Freshmen, senior filling Blount’s shoes just fine
Heading into Oregon’s home opener against Purdue, there was no telling just what kind of reception running back LeGarrette Blount was going to get from the rowdy Autzen Stadium student section. After Blount was suspended for the remainder of the 2009 season for his actions following the loss to Boise State, first-year head coach Chip Kelly allowed Blount down on the field — wearing shorts and his jersey — for the entire game.
Chants from the student section echoed throughout the stadium: “Free LeGarrette” followed by “We Want Blount,” while several signs read similar messages. But when it came down to game time, Autzen Stadium and its 62nd consecutive sellout crowd slowly began to forget about the Blount incident and started focusing on who was going to fill his shoes.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards during the 2008 season, but at this point it looks as though junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and his trio of speedy running backs will be able to fill the void.
“It’s tough when you go through injuries,” senior running back Andre Crenshaw said of his chance to start. “I’ve been through injuries every year since I’ve been here. And you always want to go out and show everybody what you can do. So it’s nice to finally be healthy and get that opportunity.”
Crenshaw, along with redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, has no doubt they will be more than capable of moving past the Blount situation and having standout seasons.
“(Kelly’s) been saying stuff to me since last year, like, ‘Just be ready and approach every game like you’re going to start.’ And that’s all I can do,” James said.
Masoli, one of Blount’s closest friends on the team, led the Oregon rushing attack with 84 yards on the ground and a touchdown against Purdue, while Barner and Crenshaw both reached the end zone once. Their performances weren’t outstanding by any means, but they were more than capable of advancing the ball for the Ducks. James and Crenshaw, however, both showed inexperience as they each fumbled and gave the ball back to Purdue.
Now for moving forward, Masoli says that the team really hasn’t skipped a beat, despite the big hole.
“We’ll be fine,” Masoli said. “We see LeGarrette almost everyday anyway. Most of us have had a chance to talk to him, especially his friends. It’s just different personnel, we don’t have L.G. back there and that’s the main difference.”
Kelly also believes that his three shifty backs will be able to get the job done for the remainder of the season, commenting that Crenshaw is a proven player in his mind and that James and Barner will continue to improve with each game.
“Everything slows down for you,” Kelly said. “Once you get into a rhythm, things slow down for you. The one thing you can’t manufacture is experience. You have to get them in and they have to play.”
There’s no doubt that replacing an athlete as talented as LeGarrette Blount will not happen overnight, but from the looks of it Oregon is well under way to developing a strong run game without him.
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