Lieberman: Darron Thomas deserves Oregon’s Heisman hype in 2012

From the first time he put on an Oregon uniform, freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas has wowed crowds and scouts with his outstanding speed, incredible field vision and deft hands. @@[email protected]@

On the other side of the spectrum is senior-to-be quarterback Darron Thomas. Despite being the Ducks’ most plodding playmaker, Darron established himself as a premier offensive force through cerebral playmaking, timely throws, excellent time management and an aversion to mistakes.

De’Anthony glides across the turf in a series of staccato cutbacks. In comparison, a scramble by Darron can look downright clumsy. But in the end, both players bring intangible benefits to Oregon that should make them Heisman frontrunners in 2012.

Let’s be real: @@no, let’s be [email protected]@Darron Thomas is criminally underrated, even within Eugene. He’s the only Oregon quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. He’s also the program’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, and has at least one in 25 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. His six scores through the air against Nevada this past September matched the school record previously held by local folk hero Joey Harrington. @@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@ @@[email protected]@

Yet this season he was clearly a notch below LaMichael James and De’Anthony Thomas in terms of media exposure, postgame quotes and general buzz within fan circles. You do realize that the read-option requires a decision to be made on every play, right?

Granted, James and Kenjon Barner are extremely gifted runners that are unnaturally adept at finding gaps. But flawless execution starts behind center, and that’s where Darron has been entrenched during the two most successful seasons in the history of Oregon football.

I won’t even mention the short-lived quarterback controversy with Bryan Bennett.

The Pac-12 has been blessed with a plethora of talented quarterbacks in the past few seasons: Jake Locker, Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck, just to name a few. As a result, impressive accolades have been indefinitely out of reach for Darron Thomas. But it’s Darron who orchestrates Oregon’s offense and revs it into the furiously frenetic pace that makes the Ducks so uniquely dangerous.

He’s the first quarterback to truly embrace Chip Kelly’s spread-option approach, and he’s played an essential role in convincing people that a spread attack is not a gimmick — unless you think the Rose Bowl can be won with downright trickery.

De’Anthony, on the other hand, is more of a no-brainer. His performance in Pasadena was a coming-out party, and now everyone’s jumping on the Heisman bandwagon. In fact, Oregon’s athletic department is already going to work — check out the Twitter handle @DAT4NYC (which was initiated days before De’Anthony’s Rose Bowl breakout) for further evidence. @@[email protected]@

Considering that the Black Mamba busted free for two spectacular touchdowns against the Badgers, it’s not surprising he’s gaining notoriety nationwide. Both fans and analysts love to romanticize the elusiveness Chip Kelly’s fleet-footed offense. If speed kills, then De’Anthony’s wheels must cause instantaneous rigor mortis.

My advice: Don’t fall for the flash. I love watching De’Anthony in the open field as much as the next guy. But his contributions to Oregon are more visible than any other player on the team. De’Anthony isn’t much of a blocker, and he isn’t a vocal leader. He’s a threat to go the distance every play, but he was — and still is — somewhat of a clueless underclassman.

Look no further than De’Anthony’s first truly great highlight as a Duck: a 69-yard screen pass against Nevada. The play was a mind-boggling display of athleticism. @@[email protected]@

In reality, Thomas was supposed to block the outside linebacker in pass protection on the play. However, he missed his assignment and instead decided to go on an impromptu pass route. When he returned to the sideline, Thomas was approached by his head coach.

“You know,” Kelly told him, “you missed your block.”

And that’s really where De’Anthony is right now. He’s still developing.

So while it’s tempting to throw De’Anthony into the Heisman pool, I believe Darron Thomas should get first dibs. After two sensational seasons guiding the Ducks to new heights, it’s the least we could do.

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