Will De'Anthony Thomas Be a Bigger Star at Oregon Than LaMichael James Was?
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
Chip Kelly has recently managed to gain the reputation of being one of college football’s smartest coaching minds.
That’ll naturally tend to happen when you have the type of remarkable initial impact that Kelly has had during his first three years at Oregon, as he’s led the Ducks to 34 wins, three straight conference championships and three consecutive BCS bowl game appearances.
Kelly has been credited with turning the Oregon offense into one of the most explosive, potent and unstoppable attacks in the country, and the Ducks have ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense in all three seasons under his watch.
When you look at all of the success the team has had under Kelly so far, it’s easy to heap plenty of praise on the now highly respected offensive guru. However, you simply can’t overlook the fact that throughout his time running the show in Eugene, Kelly just so happened to have one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in all of college football—lightning-fast running back LaMichael James—at his disposal.
You probably couldn’t build a more perfect playmaker for Oregon’s spread system than James, a back who possessed a rare combination of speed, vision, running instincts and overall explosiveness, which allowed him to rip off huge runs on a regular basis in Kelly’s scheme.
The diminutive, yet dynamic, speedster totaled over 5,600 yards of offense and scored 57 touchdowns during his three seasons spent as the Ducks featured back, and during that time he rose to national prominence as one of the sport’s most celebrated players.
You have to wonder, though, was James more a product of Kelly’s offensive system, or was Oregon’s success more a product of James’ home-run hitting ability?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but there’s simply no doubt that the Ducks offense is going to miss an undeniably valuable weapon like James, who was a second-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
The good news for Kelly is that he’s now got another explosive offensive game-changer that he can flaunt for the next few years, and his name is De’Anthony Thomas.
Besides Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, there wasn’t another true freshman in the country in 2011 who could compare to Thomas.
The former 5-star recruit out of California’s Crenshaw High School arrived in Eugene with plenty of expectations to fulfill after spurning his hometown USC Trojans for the Ducks, but it certainly didn’t take long for the dangerous and versatile all-purpose threat to prove that his hype was legit.
Although he had to defer touches to veterans like James and fellow running back Kenjon Barner, Thomas still had no trouble proving his worth and his value to the team last season. The supreme speedster totaled 1,200 yards of offense, scored 18 touchdowns and turned out to be a major weapon as a kick returner, averaging 27.3 yards per return.
What was so impressive about Thomas’ breakout freshman performance was his versatility, as he showed that he was a rare true “triple-threat” who was capable of doing damage as a runner, a receiver and also as a returner.
The aptly nicknamed “Black Mamba” proved to be lethal, once he got the ball in his hands and found a crease to burst through. Just ask any of the would-be-tacklers who Thomas posterized on one of his many highlight-reel big plays in 2011.
Like his former teammate James, Thomas certainly isn’t the biggest back in college football. At 5’9’’, 173 pounds, he doesn’t have the size nor the bulk needed to pound it inside the tackles on a regular basis. However, that didn’t seem to hinder him in the least last season, and like James, it shouldn’t prevent from becoming a national star in the coming years.
The question is, two years from now, when Thomas’ junior season is completed, will we be talking about him the same way we gushed over James after his outstanding collegiate career at Oregon?
It may be too early to tell just yet, but given the flashes of greatness and the glimpses of his prodigious potential that we saw last season, Thomas clearly has the type of talent and special physical skills that can captivate and rivet the entire college football world.
While he’ll have to continue to defer carries to Barner, who could be ready to have a huge campaign of his own, this season, Thomas will still be one of the most fascinating players to watch in 2012.
Oregon fans may not like this comparison, and from a purely physical body-type standpoint, admittedly, it doesn’t make much sense, but in terms of playmaking ability and all-around impact, De’Anthony Thomas may just be college football’s next version of Reggie Bush.
The speed, the explosiveness, the instincts and the game-changing ability are all there.
That freshman season got everyone excited, and now, we’re all intrigued to see what D.A.T. has in store for an encore.
Ultimately, LaMichael James will forever have his place in Oregon Football history as one of the program's best overall players. No can take that away from him.
The reality is, however, that times have changed. Call it the passing of the torch, the changing of the guard, the dawning of a new era or whatever phrase you want to use. The fact is: James is no longer a Duck; he’s a San Francisco 49er now.
That means there’s presently a sizable hole to fill in Oregon’s offense, and it’s time for a new legend to emerge in Eugene. Luckily, De’Anthony Thomas seems like he’s ready to take the reigns and become the next star of Oregon’s offense.
Chip Kelly managed to get the most out of James’ abilities over the last three years, and you’d have to expect that the offensive mastermind head coach will figure out how to get the most out of Thomas in the future.
It may be too early to start saying that Thomas will be a bigger star than James was, but the evident potential is definitely there, and the bottom line is—Pac-12 defenses better beware, because the Black Mamba is on the loose, and he’s ready to strike.
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