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Spring is quite a rush for these Ducks

EUGENE — Even when Oregon’s roster is divided, the running backs conquer.

During Saturday’s spring game at Autzen Stadium, both sides were able to show flashes of the Ducks’ potential to have a dominant ground attack in the fall.

Royce Freeman only averaged 3.6 yards on 12 carries, but the senior scored a touchdown and converted a fourth down that led to another touchdown for Team Free.

Kani Benoit exploded through the line of scrimmage for a 95-yard touchdown and finished with 109 yards rushing on only five carries (21.8 yards per) during Team Free’s 34-11 romp over Team Brave.

Tony Brooks-James, who was Oregon’s most valuable player on offense last season when Freeman and Benoit were playing through injuries, carried the load for Team Brave with 24 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown.

The Ducks led the Pac-12 in rushing every season for a decade before finishing second to Arizona in 2016.

With the return of five offensive linemen with significant starting experience and four veteran running backs when Taj Griffin recovers from a knee injury, Oregon should have a balanced offense.

Justin Herbert threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. Darren Carrington was on the receiving end of all three TDs and racked up 116 yards.

“We’ve got a lot of pieces in place to be a great team,” sophomore center Jake Hanson said. “It’s still going to take a lot of hard work. We definitely have the talent, we have great coaching to go on top of that. The sky’s the limit for this group. It’s put on us to get it done.

“We had talent last year and we didn’t get it done, so something has to change this year. We’ve got to keep working hard.”

Hanson was one of four redshirt freshmen starters on last year’s offensive line, along with left tackle Brady Aiello, left guard Shane Lemieux and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton.

Tyrell Crosby, a starting tackle for two seasons until suffering a foot injury last September, is working his way back into form. George Moore, a 6-foot-7, 308-pound junior college transfer, will join the competition this summer.

Other capable players in the two-deep include Doug Brenner, Jacob Capra, Jake Pisarcik, Valentino Daltoso, Logan Bathke and Zach Okun.

Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal is looking forward to using Freeman and his longtime running mates.

“Obviously, they have a good amount of experience, they have the ability to make explosive plays, they have the ability to run you over as well,” Cristobal said. “It’s a heck of a combination.

“It’s kind of like baseball. If you just have a fastball pitcher, eventually they’re going to hit one out of the park. If he’s got a good fastball, a curve, a slider, it’s a little bit harder to hit.”

Oregon’s split-squad defenses created a combined three turnovers and were credited with nine sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the spring game.

First-year coach Willie Taggart wants to find a combination of 11 players who can make the Ducks dramatically better on defense this fall.

Oregon has some solid building blocks in defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux and linebacker Troy Dye. Former South Medford player Brady Breeze, Ugo Amadi and Arrion Springs stood out in the secondary.

True freshmen Jordon Scott (nose tackle) and Thomas Graham (cornerback) added to the competition this spring. Taggart warned the returning players that the rest of the 2017 recruiting class will also be arriving soon to try to “take some jobs” this fall.

“The guys are great guys here and they want to do well,” defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said. “It’s us as coaches that have got to deliver. We’ve got to do a great job with them in teaching and just helping the process.”

Team Free's Royce Freeman, left, battles for yardage with Team Brave's Ty Griffin during Oregon's spring game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday. [ANDY NELSON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]