May 10, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
A look back at Oregon’s month of practices that culminated in the Spring Game on April 30.
Where things stood: The Ducks entered the offseason in an enviable position. Returning starter Royce Freeman ran for a UO-record 1,836 yards as a sophomore last season, with 17 touchdowns. In a field crowded with top sophomore running backs, he more than held his own nationally. Freeman ranked fourth in the FBS in rushing, and was the only player in the nation to account for 100 yards from scrimmage in every game. Also back were all the key reserves; the trio of Taj Griffin, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James combined to run 23 times for 254 yards against California last fall, averaging 11 yards per carry.
What happened in April: Freeman looked fast and powerful on the touches he got this spring, but he was a known quantity. More reps were spent sorting out the other backs, and how their varying skills might best be exploited this fall. At the onset of April, Griffin was generally next in the rotation, but over the course of the month Benoit and Brooks-James also played prominent roles. Benoit stood out in the spring of 2015 for his improved conditioning and accompanying quickness, and that was no different this spring. He had one of the best highlights of the Spring Game, breaking two tackles on a 48-yard run to set up his own short touchdown run on the next play. Griffin and Brooks-James spent some time learning slot receiver responsibilities, the better to get them out in space and take advantage of their speed. Brooks-James ran 12 times for 75 yards in the Spring Game, while Griffin sat out.
Who to watch in August: With no recruits on the way, the two main storylines in August will be getting Freeman geared up for the season while protecting his health, and further establishing the roles for the backups. Griffin in particular looks like a versatile weapon in two-back sets, although that of course would mean having him on the field at the expense of a receiver or tight end. The Ducks have a wide array of offensive weapons, and the deep running back stable is a key component.
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