— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Looked at any interesting stuff about LaMichael James recently? The rumors have been flying since a report came out in The Oregonian on Thursday that the Ducks’ running back would enter the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl.
Or did he? Because there’s also been reports that contradict the story that has everyone talking. Aside from a brief denial on his Facebook page, James hasn’t been able to address the situation until yesterday. Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled that certain people were getting information about him from ESPN.
“There’s really nothing going on,” said Oregon’s all-time leading rusher emphatically. “I don’t really know what happened with that deal. My family called me and asked if I had declared for the draft.”
Moreover, James wasn’t happy about hearing that he had make a decision he claims he hasn’t made.
“I think it’s kind of an unfair statement for someone to say something I didn’t say,” he explained. “If (running backs coach Gary) Campbell didn’t say it, then nobody really knows what happened. Because if I’m going to tell someone what I’m going to do, it’s going to be him. I haven’t discussed that with him or my family.”
In fact, James isn’t really focusing on what’ll he’ll do next until after a certain game in Pasadena.
“I’m really not thinking about it,” he stated. “The thing I’m thinking about is winning the game on January 2nd. I don’t want to make a decision or an announcement on it. My future is irrelevant right now. Come January 3rd, it will be relevant when the season is over. But I owe it to my teammates, the fans, and my coaches to think about the Rose Bowl. That is my important goal right now.”
Ah yes, with all the scuttlebutt about their star back, you may have forgotten that the fifth-ranked Ducks are playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They started up practices again over the weekend and James believes the team is going back to basics right now.
“We’re getting back to the fundamentals,” said James. “Everybody is pretty much healthy right now. I think we’re really happy to get back out here with each other.”
As for the drama surrounding James, his teammates aren’t letting it become a distraction. Just ask De’Anthony Thomas.
“That’s his decision,” explained the freshman phenom. “I’m happy for him and good luck to him. I would miss him if he was gone. Just being around him has motivated me to work hard and be a great leader. My job has been to contribute off him and he’s been my motivation.”
If anyone is excited for the matchup in Pasadena, it is Thomas. He grew up in the L.A. area and loves the chance to play in front of friends and family.
“It’s a great feeling to play back home,” said Thomas. “It’s just a great feeling to make it to the Rose Bowl. I know our team can’t wait, and we’ll see what happens.”
Speaking of which, a lot has been made about Wisconsin’s offensive prowess with good reason. The Badgers’ running back Montee Ball is a one-man scoring machine, and their quarterback Russell Wilson is a dual-threat. But the Ducks aren’t overlooking their defense, either.
“They’re really good,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry smile. “They’re rock-solid end to end. Up front, they’re very good. Their linebackers are spectacular, and might be the two best guys we’ve played all year. They have tremendous tacklers in their secondary.”
There lies the challenge for the speedy Oregon offense.
“You don’t see anyone run out of tackles against these guys,” Helfrich stated. “When we get in a one-on-one situation, we try to make the guy miss. That doesn’t happen too often with these guys. They’re incredibly sound in what they do.”
Moving onto to some other stuff, I want to make some things clear about my views on the meteoric success of Tim Tebow and his Denver Broncos. I don’t dislike the guy, but I haven’t been ready to crown him as the greatest thing going in sports at the moment.
Sure, he’s been leading great drives in the final two minutes. However, hasn’t Denver’s defense had a role in setting him up for all those heroic comebacks? They’ve been playing out of their minds the past few weeks.
For that matter, how the other teams have executed have had something to do with it, too. It seems like the opponents have played their usual schemes for three quarters well on Tebow, and then go (inexplicably) to a prevent defense. Hasn’t any squad learned that the only thing a prevent does is prevent you from winning?
That’s particularly true against Tebow. While he doesn’t have the most accurate arm, he can inexplicably throw it on the money when the defensive backs are giving his receivers plenty of room. It happened in the most recent miracle last Sunday against Chicago.
The Bears were leading 10-0 with a couple minutes left in the game, and had been aggressive against Tebow all day. Then, they started playing soft and Tebow burned them for a touchdown that was the catalyst for another storybook affair.
But, in all fairness, Chicago’s defense wasn’t ultimately the reason they ended up losing 13-10 in overtime to the Broncos. You can blame that one on the Bears’ running back Marion Barber.
All he had to do on what should’ve been their final possession was take the handoffs and stay in bounds. That’s something you learn at the Pop Warner level when you have a lead and the other guys are out of timeouts. Instead, Barber decided to run towards the sidelines and got pushed into the Chicago bench.
What a chowder head. If anything, he’s more responsible for the Broncos’ last win than Tebow. Did Tebow stop the clock for Denver in that situation, providing more than enough time to then tie the game? No.
Like I said, I don’t hate Tebow. I’m merely saying there have been other factors at work and I’ll wait a little longer before putting him in the same conversation of quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
With that, I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. But check back here next Sunday, when I will have a very special column for you to read.
Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.