Frosh RB Royce Freeman in the mix to start?
Oregon Ducks running back Thomas Tyner (24) runs the ball as Oregon State Beavers safety Steven Christian (29) defends at Matthew Knight Arena. - Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Oregon Ducks running back Byron Marshall (9) runs with the ball as Utah Utes defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku (98) defends in the second quarter at Autzen Stadium. - Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
EUGENE - The initial euphoria over the practice performances of freshman running back Royce Freeman hasn't worn off even though position coach Gary Campbell said today that the former four-star recruit has slowed a tad in what are now the dog days of fall camp.
Freeman, according to Campbell, very much remains a part of the team's plans this season. So much so that Campbell included Freeman in his answer when asked about the running back competition between junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner.
When Campbell was asked if Marshall, last year's top rusher, remained No. 1 on the depth chart, the coach hesitated before saying, "Yeah, I think he's number one right now. I think it's really close. I think by next week's game either of those three guys could be No. 1."
Freeman is that third guy. That's quite the statement considering that Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, while Tyner, a former five-star recruit, contributed 711 yards and nine touchdowns.
Campbell is not typically one to overhype his guys, especially at the expense of incumbent proven contributors. Clearly Freeman has simply been that good in camp.
Still, while it's not difficult to imagine that the 6-foot, 229-pound Freeman is capable of starting (Tyner certainly looked capable last year), it's tough to fathom that he has grasped enough of the offense's nuances in less than three weeks to truly push Marshall and/or Tyner out of the top spot.
The last time an Oregon freshman running back made a push at becoming the starter was 2005 when five-star recruit Jonathan Stewart gave senior Terrence Whitehead a run for his money. But injuries ultimately held back Stewart from taking over that season.
At no other time since has a returning leading rusher lost his starting job to a true freshman running back.
Interestingly, Stewart, at 5-10, 235, had that same rare combination of speed and power that Freeman is said to possess.
Another great former UO power back Freeman is compared to is LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2008. Blount played at Oregon at 6-2, 246 pounds.
Campbell said Freeman compares more favorably to Stewart.
"I think he's more like Stewart than Blount," Campbell said. "He's a little bit quicker, faster than LeGarrette was. Probably not quite as fast as Stew was."
Both Stewart (Carolina) and Blount (Pittsburgh) are in the NFL.
Despite the excitement surrounding Freeman's potential, the smart money is on Marshall or Tyner being the starting running back when the season begins Aug. 30 against South Dakota at Autzen Stadium.
"He's young," Campbell said of Freeman. "He's still learning. Toward the end of camp he's kind of slowed down a little bit as far as his physical performance just because he's got such a mental load right now. But I think he's going to be an outstanding player for us in the very near future."