The Case for Kenjon (Barner)

Ed’s Note: Written by Jeff Spiegel

Immediately following the devastating Rose Bowl loss last January, the only positive Oregon headline in circulation read: “Kenjon Barner is the Lone Bright Spot for Oregon” (Los Angeles Times). For anyone who has forgotten the details of that game, that wasn’t a typo. It wasn’t Jeremiah Masoli or LaMichael James who carried the Ducks in the biggest game of the season; it was that other running back that kept it close. Said Chip Kelly after the game, “I know there’s a lot of negatives about tonight…but I get to spend three more years with Kenjon.”

You see, while everyone has spent the off-season touting LaMichael James, the breakout freshman from last season, it appears many people are passing over the explosive Barner. While many would claim they aren’t underestimating Barner, I’m asking you to consider the following: could Kenjon Barner actually be better than James?

On the face of it, the competition doesn’t seem that close. James was given four times the carries Barner was, and carried the ball for an astounding 6.7 yards per carry compared to Barner’s 6.0 YPC. Consider, however, that over the final eight games of the season, Barner’s averaged jumped to 7.2 YPC against defenses such as UCLA, ASU, USC, and Ohio State compared to James’ 7.0 against the same opponents. The reason to look at just these final eight games has nothing to do with the added importance of these games, but just the added grasp Barner had of the offense.

While James had the luxury of learning the system for an entire season during his redshirt year, Barner spent that time playing defensive back for the scout team. Last season, Barner was essentially a true freshman learning the offense on the fly after taking an entire season off. In addition to all this, Barner starred during his time on special teams last season, setting a single-season Duck record for kickoff return yardage, and figures to do more of the same this season. What I am trying to say is not that Kenjon Barner is definitively the best Duck running back on the roster, but that Barner hasn’t done anything to lead us to believe he can’t be.

To clarify further, none of this has anything to do with James. LaMichael is a freak, and figures to be one of the nation’s top running backs this season; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barner joined him in that group this season. During James’ Week One suspension, Barner will have the opportunity to make a statement regarding his place on the Oregon depth chart, and given the porous defense he’ll be facing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes that statement at the top of his lungs.

With as much talent as the Ducks have rotating around the running back position with both of these elite backs — and the addition of two of the most highly recruited backs in Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams — Chip Kelly’s task of spreading the ball around will most certainly be difficult. All this being said, that remains a problem most coaches wished they had.

Expect a lot more of this, this year:

“Focused” is Word of the Day as Oregon Ducks Open Fall Camp

This is the quiet before the storm.

We're gonna see a lot these three this year: LMJ, KB and Lache.

The Ducks took to the practice fields today to participate in the first of twenty-nine preseason practices leading up to the season opener against New Mexico on September 4th.

They are more than ready.

All 105 players reported and began the day watching film and having their first position meetings, which began around 8:00 am over in the Casanova Center.

Chip Kelly took questions from the media at 11:00 am, and offered his trademark vagueness when asked about specific position battles.

Kelly told reporters that Nate Costa and Darron Thomas both have improved and said that he will make a decision regarding the starter after the final fall scrimmage. As we’ve known for a while, Kelly reiterated that he will decide on one quarterback, but the other will need to be ready to go.

A solid group of starters return for the Ducks, nine on the offense and eight on the defense.

Asked about the mindset of the team right now, Kelly called them focused.

“The group is really focused and they understand what they have the ability to do,” he said. “Now we have to go out and do it.”

Oregon is arguably the fastest program in the nation. Kelly said that there’s significant speed at every position, and that “we base our recruiting, we base everything we do on speed.”

“We want bullets, not bowling balls,” Kelly said referring to the program’s speed.

Kelly called safety Eddie Pleasant possibly the fastest Duck on the squad, and expects his move from linebacker to safety to bring a lot of “T.J. Ward” to the position.

What was a cold, overcast morning in Eugene blossomed into a warm afternoon once practiced started. Players started making their way to the field around 1:45 pm, and by 2:15 pm practice was underway.

A steady mix of Metallica and Eminem blasted over the speakers, as Nate Costa was the first up in the team drills. Costa looked solid to begin with, but later in the day he threw three interceptions in a single drill. His arm looked strong for the most part, and aside from a few mistakes, he was relatively spot on with his accuracy.

Darron Thomas looked groomed and ready to lead the team. His lightning bolt release found many a wide receiver downfield. Both quarterbacks looked good scrambling, with Thomas making a nice would-be-touchdown getaway late in the day.  Arguably, the only thing faster than the Ducks running back unit today was Thomas’ release. As soon as he pulls back, the ball is already seemingly in the air to the receiver.

Also worth noting was true freshman QB Bryan Bennett’s beautiful pass to fellow true freshman WR Josh Huff for what would’ve been a touchdown. Bennett got a few reps in, along with some coaching from Costa.

LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk took turns alternating returning kicks. All in all, everybody looked like they were glad to be out there.

A good crowd came to watch the first practice of the fall, which lasted three hours. The Ducks will be back out again tomorrow, again open to the public.

Lache Seastrunk Adds a Cool Name and Even More Depth to Oregon’s Offense

Ed’s Note: Welcome our newest contributor (they just keep coming, don’t they?) to the blog, Drew Eyman. Drew is a junior political science major at the U of O and is a huge Blazers fan — oh, and he likes the Ducks too. Follow Drew on Twitter here.

Oregon’s top recruit going into this season has many passionate Duck fans salivating over his high school highlight reels and potential impact, before he’s even taken a step onto Autzen Stadium’s new turf.

Looks like Lache is enjoying his new digs.

Lache Seastrunk (pronounced “Lake”) is a 5’11” 190 pound lightning bolt with the speed and agility of LaMichael James, but on a slightly larger frame. Also similar to James, Seastrunk is another running back recruit out of the state of Texas. Hailing from Temple High School, this five star recruit was wooed by schools from all over the country, including USC, LSU, and Auburn before finally settling on Chip Kelly’s explosive spread offense. Many have compared him to former USC great Reggie Bush. While that may be a bit of stretch, as Lache has yet to receive his first carry, his ceiling is truly limitless.

The challenge for Chip Kelly is to find the best way to use a true freshman running back at a position where talent isn’t exactly scarce. With sophomore standouts James and Kenjon Barner returning, Seastrunk may find playing time hard to come by. However, he could be deadly on special teams if used alongside Barner on kick returns or back deep as a punt returner, a la Keenan Howry.

Last year Barner was Oregon’s return specialist, but given his breakout performance at tailback, Chip Kelly may deem him too important for the possibility of pulling a Walter Thurmond III – wince 😦 – and use the dynamic threat more so out of the backfield, as lightning to James’, well, lightning. This would open up more of the return responsibilities to Seastrunk – someone I wouldn’t mind seeing with the ball in the open field a few times each Saturday.

The only problem with Seastrunk’s arrival is that he, Barner and James are all quick and relatively small running backs. Now that Legarette Blount has taken his Falcon-punching talents to the NFL, Oregon lacks a big physical running back who can pound it inside when needed. James, Barner, and Seastrunk are all incredibly strong for their size, but when Blount (and Jeremiah Masoli) was sharing the ball carrying responsibilities with James it was an effective change-up in running styles.

This juxtaposition of running styles worked well to keep defenses on their heels, so don’t expect a great power running game this season; however, the Ducks might not need one. With all five starting linemen returning, as well as some of the key reserves, James, Barner, and Seastrunk could form the most explosive backfield tandem in the country. And don’t sleep on Dontae Williams , Josh Huff or my new favorite from the Spring Game, Jide Shinaba.

Now about that quarterback position…

Rivalry Renewed: Oregon Ducks Look for Sixth Straight over Huskies

I remember going to my first Oregon Duck football game last fall as a freshman. Because of weird scheduling circumstances, the Washington Huskies came to Autzen in just the second week of the season.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

And being a fan of the Ducks for several years before I stepped on campus, I was well aware of the rivalry and was excited to witness it firsthand.

Soon after entering the stadium, I was quickly thrown into the competitive trash-talking that those clever collegians in the student section like so much. Well, this time we weren’t so clever.

From the very second the first purple-clad player appeared in the tunnel, there was a telekinetic-like power that united the entire stadium; students, alumni, and even children to stand up and chant: “Fuck the Huskies!”

Over and over again. I didn’t even know we were allowed to do that. Looking back, we probably weren’t, but it was too much fun it didn’t matter. The loathing between the two teams was palpable.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, the dislike quickly turned to sympathy, as the Ducks went all Michael Vick on the Huskies, 44-10. To make matters worse, Washington didn’t win a single game the rest of the season, including a heartbreaker to the lowly Washington State Cougars.

For some reason, the rivalry didn’t feel so much like a rivalry to me anymore after that game. It was more of a business as usual, fifth straight win in a row type of thing.
But the Huskies are no longer a joke. No more Tyrone Willingham or Rick Neuheisel and his March Madness office pools.  Washington now has a legitimate head coach: Steve Sarkisian, who learned from the best of the best in Pete Carroll at USC. Coach Sark finally has the Huskies playing up to their full potential.

Despite going winless last season, Washington had plenty of talent, although most of it was inexperienced. Willingham brought in several solid recruiting classes, including QB Jake Locker in 2006 and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton last season. He just couldn’t get anything out them. I mean, Locker is good enough that he should be able to win a handful of games by himself.

But now Locker has developed into the player many expected him to become, the West Coast’s version of Tim Tebow, Chris Polk emerged as a talented running back and Kearse has excelled in his first season.

However, the one thing that has kept the Huskies from a 2008 Miami Dolphin-like turnaround is their defense. Although better than last season, the Huskies still rank ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing 424 yards per game.

And that’s why the Huskies are at least a year away from putting a stop to Oregon’s five game winning streak. Jeremiah Masoli (who should play) and LaMichael James, two of the hottest players in the country, should be able to feast on the porous Washington defense.

With two weeks for the Ducks to rest up, and two weeks for offensive mastermind Chip Kelly to game plan, Oregon should be focused and ready to march into Husky Stadium for their sixth straight win.

Kelly has instilled his mantra of “one game at a time” into his players, as offensive tackle Bo Thran can attest: “They’re just the next team on our schedule.”

The only worry for the Ducks, is adjusting to the unfriendly confines of Husky Stadium. Only one game in their current five game winning streak over Washington came in Seattle.

But Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job preparing this team week in and week out. Going into the Rose Bowl before the bye, many fans were frightened because it was the first road game since the Boise State debacle, but Oregon overcame a lackadaisical first half to win handily.

“We don’t put any more stock in this game than another,” Kelly said. “By that, I don’t mean to diminish it, but we put everything we have into every game. We haven’t done anything different in terms of our approach. It’s a league game. It’s on the road. And that’s enough to get our players up and excited for practice.”

In Big Balls Chip I trust.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 24

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Third Quarter Hat-Trick Propels Oregon Ducks Past UCLA Bruins

Chip Kelly must be one hell of a motivational speaker.

After being held scoreless in the first half—for just the second time since 2007—the Oregon Ducks overcame their three-point deficit faster than you could say “LaMichael James for Heisman in 2010.”

Literally.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

Kenjon Barner took the third quarter kickoff back 100 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. And then just 13 seconds later, on the Bruins’ first play of the half, Talmadge Jackson stepped in front of Terrence Austin, picked off Kevin Prince’s pass, and ran it back for 32 yards.

Those two plays epitomized the Ducks’ season so far—winning with defense and special teams.

But they weren’t done yet.

Just two plays after Jackson’s interception, Kenny Rowe knocked the ball out of Prince’s hands on a scramble, and Oregon recovered.

Now that the offense finally had the ball, they were ready to join the party. On third down, Nate Costa found Jeff Maehl on a quick slant pass in heavy traffic, but broke through to race 20 yards into the end zone.

Hat trick: complete.

That touchdown throw, the first of Costa’s career, was the first touchdown pass caught by an Oregon wide receiver this season.

Special teams. Defense. Offense. Three touchdowns in under four minutes. In the end that’s all the Ducks would need, as they went on to win 24-10.

“The fire that everyone had in them just ignited,” Costa said. “We got on a roll and started saying, ‘We’re going to put these guys to sleep.”’

Costa, who was making the first start of his career, replaced Jeremiah Masoli, who sat out with an MCL sprain.

Costa wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be. The Ducks ran the ball at will against the Bruins. Led by speedy freshman LaMichael James, the Ducks totalled 222 rushing yards. James had 151 of those. Barner added 50.

James, who is establishing himself as one of the premier running backs in the conference, was absolutely electric. The Texas native put on a juking spectacular for UCLA, spinning his way out of trouble and into daylight several times.

His best run came after UCLA pinned Oregon at their own one-yard line in the first quarter. With the Bruins stacking eight in the box, Costa handed off to James, meeting several defenders at the goalline. Averting disaster, James first spun out of the grasp of a lunging tackler, and then spun back around three Bruins into the open field.

The only thing that stopped James from a 99-yard touchdown run was himself, as he outran his blocker and collided with a UCLA defensive back at midfield.

“That’s what our team does,” coach Chip Kelly said. “They feed off each other. When somebody makes a big play, the other guys feed off that. These guys have a great attitude, a great chemistry right now. It’s fun to be around them.”

When I was looking ahead to the matchup against UCLA, I saw the serious possibilty of a trap game.

Playing on the road in a stadium where they typically don’t fare well, playing without three of their four best defensive backs—Walter Thurmond, Willie Glasper, and T.J. Ward—and letting Costa make his first collegiate start made me weary of a potential upset.

But the Ducks quickly dispelled any notion of suffering their first Pac-10 loss. This team is 100-percent focused right now, living up to Kelly’s mantra of “one game at a time.”

With next week’s open date, Oregon will have time to rest up and get healthy before traveling to another difficult environment in two weeks—Husky Stadium.

Kelly brought along four quarterbacks to Saturday’s game, including Masoli and true freshman Daryle Hawkins.

“I thought it would be nice if Daryle could see Los Angeles,” Kelly said in some postgame levity. “Maybe Disney World on the way back.”

Let’s hope Hawkins doesn’t need to go anywhere near the Space Needle on Oct. 24th.

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Third Quarter Hat-Trick Propels Oregon Ducks Past UCLA Bruins

Chip Kelly must be one hell of a motivational speaker.

After being held scoreless in the first half—for just the second time since 2007—the Oregon Ducks overcame their three-point deficit faster than you could say “LaMichael James for Heisman in 2010.”

Literally.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

Kenjon Barner took the third quarter kickoff back 100 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. And then just 13 seconds later, on the Bruins’ first play of the half, Talmadge Jackson stepped in front of Terrence Austin, picked off Kevin Prince’s pass, and ran it back for 32 yards.

Those two plays epitomized the Ducks’ season so far—winning with defense and special teams.

But they weren’t done yet.

Just two plays after Jackson’s interception, Kenny Rowe knocked the ball out of Prince’s hands on a scramble, and Oregon recovered.

Now that the offense finally had the ball, they were ready to join the party. On third down, Nate Costa found Jeff Maehl on a quick slant pass in heavy traffic, but broke through to race 20 yards into the end zone.

Hat trick: complete.

That touchdown throw, the first of Costa’s career, was the first touchdown pass caught by an Oregon wide receiver this season.

Special teams. Defense. Offense. Three touchdowns in under four minutes. In the end that’s all the Ducks would need, as they went on to win 24-10.

“The fire that everyone had in them just ignited,” Costa said. “We got on a roll and started saying, ‘We’re going to put these guys to sleep.”’

Costa, who was making the first start of his career, replaced Jeremiah Masoli, who sat out with an MCL sprain.

Costa wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be. The Ducks ran the ball at will against the Bruins. Led by speedy freshman LaMichael James, the Ducks totalled 222 rushing yards. James had 151 of those. Barner added 50.

James, who is establishing himself as one of the premier running backs in the conference, was absolutely electric. The Texas native put on a juking spectacular for UCLA, spinning his way out of trouble and into daylight several times.

His best run came after UCLA pinned Oregon at their own one-yard line in the first quarter. With the Bruins stacking eight in the box, Costa handed off to James, meeting several defenders at the goalline. Averting disaster, James first spun out of the grasp of a lunging tackler, and then spun back around three Bruins into the open field.

The only thing that stopped James from a 99-yard touchdown run was himself, as he outran his blocker and collided with a UCLA defensive back at midfield.

“That’s what our team does,” coach Chip Kelly said. “They feed off each other. When somebody makes a big play, the other guys feed off that. These guys have a great attitude, a great chemistry right now. It’s fun to be around them.”

When I was looking ahead to the matchup against UCLA, I saw the serious possibilty of a trap game.

Playing on the road in a stadium where they typically don’t fare well, playing without three of their four best defensive backs—Walter Thurmond, Willie Glasper, and T.J. Ward—and letting Costa make his first collegiate start made me weary of a potential upset.

But the Ducks quickly dispelled any notion of suffering their first Pac-10 loss. This team is 100-percent focused right now, living up to Kelly’s mantra of “one game at a time.”

With next week’s open date, Oregon will have time to rest up and get healthy before traveling to another difficult environment in two weeks—Husky Stadium.

Kelly brought along four quarterbacks to Saturday’s game, including Masoli and true freshman Daryle Hawkins.

“I thought it would be nice if Daryle could see Los Angeles,” Kelly said in some postgame levity. “Maybe Disney World on the way back.”

Let’s hope Hawkins doesn’t need to go anywhere near the Space Needle on Oct. 24th.

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