Ducks center Grasu faces football 'yips'

Poor snaps haunted second-year player in last week's victory over Fresno State

EUGENE — In golf, it's called the yips. Oregon center Hroniss Grasu doesn't have a name for it when it comes to football, he just knows he doesn't like it.

Grasu has worked this week to conquer football's version of the yips that were evident last week in the No. 4 Ducks' 42-25 victory over Fresno State.

One of his snaps was so off it went — inadvertently — into the hands of running back Kenjon Barner.

It was unusual for Grasu, who was settled comfortably into his role last season as a redshirt freshman. He called it the worst game of his life. But he also felt just as "off" in Oregon's opener against Arkansas State, a 57-34 victory.

"I'm really bothered by it," he said. "There's no excuses for that. I snap the ball 100 times a day. It should go to the chest every single time."

Grasu can be excused, of course, because it was still a win for Oregon, which improved to 2-0. The Ducks host lower-division Tennessee Tech this Saturday in their last non-conference game.

Grasu, a 6-foot-3, 284-pound native of Encino, Calif., became a starter last year after competing with Karrington Armstrong for the job. He anchored an offensive unit that was ranked third in the nation in scoring and sixth in total offense.

Coach Chip Kelly has often said that the best compliment he can give Grasu is that he never has to think about him. He's that steady and dependable.

Grasu was named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded each year to the nation's top center.

With 14 starts behind him, Grasu said this season he's taking on more of a leadership role. His quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a redshirt freshman who won the starting job after competing with Bryan Bennett in fall camp.

Bennett was backup last season to Darron Thomas, who threw for a school-record 33 touchdowns before deciding to leave Oregon with a year of eligibility left.

Bennett and Grasu were teammates at Crespi High School in Encino. At Oregon, they're best friends and roommates.

Grasu said he was obviously pulling for his pal to win the battle at QB, but he trusted Kelly and the other coaches to make the right decision about who should be the team's starter.

"I have all the respect in the world for both those guys," he said. "I knew whoever Kelly picked as starter would lead this offense and put points on the board. I wasn't necessarily rooting for Bryan because he was my roommate and best friend, I was rooting for the guy who would take this offense to where it should be."

Grasu, like many of his teammates, respected Bennett when he decided to stay with the Ducks rather than transfer to a program where he'd get more playing time.

"I want to be with my teammates. I need them, they need me," Bennett told reporters after making the decision. "This journey for this season started back in spring ball, and I've been through all that, and I can't leave my troops now."

Now two games in, Oregon is working on cleaning up the details before the conference opener on Sept. 22 at home against Arizona.

To be fair, It wasn't only Grasu who struggled against the Bulldogs. Oregon's normally prolific offense managed just one second-half touchdown while allowing Fresno State to score 19 points.

"I'm just very competitive," Grasu said. "I don't like walking off the field knowing the other team finished the game better than we did. Nobody likes that. At practice we work on finishing, and that's what we need to do."

Oregon also was hit with the news that two of its senior leaders, guard Carson York and free safety John Boyett, would miss the rest of the season because of injuries. Grasu said York was his mentor last season when he was a first-year starter.

As for Grasu's yips, Kelly dismissed them early this week as no big deal, only saying he was off center. Indeed, Grasu noticed something awry with his technique while watching film on Monday.

Grasu, who is well-spoken and thoughtful, said maybe he's just making the job too hard.

"I may be thinking way too much pre-snap, thinking about what the defenses are going to give us. Last year, I was a young guy and I didn't know that much about football," he said with a smile. "Now, after a year under my belt and learning defenses, I'm thinking way too much and letting that get to my head.

"I'll work through it. It's gonna get fixed."


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