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

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.

BREAKING: Oregon RB Taj Griffin and WR Dwayne Stanford out for season

BREAKING: Oregon RB Taj Griffin and WR Dwayne Stanford out for season

The injury count continues to rise for Oregon. 

Next on the list is sophomore running back Taj Griffin, who is out for the season with a knee injury suffered this week at practice, according to sources.  Also, according to a source, senior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford won't play again. He has been out since injuring his leg Oct. 1 at Washington State. 

Griffin has had a quiet season as the team's No. 4 running back, but his speed would have been useful today against a strong Stanford defense when the Ducks (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) host the Cardinal (6-3, 4-3) at 1 p.m. at Autzen Stadium. 

Last season at Stanford, Griffin scored on a 49-yard touchdown reception during Oregon's 38-36 upset victory.

Griffin has not delivered many such big plays this season. He has just 89 receiving yards and 183 rushing yards compared to last year when he gained 162 and 570, respectively. 

Oregon has suffered numerous serious injuries this season. Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby and redshirt junior wide receiver Devon Allen were lost for the season earlier in the year.  Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III, also ruled out for the season earlier this year, will try to play today against Stanford. 

Another dozen or so key players for UO have missed significant time with injuries. 

Griffin, unfortunately, is no stranger to knee injuries. He suffered a season-ending knee injury his senior year at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Ga.  Sources were not sure if he injured the same knee this week. 

The good news is that Griffin, with any luck, should have enough time to rehabilitate in time to return to action next season. 

UO RB Royce Freeman to return at WSU

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Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

UO RB Royce Freeman to return at WSU

Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman has a chance to rewrite the programs rushing record list this season. Each week we will provide an update on his progress. 

EUGENE - Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman will return to action after missing one game with a lower leg injury, Oregon running backs coach said today following practice. 

"He's been practicing full, so I expect him to be 100 percent," Campbell said following Tuesday's practice. 

Freeman, not available for comment, left Oregon's loss at Nebraska on Oct. 17 in the first quarter with 31 yards. He then was held out of Saturday's loss to Colorado at home. 

Missing seven quarters of action, and the team losing two games, have pretty much killed Freeman's chances at becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate. 

The action missed had also severely hurt Freeman's chances of breaking Oregon's career rushing record held by LaMichael James.

Freeman is 1,555 yards away from James' record of 5,082 set from 2009 through 2011. 

Freeman began the year with 3,203 career yards after rushing for a program-record 1,838 yards in 2015. That figure broke James' previous single-season record of 1,805 set in 2011. 

Here is a statistical breakdown of Freeman's run at both the yardage and touchdown records:

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman sat out the team's 41-38 loss to Colorado. The week prior at Nebraska he rushed for 31 yards before leaving the game in the first quarter with an injury during the 35-32 loss. 

2016 total: Freeman has gained 325 yards on 37 carries this season. 

Career total: Freeman has 3,528 career yards. He needs 92 to move into second place all time ahead of Kenjon Barner (3,623)

Freeman needs: He sits 1,554 yards away from breaking James' record. 

Average needed per game (13-game season): With nine games remaining, Freeman must average 172.7 yards per game to break James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman sat out. 

2016 total: He now has four rushing touchdowns. 

Career total: Freeman sits at 39 for his career. He needs two touchdowns to tie Barner (41) for second place. 

Freeman needs: He is 14 rushing touchdowns away from breaking the record. 

Next up: The Ducks play at Washington State (1-2). 

UO RB Royce Freeman to sit out Colorado game

UO RB Royce Freeman to sit out Colorado game

Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman, who left last Saturday's 35-32 loss at Nebraska in the first quarter with a lower leg injury, will not play today when the Ducks host Colorado at Autzen Stadium, according to sources. 

Freeman, who was just announced as the starter during pregame and appeared on the field during warmups in full uniform, but not in cleats, is expected to make a full recovery from the undisclosed injury. 

Kani Benoit was announced as the starter. 

Freeman gained 31 yards on five carries at Nebraska before leaving the game. Oregon's running game performed well without him and should again today. 

Benoit had 100 yards on six carries with a long of 46 and a touchdown run of 41 yards. Redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James scored three touchdowns while carrying the ball seven times for 37 yards. Sophomore Taj Griffin had eight carries for 71 yards and scored on a 50-yard run.

 

Oregon's RB depth of Benoit, Griffin and Brooks-James ready for action

Oregon's RB depth of Benoit, Griffin and Brooks-James ready for action

EUGENE - Oregon running back Royce Freeman will get most of the carries, gain most of the rushing yardage, score the most rushing touchdowns and receive the most attention from the media and opposing defenses. 

But it would be unwise to sleep on his supporting cast.  The trio of redshirt junior Kani Benoit, sophomore Taj Griffin and redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James should be considered starting-caliber backs that are simply stuck playing behind te 235-pound force of nature that is Freeman. Still, they plan to be heard. 

“We want to be one of the best RB groups in the country and we’re going to show it this year,” Griffin said.

While Freeman, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, will be chasing LaMichael James' career rushing record of 5,802 yards (Freeman needs 1,880) the backup trio will be looking to make individual marks of their own on the season for No. 24 Oregon. 

Each got their feet wet last season with Griffin darting his way to 570 yards on 7.4 yards per carry, Benoit, the primary backup then and now, gaining 364, and Brooks-James going for 288. That's 1,222 yards from the backup running backs. 

Such depth contributed to Oregon not signing a running back for the 2016 recruiting class, and it led to what running backs coach Gary Campbell called a relatively easy fall camp for his group. Something Benoit agrees, stating that the backs, now veterans, know what they are doing allowing Campbell "to spend less time in the meeting room with us.”

Knowing what to do and doing it with high efficiency are two different things, so the backs, Benoit said, have focused mostly on fine-tuning what they all learned last season in what for all three was their first taste of real college action.

Repeatedly, there have been reports out of practices of these three backs making the defense look silly. 

“Everybody at this level is talented and can make plays," Griffin (5-10, 175) said. "But it’s more so about who can be reliable and go out there and make the least amount of mistakes.”

Beniot (6-0, 210 pounds), a two-star recruit in 2013, has been a great story given that he developed from being somewhat of an overlooked recruit to becoming Oregon's No. 2 back. 

“I think I’ve improved a lot, especially when it comes to game time, being out there and just reacting to a lot of plays,” Benoit said. “I think I thought a lot before and now it’s just reacting.” Brooks-James (5-9, 185) said similar things about himself. That last year he learned how to be a college football player. This year, he is also more comfortable and ready to go.

As backups, each brings something different to the field. 

“Me and Tony are both fast,” Griffin said. “Kani and Royce are both strong.”

At the same time, Griffin and Brooks-James do pack some power while Benoit and Freeman are hardly slow. The versatility gives Oregon options.

“There’s obviously some special plays that we have in there for certain situations, certain teams and different schemes,” Benoit said.

All three believe they could be starters, and plan to play like one when their name is called. 

“Everyone is competing to always be that guy," Benoit said. 

Oregon has three men ready to be next at running back, a luxury most teams only dream of. 

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 2 - Freeman and RBs come up aces

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USA Today

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 2 - Freeman and RBs come up aces

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Running backs. 

Projected starter: Junior Royce Freeman (5-11, 230) returns for his third season as the lead back with school records and a Heisman Trophy in his sights.

Key backups: Redshirt junior Kani Benoit (6-0, 210), sophomore Taj Griffin (5-10, 175), redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James (5-9, 185).

Smelling like roses: Freeman should be a candidate for Pac-12 offensive player of the year, and possibly the Heisman Trophy, while he chases LaMichael James' career rushing record of 5,802 yards and his rushing touchdowns record of 53. Freeman needs 1,880 yards and 19 touchdowns to break both records. Should he do his thing and attack both records, Freeman would also be giving the Ducks what they need to contend in the Pac-12. 

Behind Freeman are three running backs all fully capable for rushing for 1,000 yards as a starter, giving the Ducks an embarrassment of riches. 

Griffin, the speedster, rushed for 570 yards last season while averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Brooks-James, also quite fast, gained 288 yards last season. Benoit, last season's primary backup, rushed for 364 yards.

Place your bets: Oregon could suffer two serious injuries at this position and still be okay. Any combination of the three backups would produce a quality running game capable of getting the Ducks to the Pac-12 title game. Should three go down, the Ducks could be in trouble. That scenario is unlikely.

Odds are: Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell always does a good job of balancing the workload for his starter while finding optimal spots to get production out of the backups. That will continue this season. This group will be fun to watch.  

Poker hand: Full house. The Ducks are stacked with both depth and versatility. Never before has Oregon had a more eclectic group of running backs. They will be a major strength of this team, and certainly are championship-caliber.  

Next up: Wide receivers/tight ends. 

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Offensive line; Defensive line; Linebackers..