What do coaches always tell guys on the sideline and guys buried on the depth chart? “You are only an ankle sprain away from seeing time on the field.” Injuries are going to happen in a violent game that sees brutal collisions every down. At the quarterback position for example, no team suffered a cruel rash of injuries like the Oregon Football program did a few years ago. Kellen Clemens 2005 season ending ankle injury suffered at a game in the desert in Arizona, Dennis Dixon injuring his knee on the same turf in Tucson in 2007 which halted Oregon’s national title hopes and No. 2 ranking as well as Dennis Dixon’s Heisman campaign, Nate Costa’s woeful knee injuries, and even Justin Roper’s torn knee ligaments in 2008.
These are just a few examples, but every program has to have guys on the No. 2 and No. 3 depth chart ready to go. They have to prepare during the week like they’ll be starting on Saturday.This slideshow will identify the seven most important backups for the Oregon Ducks, guys who won’t start September 3rd vs. LSU but need to be ready to go and step in immediately in case the guy in front of him goes down. A few guys that I considered but did not include on this list were offensive lineman Hamani Stevens; defensive backs Terrance Mitchell and Dior Mathis; receivers Justin Hoffman, Rahsaan Vaughn(incoming JC transfer) and Devon Blackmon (incoming true freshman).
Lache Seastrunk is one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with Oregon, and was a little frustrated he had to redshirt last year behind a crowded backfield. There is no question he has the physical tools to excel in this offense, that seems scripted for his talents.
His combination of blazing speed and shiftiness make Oregon fans drool at the thought of him running through Husky and Beaver defenses. However,he’s had to adjust to Chip Kelly’s offense, the playbook and the learning curve has seemed to stunt his growth a little bit; throw in the offseason distraction of the Willie Lyles commotion and Lache Seastrunk needs to hunker down and just play football. One could safely presume this is LaMichael James last year in Eugene before getting his degree and testing NFL waters, and Lache Seastrunk would be in line to be the next great back at Oregon.
When players are warming up on the field, about 60 minutes before kickoff and going through positional and team warm-ups it’s easy to glance across the field and see who you are about to go to battle against. Some guys just look intimidating, and rather formidable.
Brandon Williams is physically a beast,at 6’4”, 237lbs. He had the injury bug in 2010, but still played significant minutes as the year went on and will be counted on to back up all conference tight end David Paulson. While his minutes will be shared with prep All-American Colt Lyerla and even Curtis White, Brandon Williams is only an injury away being penciled into No. 1 on the depth chart in a critical position in Oregon’s offense.
It’s difficult to project where De’Anthony Thomas will be lined up once the season starts but it’s safe to assume that he’ll have a big impact on the 2011 Oregon Ducks. He’s too electric with the ball in his hands to keep him off the field and redshirt him.
Chip Kelly and his offensive staff will find a way to get him on the field, either in a back up wide receiver slot role, the “Tazer” role that has evolved in Chip Kelly's offense the past few years, lining up behind Darron Thomas as a running back, or fielding kicks with special teams.
Boseko Lokombo is one of the more intriguing players, with a very high ceiling on the entire roster. Boseko Lokombo was born in Congo, and played his high school ball in Canada. He got his feet wet last fall, and showed flashes of a long term staple in the linebacker unit. There is a reason Scout rated Boseko Lokombo as a 4-star recruit and the No. 10 MLB prospect in the country, while SuerPrep Magazine tabbed him as the top recruit coming out of Canada.
Kiko Alonso is somewhat of a wild card, nobody knows how long he could be out, and while Michael Clay and Josh Kaddu have cemented down starting spots there seems to be some openings for Boseko Lokombo to get significant minutes. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s one of the top backups for the Ducks. Derrick Malone, Dewitt Stuckey and possibly standout true freshman Anthony Wallace out of Skyline H.S. in Dallas, Texas will compete at various spots in the linebacker unit to get on the field, but Boseko Lokombo should have a breakout year in 2011 and become a well known commodity amongst Duck fans.
The adjustment from high school to college football can be a rough one for some guys, and not so much on the field of play but in the classroom. Adjusting to professors and their demands in college can be a daunting task for kids who might have floated through high school (granted big time programs give athletes tutors and many tools, it can’t be mitigated for some).
Jared Ebert has the advantage of already being acclimated to a few years of junior college and should come in and help out the defensive line immediately. It’s an area that had attrition with graduation, and while Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli seem to have starting spots locked down the Ducks like to rotate guys frequently. With Wade Keliikipi and Isaac Remington in the mix, Jared Ebert will be counted on to help out a group light on numbers.
Kenjon Barner is thought of in a lot of Oregon fans eyes as running back 1.b to LaMichael James, who could be described as 1.a—now that’s debatable, but what is not debatable is that Kenjon Barner has been a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. LaMichael James led the Pac-10 in 2010 in carries, and he led the country in rushing yards, i.e., he’s taken a lot of hits on his smaller frame.
Oregon’s running backs as a whole need to be prepared to go in and relieve LaMichael James at any moment.
Kenjon Barner suffered a serious concussion from a vicious hit at Washington State last fall, which he had to be taken off the field on an ambulance. He never seemed to really regain his form in 2010. This coming year he will be leaned on to take some pressure off of LaMichael James and keep the pressure on defenses.
Bryan Bennett has not seen a lot of live game action, however he’s been groomed for a while now by Chip Kelly and looks to be the heir apparent to Darron Thomas. The offense that Oregon runs, the bread and butter play—zone option read—requires contact almost every play for the QB. Now, Darron Thomas has done an excellent job of keeping himself off the turf, by making clean reads and pitches to running backs before he gets cemented to the ground.
With that said, the odds are at some point Darron Thomas’ thin frame could take a hit that keeps him out a few plays or even more significant time.Bryan Bennett is by far, Oregon’s most important backup. He gets a few reps every week in practice with the No. 1 unit for this very reason. He did not have the greatest spring game statistically; however,many close to the program believe the blur offense under Darron Thomas won’t skip a beat once Bryan Bennett gets comfortable with the offense.