Chances are if you are only a casual Oregon fan, or even a Ducks hater, your idea of an Oregon Ducks running back is a tiny little scat back. You wouldn’t be alone if you think this. In fact, according to Gary Campbell (Oregon’s running backs coach) he gets film all the time from high school coaches with the perfect Oregon runners; tiny scat backs with plenty of speed and nothing else. As ESPN‘s David M. Hale states in his article comparing Royce Freeman and FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Oregon’s freshman runner does not fit into these stereotypes. In fact, you could say Royce is redefining what an up tempo, spread offense running back can be.
First off, Royce is huge; at 6’1” and 229 lbs he is as big, if not bigger than most defenders who are going to try and tackle him. The sheer size of Oregon’s freshman phenom gives him a massive size advantage against the nickel and dime defenses Oregon’s spread offense will normally see. Teams that would prepare for spread teams like Oregon normally go smaller and faster on defense. This means that a big power back like Freeman will have a physical advantage any time he gets to the second level. If Oregon’s front four can keep him from getting wrapped in the backfield, Freeman is usually not going to go down on the first hit. However, unlike a lot of power runners, Royce is not a one trick pony. Freeman is the only player in the Pac-12 to run for 500 yards both inside and outside the tackles, in large part because he is very fast for his size, running in the 4.5 range. His speed, power, versatility, and even height and weight remind me of Houston Texans star Arian Foster.
Against a team like Alabama, or even FSU, the benefits of a power runner in Oregon’s spread offense is apparent. If you will think back to the BCS Championship loss to Auburn (painful memories I know) the biggest problem in that game was Oregon’s inability to get the run game going. Because of LaMichael James being a smaller back, Chip Kelly decided to try and get him the ball via dump off passes and screens. Oregon didn’t even break 100 yards as a team against Auburn’s defense, and Darron Thomas was not able to throw Oregon to a championship. Imagine that game with a big bruiser in the backfield like Freeman. Suddenly they have a back who can run through arm tackles, and bowl over SEC sized linebackers. With how close that game was, a powerful running back could have been the difference.
A big bruiser in the backfield would seem to be a part of the evolve or die nature of football. Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich had to have realized that in order to hang with the “big boys” in the SEC and win a championship he would need some power to go along with Oregon’s speed and finesse; with Royce Freeman, he has more than a power back – he has a Rolls Royce.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck