With 28 days until Oregon football's fall camp starts DuckTerritory.com looks at some of the biggest question marks heading into the season.
Chip Kelly has plenty of options at running back. But there also a few questions.
James returns to build on his historic career
Junior LaMichael James is clearly the front runner and expected starter for the 2011 season at running back. As a sophomore he won the Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back. James was also Oregon's first unanimous All-American and was selected to the AP, AFCA, FWAA, Sporting NEws, WCFF, SI.com, and ESPN.com's first-team.
As a sophomore James carried the ball 294 times for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns.
This season James will look to once again be the Pac-12's best running back and fight for the Heisman Trophy where he finished third last season.
James' biggest question mark was his ability to catch balls out of the backfield in the passing game. Last season James showed flashes of being able to be a threat and with the departures of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis we could see James role in Oregon's passing game increase.
We also saw James durability fighting off injuries last season but at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds it might be best to keep James' carries down when possible.
James has also been a regular in practice fielding punts and kick-offs but don't expect to see James back fielding punts or kick-offs unless injuries to others force James into that role.
With three departed offensive lineman from last year's team the Ducks will have to quickly develop the unity along the line to help James continue his rise in Oregon's record books.
LaMichael James gave head coach Chip Kelly Oregon's best season ever at running back last season. Can be top it this year?
Will Barner find more snaps?
Fellow junior running back Kenjon Barner might be one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 next season but his problem like in the past years is he backs-up the league's top running back in James.
As a sophomore Barner rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns on just 91 carries despite missing two games following a concussion against Washington State in October last season.
Barner's two best games came at the start of the season against New Mexico when he started at running back when James served a suspension and rushed for 147 yards and four touchdowns while also catching one pass for 60 yards and another touchdown. Barner also had 133 yards and a score against OSU in the Civil War while also adding two catches and a touchdown as well.
With the loss of Maehl and Davis at receiver and few proven receivers returning the biggest question regarding Barner heading into next season is his role in the passing game.
You certainly want to use Barner in helping ease the burden on James and his carries but you also can't sit James and his All-American skills too much.
So does Barner find more time next season in the TAZR role that was created when head coach Chip Kelly moved him from corner back to offense?
Barner's role in the passing game has always been said to be a strength but looking at last season's games Barner was only effective in two games and had half his receiving yards (121) in just the first game.
Kenjon Barner is ready to take his game to elite levels but will he?
With the need for a play-maker out on the edge do we finally see Barner exploit his mismatches and be inserted into the passing game more? Or does Barner continue his role as full-time backup to James?
The wildcard could be the triple-option rushing attack with both James and Barner on the field at the same time in the backfield.
In the Civil war last season the triple-option was effective as both backs rushed for over 100 yards and at times it seemed Barner was the more effective back.
Lache Seastrunk ready to shine?
Last season the hype surrounding the former five-star running back may have simply been too much and unfairly placed on him.
Since his time at Oregon Seastrunk has slowly become a better running back and in the spring game showed some glimpses of becoming that elite back Oregon hopes he can be.
Seastrunk was perhaps the most watched recruit from fans and media during spring drills because everyone wanted to know how much he has progressed and if he can crack into the lineup.
Once Seastrunk can clean up the fumble issues and also improve on his vision and ability to take the ball between the tackles the sky is the limit.
Can Lache Seastrunk crack an already tough depth chart and see the field this season?
Will we see Seastrunk find himself on special teams to showcase his blazing speed?
Oregon's first game against LSU might be the first chance for him with punt returner and kick returner Cliff Harris suspended.
Do you use him at receiver, running back, or both?
Where does De'Anthony Thomas play next season?
That is one of the hottest questions going around as it's passed the questions if he can play next season.
I still believe we don't know for certain if Oregon' high octane offense will need to use Thomas right away but when you watch what he did in high school it is hard to think he is going to sit.
Going into the season Thomas has the same question marks any other freshman normally has.
Can he pick up the offense quickly enough? How is his blocking ability? Can he hold up to the riggers of division-one football?
They are pretty self explanatory but should Thomas struggle in any of these areas he could be forced to watch from the sideline because Oregon's deep at running back and the returners are also all back from last year as well.
Receiver could be another option for Thomas and one that can find him on the field quicker.
But then is receiver the better position for Thomas?
Oregon's big-back option?
Oregon needed a power-back in the title game when they were stopped multiple times on the goaline and didn't get in for a score.
Oregon lost their expected power-back in Donate Williams due to transfer but they also signed Texas prep Tra Carson.
Can Carson crack the lineup as a true freshman or is it better to develop some spacing in the running back depth?
Seastrunk and Thomas are both freshman as well and with Seastrunk using his redshirt and Thomas possibly too good to keep off the field it might be best to redshirt Carson.
Does Carson see enough carries to justify playing right away?
If he can provide the offense a running style and production the players above can't then he does.
That is the major question regarding Carson.
Where does the spring game star fit in?
Redshirt freshman Ayele Forde came off a freshman season where he decided to walk-on at Oregon in the fall after the season started and worked himself into a position to get a limited amount of reps in the spring.
Once the spring game played out Forde turned his limited chances into big dividends with impressive runs and explosive speed.
After the game head coach Chip Kelly went on to say that if Oregon were to go into game week Forde would find himself at No. 3 on the depth chart.
The biggest question for Forde is if he can continue his climb up the charts and fend off the newcomers in Thomas and Carson.
Durability is also another question mark for Forde. We've seen him impress in spring ball but in games through an entire season is an entirely different matter.
Huff is a wildcard
Josh Huff played running back in high school down in Texas and made the move to receiver last season when he arrived at Oregon.
Huff went on to have a solid freshman season with 19 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Huff also added 12 carries for an amazing 214 yards and two touchdowns.
Huff saw action as a returner as well returning 23 kick-offs for 567 yards with a long of 80 yards.
Clearly Huff can produce when given a chance and seeing how effective he can be in the running game via fly-sweeps and options he might be a candidate to see time in the backfield as well.
The big three questions going forward
1.During the USC Trojans elite run during the 2000s it seemed like every player listed at running back was a viable option to play at most other college programs in the league.
Now we see that happening at Oregon.
Are there enough carries for everyone to go around? We know head coach Chip Kelly is a mastermind at re-tooling his offense to fit each season's different roster make-up. This year will be no different with plenty of options at running back and few at receiver that are proven.
Yet the question still remains. Can Oregon keep James, Barner, Seastrunk, and incoming freshman Thomas and Carson happy with their carries?
2.Can Barner force Kelly to give him more reps based on his production?
We've read and heard about Barner being a Pac-12 capable running back. We've seen signs of it in games in the past.
But will we see Barner take his game to the next level and force Chip Kelly to keep him on the field at all times?
If there ever was a time this is it because Oregon is lacking proven talent at receiver and Barner is explosive in the open field.
3/The race for No. 3 on the depth chart is there for the taking.
Oregon's always had a third running back play and play well each season. Who can be that third guy this season?
With so many unknowns going into the season on Oregon's running backs not named James or Barner Oregon's coaches could go in many different directions.
Seastrunk has a year under his belt but now players just as highly ranked and hyped have arrived on campus.
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