2009 Oregon Ducks Preview: Running Backs

Charleston DuckContributor IJuly 15, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:   Runningback LeGarrette Blount #9 of the University of Oregon Ducks hurdles a player en route to a touchdown during his team's 42-31 win over the Oklahoma State University Cowboys in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Last season, the Oregon rushing attack was the envy of college football. Averaging 280 yards per game, it was second only to Navy nationally. 

2008 was the third straight season that the Ducks led the Pac-10 in rushing, and with coach Chip Kelly's commitment to a powerful rushing attack, don't be surprised if Oregon's running game is once again the head of the class.

While Jeremiah Johnson and his team-leading 1,201 yards rushing (7.1 avg) are off to the NFL, Oregon does return a 1,000-yard rusher in LeGarrette Blount. 

Johnson and Blount were America's most powerful one-two punch last season, constantly banging defenses into submission while combining for 30 rushing touchdowns. 

This thunder and lightning attack ran by, over, around, and through defenders all year.

Blount, the 6'2", 240-pound back from Perry, Fla., lived up to his hype (a four-star recruit, he chose Oregon over Florida State and Auburn), rushing for 1,002 yards (7.3 avg) and a school-record 17 touchdowns. 

Now that he is the featured back in the Ducks attack, expect Blount to make a run at Jonathan Stewart's single-season rushing record (1,722 yards in 2007).

The real question will be who backs up Blount. Andre Crenshaw has the most experience and brings a solid skill set to the position. 

Crenshaw, the 5'11", 196-pound senior from Lancaster, Calif., has been the third-string back each of the last two seasons, but he proved his ability to step up when Johnson was injured midway through the 2007 season.

Crenshaw rushed for 415 yards (5.1 avg) in 2007, including a career-high 113 yards in a 55-34 win over Washington in Seattle. Crenshaw also showed his versatility later that season when he took some direct snaps from center vs. UCLA when a rash of injuries hit the Oregon quarterbacks. 

Remene Alston, the 5'8", 200-pound junior from Greensboro, N.C., also brings some game experience to the mix. Alston has worked extremely hard to earn playing time but has unfortunately had to battle injuries throughout his career.

The X-factor at tailback is LaMichael James. James, a 5'9", 190-pound redshirt freshman from Texarkana, Texas, brings explosiveness to the position. 

James had the second-fastest 40-time on the team last winter and also earned the praise of coaches and teammates last season for his work on the scout team.

He has had Duck fans licking their chops to see him in action since high school, when his highlight video became a fan favorite on the educk.com message boards.

Due to injuries to James and Alston this spring, Oregon coaches experimented with redshirt freshman defensive back Kenjon Barner at running back. 

Barner, who was a star rusher at Notre Dame High School in Riverside, Calif., showed a grasp for the position and gained the confidence of his coaches to step in if necessary this season.