Running Back LeGarrette Blount of Oregon Poised for Heisman Season?
Since Chip Kelly's arrival in Eugene two seasons ago, the Oregon Ducks football team has been called "the best show on two-tone field turf"—and for good reason. Oregon ended the 2008 season ranked seventh in the nation in total scoring at just under 42 points per contest.
Along with that, the Ducks ranked second in the nation in rushing yards at 280 yards per game (3,641 total) and had two players rush for over 1,000 yards (Jeremiah Johnson with 1,201 and LeGarrette Blount with 1,002) for only the second time in the school's history.
The tandem of Johnson and Blount also scored a combined 30 rushing touchdowns, 17 of those from Blount, a single-season school record.
The season prior, which was Kelly's first as Oregon's offensive coordinator, the Ducks put up similar numbers. They ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards per contest at 252 YPG (3,272 total) with Jonathan Stewart as the team's primary running back. Stewart put up 1,722 on the ground and 11 touchdowns in '07.
This season Johnson will be playing on Sundays with the NFL's Houston Texans. Meanwhile, Blount returns for his senior season at Oregon and looks to build on his successful collegiate career under Kelly's brilliant spread offense.
Of course, Blount was suspended indefinitely last February by then head coach Mike Bellotti for "failure to fulfill team obligations."
There also remain questions about Oregon's offensive line, which has only two returning starters. There have even been some concerns about Blount's weight. He is listed as 6'2", 240 on the University of Oregon's official team roster.
There will always be naysayers and cynics. There will always be "East Coast bias." And as long as the University of Oregon is in...well, Oregon, we aren't likely to see a lot of Heisman hype—unless we continue to pay big bucks and have our players' larger-than-life images posted in Times Square (I think those days are former though).
With the exception of the three Southern California Heisman winners ('02 Carson Palmer, '04 Matt Leinart, and '05 Reggie Bush), there have not been any Heisman Trophy winners West of Austin, TX since Rashaan Salaam won it at Colorado in 1994.
In addition to this, in the last 10 years only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman: running backs Bush in 2005 and Ron Dayne from Wisconsin in 1999.
However, even with all of the odds stacked against him, LeGarrette Blount still seems poised and in position to have a Heisman-like season.
Barring a ridiculous suspension or a serious injury, there is no reason to believe that Blount can't make a run at the Heisman Trophy.
Many college football experts are predicting that Tim Tebow from Florida will be next season's Heisman winner. With Tebow returning on a 2009 National Championship squad and not having lost much talent around him from that team, he would seem like the hands down favorite. All of this, plus the fact that he won the award in 2007.
But there are still games to be played, and to be won or lost. Many a Saturday stands between now and that night at the Nokia Theater when the NCAA awards that special player.
Blount possesses the tools to be that special player. He is a hard-nosed runner. He moves extremely well and is very elusive as a runner. He has shown the ability to use lateral quickness with sharp cuts.
He is nimble enough to hurdle defenders and make tacklers miss, which he did on many occasions in his first season at Oregon. He has excellent field vision. Plus, with the power he possesses, he shows the ability to break tackles and be a great goal line runner.
Don't be fooled, as even though he is strong and hard to take down, he can beat many linebackers, corners, and safeties with his breakaway speed. He is a nightmare matchup for defensive coordinators around the Pac-10, or around the country for that matter.
Blount should be Oregon's feature back in 2009. Although the ability to share carries with a talented runner like Johnson last season surely helped Blount, this season without Johnson, Blount won't be too badly off.
With Jeremiah Masoli returning under center for the Ducks after a very solid sophomore campaign and senior Andre Crenshaw coming back in a solid backup role at running back, it should provide Blount with just the support he needs to be the workhorse and not be overworked at the same time.
Masoli is a smart quarterback who doesn't make many mistakes. As a defense you really have to respect his ability to pass, and surely you have to be aware that he is more than capable of tucking the ball away and running.
Having such a versatile quarterback is an outstanding advantage for a running back, and it's probably why Oregon's spread offense has been so effective the past couple of seasons with quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and now Masoli.
Because Blount is coming off a 17-touchdown season where he was not even getting the majority of the carries, and he is playing on such a potent and powerful offense such as Oregon's, 2009 looks to be as promising of a season as any for an Oregon running back.
Jonathan Stewart rushed for 1,700 yards in 2007 on a team that had its QB carry the ball more than 100 times for over 700 yards and nine touchdowns. Oregon is averaging nearly 266 yards per game on the ground the past two seasons.
I don't look for that number to drop any going into 2009. Blount averaged 7.3 YPG in his first season as a Duck in '08. I do look for that number to drop, but not by a large margin.
Although I will not predict Blount's final numbers for 2009-10, and I am not going to predict that he will win the Heisman, I will say that of any player in the country, including Tebow, Blount has the means necessary to put up the kind of numbers needed to win such an award as the Heisman.
Look for 2009-10 to be a very special season for the Oregon Ducks and LeGarrette Blount. And if that 25-pound, 13.5-inch, cast bronze trophy ends up in Eugene next winter, don't be too surprised, and I won't say, "I told ya so."
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