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:

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“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 Commitment Solidifies 2010 Class as One for the Ages (With Video)

The Oregon Ducks received a big verbal commitment from Temple High School star running back Lache Seastrunk this afternoon. This marks their first 5* recruit since former-Duck Jonathan Stewart signed in 2005 and we all know how that turned out.
That said, Oregon is in line for their best recruiting class since, well, possibly ever. With the Seastrunk commitment, the Ducks have moved up from 20th to 13th in Rivals.com’s recruiting class rankings. Finishing is the top 10 is a legitimate possibility.
I’m sure I speak for all Oregon fans when I say that I couldn’t be more excited to see how Chip incorporates LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and the player who owns possibly the coolest name in all of college sports.
It will be a crowded backfield, that’s for sure – but I’m more than happy to make room for a player who has been called “the next Reggie Bush” due to his outstanding speed and agility.
After Bryce Brown’s last second change-of-heart last season, I was ready for anything with Seastrunk, but Sports Illustrated saved us from any last-minute tension by reporting the Texas running back’s decision an hour before the official announcement.
Speaking of last minute changes-of-heart, there are several big name players still on the Ducks radar, especially since the USC flood gates opened with Pete Carroll’s departure to Seattle last week.
As if Oregon didn’t already have enough Texas running backs (LMJ, Seastrunk and 4* recruit Dontae Williams), there might be another one on the horizon.
Josh Huff, a 4* from Chester W. Nimitz High School just outside Houston, has been committed to TCU since early December, but apparently is still strongly considering Oregon. He runs a 4.4 40 – I like.
Ironically, former-Oregon recruit Ethan Grant decommited from Oregon for TCU because of his friendship with Huff.
Moving on, in case you forgot, there are positions out there other than running back.
Gabe King, a 4* defensive end who once was considered a lock for Oregon (he even moved from across the country to attend South Eugene High School), has been wavering on his decision. So much so that Chip Kelly and his staff might have given up on him.
King has officially ruled USC out, and is now choosing between Oregon and Cal. I’ve heard differing reports that say he will end up at either school.
Out of nowhere, Tennessee commit Kenbrell Thompson took a visit to Eugene last weekend and has yet to make a decision. The 4* JUCO (sophomore) wide receiver from El Camino High School is also considering Cal.
Unfortunately, 4* DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, out of Portland (David Douglas High School) eliminated Oregon from his list this week, instead replacing them with Oregon State – although the Portland Tribune article that broke the news seemed a little sketchy.
Oregon still has an outside chance for a pair of 4* defensive tackles: Ricky Heimuli and Bjoern Werner.
At this point, Oregon fans should be more than satisfied with the current class, while any other late additions considered gravy. The official Signing Day is a week from today.
Now the only bad news with such a good recruiting class: we won’t get to see them in action at Autzen for another eight months.
The good news: it will be worth the wait.
Go Ducks!
That can't be comfortable.

That can't be comfortable.

The Oregon Ducks received a big verbal commitment from Temple High School star running back Lache Seastrunk this afternoon, a development that gave the organization its first five-star recruit since former-Duck Jonathan Stewart signed in 2005. And we all know how that turned out.

That said, Oregon is in line for its best recruiting class since, well, possibly ever.

With the Seastrunk commitment, the Ducks have moved up from 20th to 13th in Rivals.com’s recruiting class rankings, and fnishing is the top 10 is a legitimate possibility.

I’m sure I speak for all Oregon fans when I say that I couldn’t be more excited to see how Chip incorporates LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and the player who owns possibly the coolest name in all of college sports.

It will be a crowded backfield, that’s for sure—but I’m more than happy to make room for a player who has been called “the next Reggie Bush” due to his outstanding speed and agility.

After Bryce Brown’s last-second change-of-heart last season, I was ready for anything with Seastrunk, but Sports Illustrated saved us from any last-minute tension by reporting the Texas running back’s decision an hour before the official announcement.

Speaking of last-minute changes-of-heart, there are several big-name players still on the Ducks radar, especially since the USC flood gates opened with Pete Carroll’s departure to Seattle last week.

As if Oregon didn’t already have enough Texas running backs (LMJ, Seastrunk and four-star recruit Dontae Williams ), there might be another one on the horizon.

Josh Huff , a four-star from Chester W. Nimitz High School just outside Houston, has been committed to TCU since early December, but apparently is still strongly considering Oregon. He runs a 4.4 40—I like.

Ironically, former-Oregon recruit Ethan Grant decommited from Oregon for TCU because of his friendship with Huff.

Moving on, in case you forgot, there are positions out there other than running back.

Gabe King , a four-star defensive end who once was considered a lock for Oregon (he even moved from across the country to attend South Eugene High School), has been wavering on his decision, so much so that Chip Kelly and his staff might have given up on him.

King has officially ruled USC out and is now choosing between Oregon and Cal. I’ve heard differing reports that say he will end up at either school.

Out of nowhere, Tennessee commit Kenbrell Thompkins took a visit to Eugene last weekend and has yet to make a decision. The four-star JUCO (sophomore) wide receiver from El Camino High School is also considering Cal.

Unfortunately, four-star DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa , out of Portland’s David Douglas High School, eliminated Oregon from his list this week, instead replacing them with Oregon State—although the Portland Tribune article that broke the news seemed a little sketchy.

Oregon still has an outside chance for a pair of four-star defensive tackles: Ricky Heimuli and Bjoern Werner . Also, don’t rule out defensive back Erick Dargan and WR Anthony Jefferson . Both are very highly rated and have Oregon on their final lists.

At this point, Oregon fans should be more than satisfied with the current class, while any other late additions—with the official signing day a week from today—should be considered gravy.

Now the only bad news with such a good recruiting class: We won’t get to see them in action at Autzen for another eight months.

The good news: It will be worth the wait.

Go Ducks!

And just for fun:

If you have any questions or comments for me, I can be reached my email (kbecker @ uoregon dot edu) or by twitter.