Trio Of Ducks Land On Preseason All-America Team
By John Baker
Three Oregon football players received preseason All-American honors with the recent release of Phil Steele's 2013 preseason team.
Leading the way with a first-team bid is De'Anthony Thomas at running back. Joining DAT on the offensive all-American side is center Hroniss Grasu, a third-team selection.
Oregon also received a defensive All-American nominee in cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was named to the second team.
Thomas is coming off a season in which he rushed for more 735 yards on 92 carries and scored 11 times, but also caught a team-leading 45 passes for 445 yards and nine more scores. He was a stud on special teams, too, collecting 13 punts for 222 yards and a touchdown and returning 16 kickoffs for 389 yards and yet another score. He was second on the team in all-purpose yards, racking up 135.2 yards per game.
While the yardage and touchdowns have been impressive in an ever-increasing role, what has made Thomas special is his speed and penchant for turning simple plays into highlight reel scoring forays down the field. Thomas is a big-play player and his affect on opposing defenses cannot be underestimated. When he's on the field, the defense has major task on its hands. Filter in the Ducks' logjam of fast, explosive players on offense and you can see the trouble for opposing defenses.
The issue for 2013: Does DAT become a running back primarily or will he continue to be used all over the football field seeking mismatches and mistakes from the defense? It's hard to see Thomas as a 20-carry a game guy — 10 to 15 touches a game seems more reasonable at this point. But he'll open the season as a Phil Steele preseason All-American running back.
Grassu is a 6-foot-4, 290-pound bundle of fire and aggression. When he ascended to the starting center spot as a freshman in 2011, the Ducks offensive line solidified nicely around him. Though young, he led by example and after starting all 14 games as a freshman, was named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy in 2012. The list included Grassu again for the 2013 season. The Rimington honors the nation's top center.
Ekpre-Olomu was just another face in a crowded secondary when camp started a year ago. By the time the season was over, he was a bonafide star at cornerback who seemed to make plays with great regularity for the Ducks' defense. He finished the 2012 season with 63 total tackles, four interceptions and 16 passes broken up (20 defended). Oh, he also recovered a pair of fumbles.
As the Ducks work to fill holes in its defensive front and linebacking corps, Ekpre-Olomu leads a veteran and deep group returning in the defensive backfield. He could be a guy that's gone after this season. Given the Ducks' talent and big play personnel, the post-season honors could be even greater.