Oregon's Freeman drives up his stock with style
EUGENE — The easy nickname would be “Rolls-Royce,” but Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman is more tank than luxury car.
The Ducks put on the pads for the first time during Friday’s practice. After the physical session, running backs coach Gary Campbell was all smiles when asked how his 5-foot-11, 229-pound rookie held up.
“Very well. Ask some of those defensive guys,” Campbell said. “He’s a tough kid, plays like a veteran. He’s not afraid. He steps right up and does all the things we ask him to do. He’s smart, picks up the offense, so I’m pleased with him.”
With the return of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, Oregon has a one-two punch in the backfield that could rival the LaMichael James-Kenjon Barner tandem from the Chip Kelly era.
After the fifth practice of fall camp, Campbell said Freeman reminded him of Jonathan Stewart, who led the Ducks with 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2007.
“Not quite as fast (as Stewart),” Campbell added. “But he’s a guy that can not only run over you, he can run away from you, fake you in the open field. He catches the ball really well, blocks great. ...
“I think he’s going to be a really special guy.”
In the end, Don Pellum’s defense did have bragging rights on “competition day,” outscoring the offense 108-105.
“The offense pushed us pretty good, then we pushed back and went back and forth,” Pellum said. “It was good action. You could hear some pads popping.”
Oregon will practice twice today to wrap up the first week of fall camp. The Ducks open the season in three weeks against South Dakota.
“You just tell guys they’ve got to keep pushing. The first week is always the hardest because that’s when your body is not really prepared to be running for three hours a day,” senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said. “I think after the first week most of the fatigue really wears off and it just becomes mental fatigue and just being prepared for every day practice. That’s the main thing for younger guys is they have to learn to get prepared for it the day before.”
Ducks receive ‘anonymous’ respect
Athlon published anonymous quotes from Pac-12 coaches talking about their conference rivals. Mark Helfrich’s peers said Marcus Mariota’s knee injury was the only thing that seemed to slow the Ducks down in 2013.
“To me the whole thing that happened to them was Mariota was hurt for four, five games. They never ran him. When he was running, nobody was beating them,” one coach said. “He ran again in the bowl game and you could see a different guy.
“If he stays healthy, they are the best team in the league and the most explosive.”
Nameless coaches compared Mariota to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and predicted the defense could be an issue without Nick Aliotti.
“They lost some guys on defense, and losing their coordinator is going to be huge,” a coach said.
Special teams coach Tom Osborne said sophomore Matt Wogan could handle the placekicking and punting duties this season, but noted that redshirt freshman Ian Wheeler “has been fantastic punting the ball.” ... Campbell said freshman running back Tony James, who broke his ankle in the Under Armour All-Star game over the winter, is “fine” and “everything we thought he was.” ... When asked about photos surfacing on Twitter of Aliotti wearing a Beavers’ hat at Oregon State’s practice on Friday, Pellum pointed out that the former Oregon defensive coordinator worked on the other side of the Civil War as an assistant. Aliotti was the Beavers’ running backs coach from 1980-83 after starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Oregon.
“If I could borrow someone’s knees and shoulders and neck, I’d love to play,” Pellum, who played linebacker at Oregon, said when asked if he’d like to put the pads on again. “No, it’s out of my system.”