasu had snapped the ball to a Duck before either was in Eugene. Teammates with quarterback Bryan Bennett at Crespi High School in Encino, both were able to redshirt during Oregon's national championship run in 2010. Now a redshirt freshman with a year of college playbook learning under his belt, Coach Greatwood has the 6-foot-3, 275 pound athlete ready to make his statement.
"Hroniss has got a real shot at being in the mix at center this year," Greatwood predicted. "I'm counting on him to make a strong push to be the starting center."
The 26-year veteran coach was enthusiastic about the outlook for Grasu.
"He is what I'm looking for athletically inside. He came in with that shoulder problem, but he has made great strides in getting himself rehabbed, getting his strength levels back up. I'm excited about the possibility of him getting in there."
The other young player competing against Grasu in the spring will be Karrington Armstrong. Greatwood likes the potential shown by the sophomore from Reno, Nevada, but still has some questions he needs answered.
"Karrington, he right now is sort of an enigma to me," confessed Greatwood. "We had some heart-to-heart meetings midway through the season about just his overall commitment level and where he was mentally. I just didn't think Karrington was mature and focused enough on football, just too many other extra-curriculars or whatever."
The talks seemed to have paid off so far with the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder.
"Since then I've seen him begin to focus better, begin to apply his trade better and his attention to detail," Greatwood said. "He's got all the skill-sets. He's the strongest kid in his lower body. He's got the best squat on the team. He's got some power. It's just a matter of consistency. He needs to force himself to play consistently down-in and down-out. He should very well be in the mix for the center spot, or maybe even a guard."
Another player getting a look this spring at center will be Coeur d'Alene junior Carson York. Greatwood would prefer to leave the 6-foot-5, 280 pound athlete at guard where he started ten games during the 2010 campaign. "We might swing Carson York in there. We will be trying all kinds of guys out there, that's for sure."
The answer to the question of which player rises up to become Oregon's next center will begin to be answered shortly, with spring football less than a month away. If history of the recent Ducks at the position like Enoka Lucas, Max Unger and Jordan Holmes is any indication, whoever wins the start will hold the job for a long time.
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