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Oregon Football: 8 Players Who Defined Chip Kelly Era

Jeff BellCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2013

Oregon Football: 8 Players Who Defined Chip Kelly Era

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    Now that the dust has finally settled from Chip Kelly's decision to leave the Oregon football program, it's time to reflect on his incredible run.

    And while some fans may still be miffed about Kelly's flip-flop, you can't help but look back on his time at Oregon in amazement. He led the Ducks to four straight BCS Bowl appearances, including a spot in the National Championship following the 2010 season.

    Oregon won its first Rose Bowl in 95 years in 2012, and took home its second straight BCS victory this past month in the Fiesta Bowl.

    And while so much has been made of Kelly's unique schemes and his approach to creating an electrifying offense, he'd be the first to tell you that it's the players who make his product so special.

    We're taking a look now at the top eight players who defined the Chip Kelly Era. Simply put, when you think of Chip Kelly's time at Oregon, which players come to mind?

    Honorable Mention: Jeremiah Masoli, Casey Matthews, Alejandro Maldonado, Lache Seastrunk, Josh Huff, David Paulson, Jeff Maehl and Carson York.

    Masoli was considered as much for his on-field performance as his off-the-field troubles. Maldonado was mentioned because he's the biggest reason Oregon failed to get back to the title game, and Seastrunk gets a spot due to his ties to the Willie Lyles controversy.

    All Statistics courtesy of sports-reference.com

8. Cliff Harris

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    Cliff Harris finds himself on the list due to equal parts of "greatness on the field" and "what could have been".

    As talented as any cornerback in Oregon history, Harris' career will likely be remembered for the negatives more than anything else.

    He had one interception during his freshman season, but totaled six during his sophomore year despite not being listed as a starter. He also returned four punts for touchdowns.

    In the National Championship game against Auburn, Harris had another interception and a key fumble recovery late in the game that set Oregon up for the game-tying score.

    But offseason troubles before his junior season put him in Kelly's doghouse, and after a bonehead play against Colorado in which he fielded a punt and backpedaled into the end zone, Harris was never the same. He was eventually kicked off the team after additional legal issues.

    Oregon needed his services during the USC loss later that season, in a game that could have put them squarely in the National Championship picture once again.

    In his only full season, Harris helped lead the Ducks to a National Championship appearance. But his off-the-field antics cost him an opportunity to become the greatest cornerback in Oregon history. However you remember him, his impact both on and off the field puts him on the list of players who defined the Chip Kelly era.

7. Dion Jordan

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    Another defensive player makes the list, and this time it's hybrid DE/LB Dion Jordan, who will soon find himself playing on Sundays.

    Jordan will be remembered from this era not only as an outstanding defensive player, but also as a specimen of Kelly's ideologies about defense—fast, athletic, versatile and tall.

    He had an underwhelming senior season with just five sacks, but he tallied 7.5 last season to go along with 13.5 tackles for loss. He fits the mold of current NFL stars Aldon Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul with his quickness off the edge and ability to step back into coverage.

    As a converted wide receiver, Jordan became a terror on the defensive line and should be the Ducks' highest draft pick in some time.

    Despite the Kelly era featuring extreme offense, this extreme defensive athlete will be remembered for a long time in Eugene, Ore.

6. Michael Clay

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    Three straight players on defense? What is this madness?

    It's hard to think of many players who had as much of an impact as Michael Clay did during Kelly's tenure.

    Clay finished his career with 277 tackles, including 101 this past season. He played all four years, and his speed exemplified Nick Aliotti's defense.

    He ran sideline-to-sideline faster than most linebackers in the game, and his leadership helped the defense gain recognition on a team known mostly for points.

    Clay was part of the defining play of the 2010 Civil War, too, when he took the snap on a fake punt and busted loose for 64 yards, breaking several tackles along the way.

    A hard worker and one of the best leaders in Duck history, Clay will always be remembered as a key defensive player throughout the Chip Kelly era.

5. De'Anthony Thomas

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    Despite participating in just half of the Kelly era, De'Anthony Thomas quickly became a fan-favorite and one of the most electrifying college football players in recent memory.

    When you think of Kelly's up-tempo, fast-paced system based on getting athletes in space, De'Anthony Thomas should be the first player to come to mind.

    His versatility is what truly separates him from the competition, however. He can run the ball up the middle, catch the ball out of the backfield, run routes as a slot receiver and return kickoffs. There isn't a weak spot in DAT's game.

    From the moment he stepped onto the field in a Duck uniform, De'Anthony Thomas became one of the faces of Kelly's offense.

    How Thomas' career is ultimately remembered remains to be seen, but he'll likely go down as the best offensive weapon Chip Kelly ever put on the field.

4. John Boyett

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    It's the evening of Sept. 3, 2009. The Ducks have just suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in team history, and LeGarrette Blount's punch only compounded things. But in the midst of all this is John Boyett, making his first appearance as a Duck and never looking back.

    Following that game, Boyett went on to become one of the all-time greats in the Oregon secondary. As a freshman, he totaled 90 tackles and had three interceptions. He added on 78 with five picks the following season, and made 108 his junior year.

    Boyett appeared in just one game this season, against Arkansas State, but still managed to impact the outcome with an interception. He went on to have season-ending surgery.

    His reputation as a physical, hard-hitting safety doesn't do his play justice. Boyett was all over the field, both in coverage and in stopping the run. Any players that came in contact with Boyett probably haven't forgotten about it.

    His leadership, competitiveness and desire to improve each week puts him on top of the list of defensive players who defined the Chip Kelly era.

3. Kenjon Barner

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    Kenjon Barner finally broke loose from LaMichael James' shadow in 2012 and rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Ducks' starting running back.

    But Barner's impact on Oregon's high-flying offense has been felt throughout his entire career.

    As a freshman, he rushed for 366 yards and had three touchdowns. A year later, he ran for 551 yards with six TDs. Then in his junior season, despite remaining behind James on the depth chart, Barner rushed for 939 yards with 11 TDs. Those are the kind of numbers that many starters around the country would love to have.

    Barner was the consummate pro during his time with the Ducks. His speed worked well in Kelly's offense, but his toughness was on display throughout his senior season as he logged nearly 300 carries. This included a 38-carry, 321-yard effort against USC.

    His leadership and knowledge of the offense were key components in Oregon's string of BCS appearances.

    He finishes his career with over 3,600 yards on the ground, good for second on Oregon's all-time list.

2. Darron Thomas

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    Can Duck fans give Darron Thomas some respect?

    After all, throwing for nearly 6,000 yards and 66 touchdowns should earn him that, not to mention the back-to-back BCS appearances.

    For all his faults, Darron Thomas had one of the best careers in Oregon history, and his accuracy combined with his decision making won't soon be forgotten.

    Part of the issue with Thomas is that fans expected a more mobile quarterback to run Kelly's offense. And Thomas, despite rushing for over 700 yards in his career, was never really the ground threat that we expected from Jeremiah Masoli and are now seeing from Marcus Mariota.

    Still, he completed over 60 percent of his throws and threw for over 350 yards in the title game loss to Auburn. He polished off an undefeated regular season in his first year as starter, and he became the first quarterback to truly take Oregon to an elite level.

    The list would not complete without a quarterback. With Masoli getting just one year under Kelly and Mariota only being around for Kelly's final season, who better than Darron Thomas?

1. LaMichael James

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    It's the evening of Septemb....oh, we already did that bit? Well, from the darkness of Boise, Idaho spawned the greatest player in the history of Oregon football.

    James only carried the ball a couple times against the Broncos that night, but he went on to rush for over 1,500 yards that season to go along with 14 touchdowns.

    His sophomore year is the stuff of legend, as James piled up 1,721 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns to go along with 208 yards receiving and another three TDs. LaMike finished third in Heisman voting that season.

    James rushed for 1,805 yards his junior year, giving him over 5,000 for his career and putting him in 15th place on the all-time, Division I rushing list. Had he stayed for his senior season, he could have easily passed Ron Dayne's mark of 6,397, and only two backs ahead of him reached their totals in three seasons, as James did.

    James was consistent throughout his career. He had the speed to take it the distance (and he did, many times), but could maneuver between the tackles like a snake. His ability to get to the sideline opened up Kelly's offense in a way that nobody had ever seen before.

    If you didn't get enough of LaMichael (and who did?), you can catch him in the Super Bowl this weekend with the San Francisco 49ers.

    Without a doubt, LaMichael James exemplified the Chip Kelly era in every way imaginable, and he'll be remembered forever as the greatest player during Kelly's time with the Ducks.

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