Tra Carson

Wouldn’t Now be a Great Time to Have Those Transfers Back?

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With less than a week remaining before the Oregon Ducks take to Autzen Stadium for the Spring Game, one of if not THE biggest questions going in will be who takes over as starting running back for the departed Kenjon Barner? Running backs coach Gary Campbell seems to think that man is De’Anthony Thomas, as does DAT himself.

[gn_quote style=”1″]“De’Anthony (Thomas) is obviously our most experienced running back right now, and if Byron can step up and take on more carries and have De’Anthony still move in and out of that tazer position, so be it,” Campbell said. “But De’Anthony wants to play running back. I can tell he’s really excited about the fact he’s in there at that spot, and he feels like that’s his position. And as far as I’m concerned it is, unless we need him to do something else.”[/gn_quote]

Here’s how the depth at running back looks right now:

  1. De’Anthony Thomas
  2. Byron Marshall
  3. Thomas Tyner (incoming freshman not currently with team)
  4. Ayele Forde/Kenny Bassett

Thomas certainly brings the biggest name and most experience into the season, but the 5’9″ 176 lbs back from Crenshaw High School doesn’t seem to have the size to be an every down back like Barner and LaMichael James before him. The Ducks will look to use a “running back by committee” scheme next season, but it’s disappointing to think about how good the unit could have been.

Dontae Williams (left), Will Lyles (center), Lache Seastrunk (right)
Dontae Williams (left), Will Lyles (center), Lache Seastrunk (right)

Oregon’s 2010 recruiting class included three sensational running backs. There was Josh Huff (moved to wide receiver), Dontae Williams (transferred to San Diego State after a redshirt season) and lastly being consensus 5-star Lache Seastrunk.

Seastrunk (1,012 yards on 131 rushes, 7.7 YPC) had a monster season with Baylor last year, but really burst onto the season with a 185-yard performance against Kansas State to crush the Wildcats’ perfect season.

Seastrunk averaged 25.9 yards per game through the first seven games, and 138.6 per game for the last six. He even said this offseason that he expects to win the Heisman in 2013.

Another sensational running back back in Tra Carson from Texarkana, Tex. left the program for Texas A&M. Carson is sitting behind a stable of strong backs in College Station, but he is now able to play closer to home. Ultimately, Carson would have been behind Barner and Thomas on the bench for another season, and possibly longer behind Thomas.

DAT, who also signed with the Ducks in the class of 2011, and Carson would have made for a great “Thunder and Lighting” tandem. Both saw playing time right away, including action in the season opener against LSU.

Oregon’s lone running back recruit of the 2012 class was 4-star bruiser Byron Marshall. The 5’10” 210 lbs Marshall provides a literal sizable solution to the void left by Barner. With small backs like Thomas on the depth chart, Marshall can be a potential every-down-back or come in for goaline and big play situations. Last season he rushed 87 times for 447 yards and four touchdowns, with most of his time being with backup lineman and obvious running situations. Yet he was still able to put up strong numbers.

The last member to compete for the starting job will be Thomas Tyner, a 5-star all-American and one of two RB commitments to the class of 2013. Tyner is the only one of the potential starters not currently with the team. The senior from Aloha High School is finishing up his education in Beaverton and will join the team in the summer for camp.

Along with great power, Tyner has unbelievable speed. His unofficial 40-yard dash is 4.38 secs. To put that into context, the illustrious Thomas’ time was listed by Rivals as a 4.41 coming out of high school. That means Tyner might even be faster than the Black Momba!

So what have we learned from this?

I think we all knew that the transfers were going to catch up with the Ducks eventually, and now they have. With just one of the three still on the team (Seastrunk, Williams or Carson), Oregon would have little to no worries heading into the season. Oregon may be fine, but the numerous transfers will ultimately be a hinderance. Now, they’ll have to hope Thomas stays healthy, Marshall and the other reserves step up into bigger roles and that all-American recruit Tyner is all he’s claimed to be.

Comment below and vote below. Who do you think will be Oregon’s starting running back next season? Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter @EugneDailyNews

Oregon’s football transfers find success elsewhere

Some football teams struggle to find 11 capable players on each side of the ball. For the Ducks, the wealth is overwhelming at some spots, with quite possibly the nation’s most explosive player in De’Anthony Thomas not even listed at a top spot on the depth chart.

Recently for the Ducks, the problem hasn’t been finding premier talent, it has been keeping it around and out of the hands of others.

For athletes who don’t think they will get the chance they deserve or don’t think they will break out of a pack of equally-skilled cohorts, transferring has become a popular option across college football, and Oregon has seen some premier talent head for the door, with one player in particular now set to face his old team on the grandest of stages.

Chris Harper, former Oregon quarterback then wideout, was the Kansas State Wildcats’ leading receiver this season, with 50 catches for 786 yards and three touchdowns. A Kansas-grown, highly versatile athlete, Harper played tailback and quarterback in high school and came to Oregon in 2008 first listed as a passer, but he played a utility role.

In the Ducks’ season opener that year against Washington, Harper rushed the ball 12 times for 60 yards and a score, mostly from the quarterback position after taking over for injured Oregon quarterbacks Nate Costa and Justin Roper and then relieving Jeremiah Masoli in garbage time. In week two he threw for the first time, passing for 40 yards and a touchdown on four of six attempts while also rushing for 25 yards and a touchdown.  

In week three in overtime against Purdue he rushed from the shotgun for a total of 14 yards on the final possession to setup a game-winning LeGarrette Blount score.

Week four against Boise State was the beginning of the end for Harper as a quarterback. He was zero of three passing with two picks and just 21 rush yards on nine attempts in an injury-forced relief role, and Oregon opted for fifth-string redshirt quarterback Darron Thomas in the fourth quarter due to Harper’s inability.

Harper would switch to receiver after the Boise State loss and by seasons end he tallied nine catches for 122 yards and two receiving scores, 35 rushes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, logging no more passing stats after Boise State.

He left Oregon after the ’08 season for close-to-home Kansas State. In his three seasons there, he has improved as a pass-catcher, having caught a total of 115 passes for 1,663 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Harper will line up as starting receiver against the Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl, but will not see any familiar faces on the field, as no active Ducks’ players shared the field with Harper during his time at UO.

Another former Duck that has seen success after leaving Eugene is current Baylor starting tailback Lache Seastrunk. A product of Texas who also moved closer to home in favor of staying at Oregon, Seastrunk has come on strong in the last five weeks of his debut year with Baylor, grabbing the starting role while rushing for over 138 yards per game with six total trips to the end zone. Baylor will face UCLA in the Holiday Bowl later this month.  

Other former Ducks who are currently playing, or soon may, include: Dontae Williams, Tra Carson, Tacoi Sumler, Nick Cole and Mike Bowlin.

Williams left the crowded UO backfield just like his recruiting classmate Seastrunk and played this last season at a junior college. Rumor has it he may transfer to San Diego State for next year. Carson, who came to Oregon as Seastrunk and Williams left, rushed for 254 yards and a score in 2011 for the Ducks but left for Texas A&M in 2012 and will be eligible to play next year. His transfer made him the third tailback from Texas to transfer away from Oregon in the last two years.

Sumler, a touted receiving recruit, redshirted in 2011 and has left for Appalachian State to play next year. Cole played receiver for Northern Arizona this year and Bowlin handled kickoffs and punting for Washington State.

Report: Running back Tra Carson set to transfer

Freshman Oregon running back Tra Carson will transfer from Oregon, according to The Register-Guard.

Carson, a 6-foot, 227 pound native of Texarkana, Texas, ranked fourth among Oregon running backs in 2011 with 45 carries for 254 yards and a touchdown. With the departure of James to the NFL, he was expected to fill a backup role behind Kenjon Barner in 2012.

The true freshman hinted at his intent to leave with a Twitter post early this morning, which read, “Dont know what color uniform im going to be in next year.” As of now, it is unclear what prompted him to make the decision.

Carson joins Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams as the third running back to leave Oregon since 2010.

A New Chapter Begins….

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

We knew it was likely, and now a new chapter begins for Oregon football.  Mere days after the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, star running back LaMichael James made it official on Friday by announcing that he would forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

LaMichael James is taking his talents to the next level. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

“It really was a difficult decision,” said James. “Especially after winning the big game and sharing that moment with my teammates. It was kind of like that you don’t want to go out another way.”

The 2010 Doak Walker Award winner rewrote the record books during his three years as a Duck. He’s scored the most points with 348, and his 58 touchdowns are the most overall. For that matter, his career 5,082 rushing yards rank second all-time in Pac-12 Conference history. Still, with all he’s accomplished, James said it was a tough choice to walk away from people he now considers family.

“I love my (running backs) coach (Gary Campbell) to the end and I’ll always be a part of his life,” he explained. “That, and not being in the locker room with my teammates will be very difficult for me.”

LaMichael James will finish as Oregon's all-time leading scorer and rusher. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

In the end, however, he believes there’s not much more he can accomplish playing in college. That, and he’s only a couple courses away from graduating.

“Ultimately, it came down to almost having my degree,” James stated. “I’ve also achieved just about everything that I possibly can at this level. I could win the Heisman or the BCS Title, but that’s just not likely. I feel like I’m going out with a bang.”

Now that he’s officially decided to go pro, James is excited to be able to have a chance at doing something only so many can consider a legitimate possibility.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve thought about playing in the NFL all my life. Who wouldn’t? I’m glad I can come a step closer to accomplishing those goals.”

James considers the chance to play on Sundays a dream come true. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

He’ll soon hire an agent, and will begin training for the February scouting combine in Indianapolis.  With any luck, the 5’9, 195 pounder hopes he can defy the logic of where he’ll finish in the draft.

“The draft advisory board told me I could be picked as high as the third round,” he clamied. “Right now, I’m hoping to go in the second round depending on how I perform at the combine.”

With all the stuff he’s preparing for in the next phase, James hasn’t had much time to look back at the standard he’s set at Oregon. Unquestionably, though, he’s raised the bar for future Ducks and is proud to have played in Eugene.

“It’s probably the best time I’ve ever had in my life, he explained. “It has taught me a lot of different lessons, and I think the credit has to go to head coach Chip Kelly as well as coach Campbell. I’ve never really been on a resilient team where everybody puts the team before each other and there are no independent superstars. This year’s team that won the Rose Bowl was the best by far where teammates are concerned.”

LaMichael hasn't had the chance to look back at his many accomplishments at Oregon. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Now the guy who is, arguably, greatest running back in Oregon history is ready to take on the challenges of the NFL as easily as he dodged so many opposing defensive players at Autzen Stadium.

“I feel like I can be successful at the next level,” James said. “After that, I feel like I’ll be successful at whatever career path I choose.”

For the record, I think LaMichael could surprise some people in the pros. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be an every down back, but could definitely make an impact as a situational player or on special teams.

The Oregon running game will also move along fine with Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, and Tra Carson still in the stable.  By the same token, there will never be another guy moved the way James did. There may also not be another one who could stay so humble no matter how brightly his star shined in the Willamette Valley.

From a reporter’s standpoint, he was always willing to answer my questions in a respectful manner.  I wish him the best and hope I can get a word in with him from time to time wherever he winds up.

Now then, let’s move onto a few other items. First off, it is still very hard to get a good read on the Oregon men’s basketball team. The Ducks looked ready to take on the upper tier of the Pac-12 conference on Thursday with a solid 78-67 win against Stanford.

Dana Altman needs his Ducks to be a little more consistent if they're going to make the postseason. (Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Oregon didn’t follow up on that performance on Sunday in a deflating 77-60 loss to Cal.  Head coach Dana Altman didn’t hesitate listing the reasons for the defeat.

“There were a number of things we needed to work on,” he said. “We had the opportunities, but we gave up easy baskets. The tempo favored Cal in the second half and they had it going for them.”

No question about it.  The Ducks battled the Bears for 20 minutes, and only trailed 30-27 at halftime.  Then Allen Crabbe got hot for Cal, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.  At the same time, Oregon simply couldn’t match them shot for shot.

But perhaps the real reason the Ducks dropped a tough one at Matt Knight Arena was the inconsistent play of Devoe Joseph.  The 6’4 guard could do no wrong against the Cardinal when he led all scorers with 30 points.

Yet on Sunday, Joseph had trouble getting it going early and only had five points in the first half (and a total of 14 on the night).

If this talented, but young, Oregon team is going to find its way into postseason, they’ll need to get some more consistency from Joseph as well as get a little tougher on defense.  This coming week will be a challenge for them as they head on the road to play the Arizona schools.

Should they get a split on that trip, they might just keep themselves in the race for a very reachable Pac-12 title.  I certainly like the potential of this team. If they can play like they did against Stanford, then they’ve got a very decent shot at getting Oregon’s first NCAA bid since 2008. But they’ve got to clean up their mistakes sooner than later.

When it comes to the Oregon women’s basketball team, however, I’m not as sold. Sure, those Ducks have an overall 9-7 record, but are 1-3 in Pac-12 play. Moreover, they games they’ve lost haven’t been close.  They got pasted 90-67 on Saturday against Cal, and were walloped 93-70 two night prior at Stanford. (Though, in fairness, almost everyone loses badly to the Cardinal these days).

For Oregon to have any chance to be successful on a given evening, they’ll need to have both Nia Jackson and Amanda Johnson healthy. They recently got back Jackson, but Johnson is still out with an injured thumb.

Thus, for an otherwise very young squad, wins are going to be very hard to come by. If anyone can eventually turn this program around, head coach Paul Westhead is more than capable. But it looks like season number three of the rebuilding project is going to be a very long one indeed.

Switching to the prep level, the Sheldon boys seem to be putting things together. On Thursday, the Irish prevailed over Marist 66-64.  They’re now 3-1 in the Midwestern League play, and it looks like head coach Ron Lampe has another solid squad on his hands.  Time will tell as the season goes on, but with Connor Strahm and Dillon Miller as spectacular on the court as they are on the gridiron, you’ve got to like their chances down the stretch.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sporty Holiday Memories

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— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

We all have our Christmas memories, don’t we? I remember, as an eight year-old in the Seattle area, receiving a replica Seahawks’ helmet with a Jim Zorn jersey. That was the first year I became interested in sports and the passion has grown ever since. But this day can mean so many different things to people.

Former Seahawk Jim Zorn, now a quarterbacks coach at Kansas City, had his number on a jersey that Sam Finley got for Christmas. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“Christmas is Christmas,” said running back De’Anthony Thomas. “It is one of my favorite holidays. I can’t wait for it, and hope to have a great Christmas as well as get some great birthday presents (ten days later on January 5th).”

With that in mind, I spent the last week of the Ducks’ football practices asking various players and coaches what their memories were during the holiday season.

“I don’t know where to start,” said UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “We always have a great time at Christmas. I come from a big family and, when I was a young boy, we’d all get together at my grandmother’s house.  There’d be all kind of great fish frying, calamari, crab, and shrimp.  You name it. I have many great memories of getting presents and eating until we couldn’t see straight.”

Funny, but this can be a day that can, despite whatever differences we have, show how similar we are to one another.  For example, coach Aliotti came from the Bay Area, which is nothing like the state of Texas.  Yet freshman running back Tra Carson, who grew up in Texarkana, tells an almost identical story.

“We’d all meet up at my grandma’s house,” explained running back Tra Carson. “Everyone would exchange gifts there, and we’ll probably do the same thing this year.”

Coming back to the Bay, linebacker Michael Clay’s tale is a little more unique.

Oregon linebacker Michael Clay (number 46) has had some unique Christmas experiences. (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“My mother came from a big, Mexican family,” said Clay. “So they were always dancing and partying until about three in the morning. But we always went to church, and I always remember that.”

And that was just one side of the family.

“My dad and I were always on the road,” Clay continued. “We’d always have to go see relatives that were kind of spread all around the Bay Area. So I have memories of being with my dad in the car, as well as being with my mom’s family, too.”

Of course, much like my helmet and jersey, there’s always a gift or two you never forget.

“There are two,” claimed Aliotti. “I remember getting a bicycle, as well as receiving my first baseball glove.”

“I got a bike when I was in the third grade,” stated Clay. “More recently, however, I’m very fond of the iPod Touch I got from my parents because I still use it. I’ve got a bunch of songs from about every genre for music.”

Then again, you also never forget about a little sibling rivalry, either.

“I’ve always been a Dallas Cowboys’ fan,” said UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry grin. “So I always got Cowboys’ pajamas.  My brother got Philadelphia Eagles’ pajamas, so there was a little brotherly feud there.”

All things considered, the Ducks’ ultimate Christmas gift may have already been unwrapped.

“Getting to the Rose Bowl is a great feeling for my freshman year,” said Thomas. “I feel like each year should be better and better.”

Or has it? After three consecutive BCS Bowl appearances, what Oregon would really like under their stocking is a trophy that comes with a victory.

“A Rose Bowl win would definitely be on the list for sure,” Helfrich explained.

That being said, let’s talk a bit about the wonderful stuff that comes from sports.  My longtime friend and now-retired Register Guard sports editor Ron Bellamy used to say that athletes gave us all a gift every time they competed. He’d go on to say that it was our job, as sports journalists, to simply unwrap the presents.

I couldn’t agree more. If you see your team give it their all in a close game, you’ve witnessed something awesome. I (Conversely, if they deliver a subpar effort, I’m sure you’d like to give them a lump of coal).

De'Anthony Thomas' birthday comes shorty after Christmas, so he gets a fair share of presents. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

But win or lose, if they give 100% on the court, the track or the field, then they’ve given you the most for your valued entertainment time. Let’s remember that, particularly with college age kids here in Eugene, whether it’s an impressive Duck victory over Stanford or a painful defeat to USC.

Now then, I won’t lie and say everything is great about Christmas. Having worked retail for five years too many, I’ve sworn that I’ll never step into a shopping mall on Christmas Eve again.  There’s just too much pettiness and nastiness over stuff that really isn’t worth having.

I will also never, ever, listen to a certain Chipmunks’ song without having the urge to reach for a mallet. However, I won’t bore you with some of my no-so-favorite things.

Instead, I will simply say to enjoy being around the people you care about the most.  Or, if you cannot be with them on this holiday, call them and say how much you’d wish they were here.

As usual, I’d like to say more, but I’ve got to get on with some holiday fesitivites.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

NO MOUNTAIN RETREAT…

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By Sam Finley, EDN

How the mighty have fallen.  The last time Oregon played Colorado was in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.  Joey Harrington, Onterrio Smith, and Maurice Morris lit up the Buffaloes 38-16 that day, propelling them to a number two national ranking.  Back then, a win over Colorado meant a lot more.

Onterrio Smith was playing at Oregon when they last faced Colorado. (Photo Credit: John Giustina)

See, Colorado used to be a Big-12 football power, but the program has deteriorated over the past decade. It might be why they decided a conference change was in order and, along with Utah, joined what is now the Pac-12.

This squad is clearly a work in progress.  They have an overall record of 1-6, and it may take a couple years before they even have a chance of being truly competitive.  However, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has made it clear his eighth-ranked Ducks will not overlook their new conference foe.

“I see a team that’s well coached,” said Kelly about the Buffaloes. “I think (Colorado head coach) Jon Embree has done a really good job despite the adversity they have faced.  When I turn on the tape, all I look at is how hard a team plays.  Those guys play hard no matter what the score is.”

It is true that Colorado has mustered some decent efforts as of late.  They stuck with Stanford for a half, before reality kicked in and the Cardinal rolled to a 48-7 victory.  Moreover, football is a game that if you make too many mistakes (see Indiana circa 2004) anyone can beat you.  So Oregon should not look at their trip to Boulder as a mountain retreat.

At the same time, this should be a rest day for Darron Thomas and LaMichael James if they are not 100%.  Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas, and Tra Carson have shown they can carry the rushing load in LaMichael’s absence.  And why would Chip Kelly risk the health of Darron Thomas, especially after Bryan Bennett’s solid performance in the 41-27 win over Arizona State?

Chip Kelly was right to say 'shut up' on Saturday night. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

So how does this play out? Unless Oregon takes a nap, then this should be an easy game on Saturday.  Colorado simply doesn’t have the depth to compete with the Ducks for four quarters. Something tells me that common sense will prevail, and the backups will be in the spotlight again as the Ducks tame the Buffaloes 52-13.

Now that the prediction of the upcoming game is out of the way, let’s briefly talk about something that happened after the last one.  After the game against ASU was completed, Chip Kelly went to do the obligatory post-game interview with ESPN’s Erin Andrews.  One of the rowdy young fans was loudly shouting while Kelly was trying to listen to Andrews’ questions, and was told to shut up.

For some reason, some people think that Kelly’s tact in handling the situation was a bit rude.  But anyone who believes this to be the case has never had to conduct an interview before.  There are some situations that are calmer than others, but is tough for the interviewer (and interviewee) to do their job when people are behaving like buffoons for a few seconds on TV.

At the end of the day, as glamorous as some of you think a sports journalist’s gig might be, that’s what it is for people like Erin Andrews: A job. (As well as people like me, though on a much smaller pay scale…but that’s a topic for another day).  It is her means of being able to pay her bills.

Former Oregon Cheerleadr Amanda Pflugrad is the focus of Sam Finley's article on Friday. (Photo Courtesy: Amanda Pflugrad)

What if someone was making sounds like a chimpanzee at your place of business while you were trying to get some work done?  Wouldn’t you demand that the knucklehead put a sock in it?  That’s what I thought.  No question, Chip did the right thing.

Now then, it’s time to preview an upcoming article that will be coming out this week.  Former Oregon cheerleader Amanda Pflugrad was unable to see her brother (ASU receiver Aaron Pflugrad) play this past Saturday, but she will be back in Eugene in two weeks for the Washington State game.

Since graduating from the U of O in 2010, she has relocated to Phoenix and has landed a very nice broadcasting gig with Fox Sports Arizona.   I spoke with her recently and have concluded that she is more than just a pretty face.  Look for my interview on Friday and you’ll understand why.

Until then, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN Sports editor since June 2011.  Send him your feedback or story ideas to [email protected]

 

The Future Can Happen Sooner Than You Think…

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By Sam Finley, EDN

It’s amazing how one image can look worse than it is.  Take LaMichael James’ elbow injury during the Ducks’ 43-15 win against Cal.  The Oregon running back had to be carted off early in the fourth quarter after dislocating the ligament.  But until he came in after the game, the speculation was his college football career might be over.  Even James said he doesn’t want to look at any replays of what happened.

“I’ve seen it live,” joked LaMichael in a Tuesday media session. “I don’t need a picture or video to see it again, and I don’t ever want to.”

Kenjon Barner could be starting this Saturday. (Photo Credit: Rick Morgan)

James has reiterated that he will play again, and his arm is healing.

“It’s just swollen right now,” he said.  “Once the swelling goes down, I’ll be okay.”

Still, while he could play again as early as this Saturday, there is timetable for his return.

“I’lI know more when I speak to the (team) doctors,” James stated. “They’re going to make the right decision.  If I’m able to be back out there, they’ll give me the okay.  But if I’m not, then they’re going to give me the no.”

Should LaMichael James not be cleared for action this week, he believes the depth at running back will be enough to keep the Ducks moving at full speed.

“I think we’ll be fine,” he explained. “That’s why I’m not going to push my recovery and jeopardize my career here. We have some of the best running backs in the country.  Kenjon Barner is one of the best backs in the Pac-12.  De’ Anthony Thomas is a phenomenal player, and so is Tra Carson.  I’m really confident that those guys can get the job done.”

They might have to.  If anything can be proven from LaMichael’s ‘day-to-day’ status is that the future can happen sooner than you think.  Yes, James will likely play again this season, but suddenly next year’s plans could be implemented as early as the next game.

Kenjon Barner is probably going to be the starting running back in 2012 (since LMJ will likely turn pro at the end of this season). Now he might become the most experienced back on the field. Barner believes that everyone will need to raise their level of play if his best friend can’t go.

“Everybody has to step up,” he said on Thursday after the Cal game. “LaMichael is a huge part of the team as well as the running game. So if he can’t play, we’ll all have to pick our jobs up and pick up the slack.”

That would include the younger backs behind Barner. Freshman De’Anthony Thomas has shown definite flashes of brilliance, but now the Ducks may need him to grow up a little sooner.  The same can be said for Tra Carson.

Life in the world of football can be strange sometimes.  All the talk before the elbow injury was about how LaMichael James had regained his stride and might’ve gotten himself back into the Heisman Trophy race.  However, one play really can change everything.

Perhaps James comes back on Saturday.  Or he could be out a few weeks.

Keep some other things in mind, too.  It wasn’t long ago that Kenjon Barner was on the injured reserve list, and one wrong cutback or devastating hit could put him back there.  The same could happen to either De’Anthony or Tra.  You really can’t say what could happen until the ball is snapped.

That being said, what does this all mean for a critical game against Arizona State?  While I will be shocked if LaMichael James plays this Saturday, I won’t be surprised.  This is a very tough kid, and he may just get the green light.  But if he doesn’t, even though the Sun Devils have one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, I agree with his assessment that the running game will keep moving this weekend. Much like the injury he suffered last week, things really aren’t that bad.

Barner would be a starter on almost any other college team, and is not even really considered a backup at Oregon.

“We look at LaMichael as number one and Kenjon as 1a,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

De'Anthony Thomas will be taking more handoffs if LaMichael James is out against ASU. (Photo Credit: Rick Morgan)

De’Anthony has proven he can make it happen as a running back or as a receiver.  The only thing that would change in LaMichael’s absence is that he’d be taking a few more handoffs than usual.  And if he does line up at wideout, it will mean that Kenjon or Tra will be in the backfield.

In other words, you can breathe a sigh of relief if you’re a Duck fan.  But since there are two potential scenarios out there, I have to give two separate predictions.  

In either case, the Oregon defense will have an opportunity to finally get a takeaway or two against a very talented, but mistake prone Arizona State offense.  On the flipside, and as stated earlier, ASU has a great defense and could give the Oregon offense a problem or two (LaMichael or no).

But in both situations, I see the Ducks coming out ahead. The only difference will be in the amount of scoring.  With that, here’s my prediction with LaMichael in the game:  Oregon 42, ASU 24.  Without him?  Let’s say Oregon 38, ASU 24.

In either case, it’s going to be a wild weekend, especially with ESPN GameDay in town. 
So enjoy every moment, no matter what happens.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  Send him your feedback or story ideas to: [email protected]

DUCK FOOTBALL: Patient, But Powerful

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Tra Carson never had a shortage of football while growing up in Texarkana, Texas.  He’ll even concede that it’s almost like a religion in that part of the country.

“Football is a big part life in Texas,” said Carson. “If you go to any city on Friday night, and everyone is basically at the high school football games or they’re listening on the radio.”

Tra Carson is considered very mature for a freshman.

Then again, the Oregon freshman running back didn’t just go to any high school.  Carson played at Liberty-Eylau, which also produced another Duck you might’ve heard of: LaMichael James.  But Tra is quick to playfully dismiss any mythical qualities that might be associated with the institution.

“I think it has to do with the coaching,” he laughed about his alma mater. “We have some great coaching over there to help us perform in ways, I guess, that other schools can’t.  But really, a lot of great athletes have come out of the state of Texas.”

While Carson may have attended the same high school as LaMichael, he’s not necessarily the same type of running back.  Standing at 6’0 and weighing 227 pounds, Tra is probably able to use his size in ways that the smaller and speedier guys like James, Kenjon Barner, and De’Anthony Thomas can’t.

“I’m more of a power back,” stated Carson. “But I’ve got some moves, too.”

Carson’s teammates agree with that assessment, considering him to be potential change of pace for the Oregon running game.

“He’s one of our strongest runners,” said quarterback Darron Thomas. “He’s more of a power guy, but he’s got good speed. He’s very agile for his size.”

The agility that Carson possesses might make him fast enough to play for a Pac-12 program, but said the pacing has been the biggest adjustment he’s had to make since switching to the college game.

“The speed of the game is different,” claimed Carson. “It’s a very physical game.  Without question, it’s a lot different from high school.”

Tra also believes the dietary standards are a bit different at the higher level, too.

Carson ran for 82 yards against Missouri State. (Photo Courtesy: goDucks.com)

“I try to have a little more fruit,” he said with a slight grin. “Growing up as a kid, all you want to have is fast food.  But coming up here, you have to maintain a certain weight, so I try to stay away from that.”

What Carson hasn’t had to stay away from is the support of his fellow running backs like James and Barner.

“They just try to teach you to practice hard every day,” said Carson. “They’ve told me not to count my reps, but to make every rep count.”

Tra has taken their advice, and the coaches have taken notice.

“I think Tra’s progression has been outstanding,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “He’s one of those kids that came in here, and I mean this as a compliment, and was never a freshman.  From day one, he’s just picked things up with a great deal of maturity.  I just kind of knew within the first three days of camp that he had what it took from a mentality standpoint to play early here.”

“Tra is doing really well,” explained running backs coach Gary Campbell. “He doesn’t make a lot of errors. When guys play that way, they’re going to get to play more.”

Tra can smile and patiently wait for more playing time.

Carson has made the most of his playing time.  He ran for 82 yards on nine carries during the Ducks’ 56-7 rout against Missouri State.  Tra is also currently Oregon’s third leading rusher this season with 6.4 yards per carry.

“It’s fun,” he said about the playing time he’s received. “I just keep working hard, so I can get better each and every day, as well as continue to please the coaches.”

Of course, Tra Carson can only get so many carries in a game, when there are three other very talented backs on the squad.  But right now, he’s content to play whatever role is asked of him and wait for his chances accordingly.

“It doesn’t really frustrate me,” he claimed. “I’m just trying to come in, do my part, and be patient. I’m not trying to rush anything, because I know my time will come.”

Darron Thomas leads new Oregon starters into LSU contest

He may be wearing a different number on his jersey this season, but there’s no question Darron Thomas is still the No. 1 man at the head of the Oregon offense.

After switching to No. 5 this offseason and giving his old No. 1 to sophomore wide receiver Josh Huff, Thomas is set to be the first returning starting quarterback since Chip Kelly joined the Oregon program in 2007.

Thomas certainly made a name for himself as a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer last season, and proved his toughness in a very physical BCS National Championship Game last January. He spent the spring and summer keeping Oregon primed and ready for its first season in the Pac-12 North Division and will be rewarded with a trip to his home state of Texas to play the No. 4 LSU Tigers on Saturday.

Thomas and Huff are both Houston natives, while junior LaMichael James (Texarkana), freshmen Anthony Wallace (Dallas), Brennan Doty (Port Neches), Tra Carson (Texarkana) and sophomore Blake Cantu (Southlake) will each be making their first, and likely last, appearances in Texas during their Oregon careers.

It’s an opportunity that Thomas and Huff both said they’ve been looking forward to for some time, considering many of their friends and family will be spectators for the first time since moving to the Pacific Northwest.

“Oh, trying to keep the pressure off, but it is a little pressure that their coming out,” Thomas said. “Getting their first time to watch me, it’s a lot of their first times watching a lot of us play. So it’s a little bit of pressure, but we’re not really too worried about it.”

Thomas spearheads the nation’s leading offense from a year ago with three new starters surrounding him. Walk-on wide receiver Justin Hoffman, a 2008 Churchill High School graduate, will make his first start after working his way into a scholarship last spring.

Up front, redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu is expected to make his collegiate debut at center, filling a major void left by the graduation of two-year starter Jordan Holmes. By his side will be first-time starter Ramsen Golpashin at right guard, also a walk-on from Saugus, Calif.

The Ducks have experience up front, but the losses of C.E. Keiser and Bo Thran, in addition to Holmes, are sure to be felt in the early going. With junior Carson York and senior Mark Asper helping the younger guys along through fall camp, communication has been a major focus.

“Once you narrow down the playbook, then it narrows down the amount of calls that you have to be able to make,” said Asper, the 6-foot-7, 325-pound right tackle. “During fall camp, you have to prepare for every play, every formation and anything can happen at practice. But when you start game planning for somebody, that gets cut down to about a quarter.”

It’s been two years since Oregon has truly had questions to answer along the offensive line, which resulted in a sloppy season-opening loss at Boise State in 2009. York, a 6-5, 292-pound guard out of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, made his first collegiate start in Boise and went on to start in 12 of Oregon’s 13 games that season opposite Asper.

“It starts up front,” Kelly said. “Whenever we’ve been very successfully offensively its because of those guys.”

Fortunately for the Ducks, LSU features a similar youthfulness to its defensive front. With only two seniors — defensive end Kendrick Adams and defensive tackle Dennis Johnson — on the roster, the Tigers have six sophomores and six freshmen in the mix up front with three juniors also expected to contribute.

As a team, LSU allowed more than 307 yards of total offense per game (137.3 on the ground and another 169.8 through the air) last season, while posting just over 341 yards of offense per contest.

On the other hand, Oregon rushed for more than 286 yards per game and gained another 244 through the air in leading the nation with 530.7 yards of total offense that led to a 47-point scoring average.

And when Asper was asked what the particular focuses would be for Oregon during its final week of practice would be?

“Nothing extravagant,” he said. “The focus has been on good technique. They’re big and athletic and when you play big, athletic people, it comes down to technique and the little things: hand placement, leverage, speed, knowledge of the game.”

Running Better Than Ever

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Kenjon Barner had an interesting experience this summer.  In fact, it was a first for the Oregon junior halfback from Riverside, California.

“I got a job,” said Barner.  “I sold Power Bands at the Valley River Center, and I learned that money comes hard.  But it was a great experience for a first job.”

Kenjon Barner is a Hornung Award candidate this season. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

That wasn’t the only thing Barner did during the month of July.  He could also be found with his fellow Ducks in the hot sun at voluntary conditioning drills, getting prepared for the upcoming season.  One of those teammates with him was, obviously, starting running back LaMichael James, who says he’s in much better shape now than the past two years.

“I got a lot stronger,” explained the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner. “There is no question I did a lot of great things as far as strength and conditioning.”

Indeed, LaMichael, who is once again a potential Heisman candidate, seems to be carrying a larger frame, as does Kenjon.  Though their respective weights appear the same in the U of O media guide, James (listed at 185) and Barner (listed at 180), it is quite obvious that both of them have added at least 15-20 pounds of rock-soild muscle.  Even more frightening to the Ducks opponents’, both James and Barner claim they are faster, too.

But while Oregon’s top two running backs’ physiques might’ve changed, one thing has remained the same.  LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are still the best of friends, even if they do have a disagreement on who holds a rather dubious title.

“LaMichael is a crybaby,” chuckled Kenjon.  “He cries about anything and everything.”

“I figure Kenjon would say something like that,” laughed LaMichael. “But Kenjon is the real crybay.  Ask him about crying at practice last year each and every day and see what he has to tell you about that.”

All kidding aside, perhaps the biggest attribute in their friendship is the way they motivate each other to reach a little higher.

“LaMichael makes you want to work hard when he comes out,” Barner explains.  “When I work hard I make LaMichael want to work. There may be days where one of us feels tired, but we never really let each other take the day off.”

That attitude may be more important as James and Barner are now upperclassmen and will be expected to take an even larger leadership role. So far, the younger backs have been respectful to two of the most accomplished players in Oregon history.

“They’re very good leaders,” said redshirt freshman Ayele Ford. “When it’s time to practice, they help me out with plays and whatever I need.  They’re also very good off the field as mentors.”

James and Barner have been mentoring some very talented running backs.  While five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk recently decided to transfer to Baylor, the cupboard is still very full. In addition to the speedy 5’7, 179 pound Forde, the Ducks have two other guys that could play a lot of Saturdays at Autzen.

There is the freshman De’Anthony Thomas from Los Angeles.  The 5’9 160 pound five-star recruit originally planned to sign with USC, before signing with Oregon at the last minute.

Another name to look out for is freshman Tra Carson.  Like LaMichael James, Carson is from Texarkana, Texas and played at Liberty-Eylau High School.  Unlike James, however, Carson is 6’0 and 227 pounds and could bring a much-needed physical change of pace to an otherwise finesse roster of backs.

Whoever winds up getting some handoffs come September, Barner and James like what they see with the new kids on the roster. 

“I’ve been impressed with them,” claimed Barner. “Tra is a big guy, but he moves like he’s 185 pounds.  De’Anthony is extremely intelligent, and they’ve both picked up on the offense very well.”

“I love Ayele Ford,” said James. “I think he’s an unsung hero on this team. He does everything right, breaks a lot of tackles, and could make a lot of big runs.”

LaMichael James is only 20 yards shy of becoming Oregon's all-time leading rusher. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

Of course, whatever big runs that Forde, Thomas, or Carson can make will likely be limited as James and Barner will get the bulk of the carries.  Having compiled 3,277 yards as Duck, LaMichael only needs 20 more to surpass Derek Loville as Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.  But for the soft-spoken James, it never has been about the accolades.

“I’m just taking it game-by-game,” he said about his expectations for 2011. “Hopefully, we win the first game, and then take it from there.  I only think about the game in front of me and winning the day. You can’t look ahead or think about anything else.”

As for Barner, he’s a potential candidate for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the most versatile player in college football.  Yet Kenjon isn’t concerned about setting a single-game touchdown record as he did with five last season against New Mexico.  In fact, since he missed two games last season after a nasty collision against WSU on a kickoff, his goals are pretty simple.

“My main goal is to stay healthy,” explained Barner. “I just want to stay healthy and complete a season without getting hurt.  That, and just being here with these guys, and getting on this field again.”

Both James and Barner understand that, with a successful 2011 campaign, Oregon could appear in a third consecutive BCS bowl game. They’re also pretty straight forward with what it will take to make that happen.

“We have to stay focused and practice hard every day,” stated James. “That’s the only way you can win games.

“We have to keep our mindset the same,” Barner opined. “We have to stay humble, and keep our nose to the grindstone.  If we do that, it’s going to be an exciting season.”

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback.