Oregon 2017 Outlook - RBs: Royce Freeman's return means Ducks remain loaded

Oregon 2017 Outlook - RBs: Royce Freeman's return means Ducks remain loaded

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: Quarterbacks; Tight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Defensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Running backs.

Key loss: None. 

Projected 2017 starter: Royce Freeman, Sr., (5-11, 230). 

Key backups: Tony Brooks-James, RJr., (5-9, 185), Kani Benoit, RSr., (6-0, 210), Taj Griffin, Jr., (5-10, 180).

What we know: Freeman's return was not required for Oregon to remain potent at this position but having him back certainly gives new running backs coach Donte Pimpleton less to worry about in 2017.

Freeman, should he remain healthy, will likely break LaMichael James' career rushing mark of 5,082 yards. Freeman, who has 4,148 for his career, needs 934 yards to tie James.

What might be more intriguing than watching Freeman chase history is seeing how Brooks-James evolves as a player. He showed flashes of elite ability last season while filling in for an injured Freeman to the point where he became the primary ball carrier in several games, even starting at USC. Had Freeman entered the NFL Draft, next season would have been Brooks-James' time to shine as the starter, but he should still receive enough carries to surpass the 771 yards he racked up last season on 7.6 per carry. Brooks-James will likely be the featured back in 2018 should he stick around for his senior season. 

Benoit, like Brooks-James, has shown abilities worthy of a starter but he won't get that chance with Freeman's return. Nevertheless, Benoit (300 yards last season) gives Oregon a starting-caliber running back off the bench. 

What we don't know: Griffin was lost for the season with a knee injury in early November. He should be able to recover by the start of next season, but where he fits in as a specialty back in Taggart's offense remains to be seen. Chances are Griffin settles back into his role of receiving spot carries in the hopes he breaks a long one, as he did with a 50-yard touchdown run at Nebraska last season. 

UO has two running backs committed to the 2017 class. Both should plan on redshirting behind this group. 

Final word: This position carries with it the least amount of mystery on the team. Pimpleton should have the easiest transition out of all of Oregon's new assistant coaches.  

Position grade: A. Oregon should lead the conference in rushing once again.  

Next up: Tight ends.

Oregon to hire Donte Pimpleton as running backs coach

Oregon to hire Donte Pimpleton as running backs coach

Oregon football coach Willie Taggart is starting to pull from his former coaching staff at South Florida, beginning with the hiring of running backs coach Donte Pimpleton to serve in the same role with the Ducks, a source has confirmed. 

The news was first reported by Fox Sports

Pimpleton will replace Gary Campbell, who coached UO running backs for 34 years under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and the recently fired, Mark Helfrich. 

New head coach Willie Taggart and Pimpleton have deep ties.  Both played football at Western Kentucky where Pimpleton later coached under Taggart as the offensive quality control coach (2010-2011) and as the wide receivers coach (2012). 

Taggart coached at Western Kentucky from 2010 through 2012 before taking over South Florida. Pimpleton then moved over the Kentucky Wesleyan for two seasons (2013-2014) and then to Delaware State (2015) before rejoining Taggart at USF for the 2016 season. 

Pimpleton played quarterback and receiver at Western Kentucky from 1997 through 2001. Taggart played quarterback there from 1994 through 1998. 

Pimpleton becomes the third new coach at Oregon under Taggart, joining defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty.