Take a knee: Gary Campbell on using Royce Freeman and the fight for playing time

One thing became apparent by the end of Oregon’s 41-24 victory over Colorado last Saturday: this team wants to run the ball.

With the quarterback situation in flux, the focus of the offense turned towards the running backs, giving sophomore starter Royce Freeman 27 carries against the Buffaloes.

Freeman, who has racked up 613 yards and seven touchdowns this season, leads the group. Steadily growing into a featured back is freshman Taj Griffin, who had a season-high 110 yards to go along with a touchdown against Colorado.

Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit have also contributed this year, helping the Ducks collect 1,502 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on the season.

With such a talented backfield, Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell talked with the media after practice to discuss his plans for the group going forward.

Emerald: How many times can you give Royce Freeman 27 carries?

Gary Campbell: I don’t know; we will find out. When we started the game I asked if he could carry it 35 times, and he said, ‘yeah.’ My plan was to see if he could carry it at least 30, and I think he carried it 27 and caught three passes, so he touched it 30 times. I think he proved he can do that.

E: So you factor in the receptions?

GC: Well, no. That was just a number I thought would be good for him. 25-30 I think is feasible for him.

E: Are you worried about the long-term effects of giving Freeman the ball that much?

GC: No, we got three other backs that I think can carry it too. So if need be for him to carry it that many times, I think he can handle it. He is a big, strong, physical kid — he is a lot more mature this year. I look around the country at guys that run the ball and those guys are carrying it 25-26 times.

E: It seems like since Tyner went out, you have been looking for that number two back.

GC: I don’t care who it is and there isn’t a certain style that I am looking for. I just want a guy who can go in, produce and run the offense. There’s not a particular body type or anything. Obviously Royce can do some things that Taj can’t do, and Taj does some different things. That may be good as a change up, I don’t know. Just the same, it may be good to have a guy just like Royce, another guy like Tyner to come in and continue that same style of running. But as long as the guy is productive, that is what counts.

E: Are Tony and Kani competing with each other for that other Tyner look, whereas Taj is the change-of-pace back?

GC: No, they are all competing to start. That is the way I want them to practice and think every day. Nobody is competing to be second or third, they are all competing for the number one spot.

E: How do you decide who is going to be number two in a given week? Is it based on practice or on the defense you are going to face?

GC: It is based on practice. Obviously there are always some things we would like to do in a game, and we factor those things into practice. The guy who does it best is usually the guy who is going to be in that role in the game.

E: What do you like about Taj so far this season?

GC: I like what I’ve seen from him this season. The whole holdback for him has been the learning process, him really getting the offense down, lining up in the right spots and being able to protect the passer.

E: How is he doing in the protection phase of the game?

GC: He is getting better. He still has some glitches now and again, but as I said, he is improving in all areas.

Follow Christopher Keizur on Twitter @chriskeizur

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Christopher Keizur

Christopher Keizur

Christopher is a senior sports reporter for the Emerald. His work has been published by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, KVAL and Lane Today. He is a Tabletop games aficionado and amateur ghost hunter.