Royce Freeman

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Today won't technically be the first time that the Oregon Ducks take the field under new coach Mario Cristobal when spring drills begin. But in many ways it will be. 

The actual first time Cristobal led the Oregon football team onto a field of any kind occurred in early December shortly after Willie Taggart departed for Florida State, leaving the Ducks in disarray. 

Cristobal did his best to right the ship in time for the Las Vegas Bowl just 10 days later but he simply didn't have enough time to fix the mess at hand. The players, who lobbied for Cristobal to replace Taggart, didn't successfully make the transition from "Do Something" to disappointment and then back to contentment under their new leader (save for defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt being bent out of shape he didn't replace Taggart) in time to avoid a 38-28 loss to Boise State in Sin City. 

There was simply too much disruption in play, and that included star running back Royce Freeman electing not to play in the bowl game in order to avoid a potential injury before departing to the NFL. 

So, let's give Cristobal, the staff (those who returned) and the players the benefit of that doubt that what we saw in Las Vegas was an aberration and that the new era under a man who won national titles as a player at Miami (1989 and 1991) and as an assistant coach at Alabama (2015) begins today with a clean slate.

What Cristobal inherited was a team that should win at least eight games in 2018 given the presence of junior quarterback Justin Herbert, the return of several key players on what was a greatly improved defense, and a weak schedule that included three non-conference powder puffs. 

Reaching 10 wins, or more, will require maintaining the momentum created by Taggart, keeping Herbert healthy (UO went 1-4 in his absence last year due to a broken collarbone) and flushing the offense's showing in Las Vegas while recapturing the magic that had the Ducks averaging about 50 points per game during the regular season when Herbert was in action. 

"I think last year there was a foundation laid between all of us that gave us a chance to start building upon that but there's a big difference between winning seven games and winning eight, nine, 10, 11," Cristobal said.

To reach those levels the Ducks (7-6 last season) must have success against Washington, Stanford and the Chip Kelly-led UCLA Bruins at home, while also finding a way to win potentially tough road games at Arizona and Utah. 

The problem is that there is much mystery to unravel before anyone can rightfully believe that Oregon is going to find those 10 wins and contend in the Pac-12 North. 

Cristobal hasn't been a head coach since being fired from the same position with Florida International in 2012 after going 27-47. The Ducks are on their third coach in 15 months (Mark Helfrich was fired in December of 2016). Backup quarterback remains a huge issue. Wide receiver is in flux. The defensive line lacks depth. Freeman is gone. 

Plus, Oregon's aura as a dominant force has waned. The conference is not longer chasing Oregon. The Ducks are the one doing the hunting. And there's reason to believe that the hierarchy of conference coaches are not shaking in their boots fearful of the Cristobal era sweeping through the conference and laying waste to opponents. 

None of this is to say that Cristobal won't find success. He very well could. He also very well could not. 

We won't know the results for months. But that process begins today. 

Notes: UO will practice five times in March before taking time off for finals and spring break before returning to the field on April 3 to prepare for the spring game on April 21 in Autzen Stadium...Oregon will hold a practice at Franklin High School in Portland on April 7.  The Ducks practiced at Jesuit High School last spring. 

Royce Freeman performed well at the NFL Combine

Royce Freeman performed well at the NFL Combine

Former Oregon running back Royce Freeman ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.54 seconds on Friday at the NFL Scouting Comibine in Indianapolis, Ind.  

His time ranked tied for ninth among the running backs invited to this year's scouting event and made all that more impressive by Freeman's weight of 229 pounds. 

A negative, however, was that Freeman benched 225 pounds just 17 times, which ranked tied for 12th among running backs. Seven running backs did 20 reps or more. One would have though that Freeman, given his size and power, would have done better in this event. 

Freeman did demonstrate great quickness for his size by performing well in the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. 

It was a strong overall showing for Freeman, who shouldn't remain on the draft board beyond the third round. 

Here is how Freeman did in his events:

40-yard dash: 4.54 seconds (ninth. Fastest was 4.38).

Bench press (225 pounds): 17 reps (tied for 12th. The most was 29).

Vertical: 34" (tied for 12th with the high being 41").

Broad jump: 118" (tied for 16th. Best was 128").

3-cone drill: 6.9 seconds (third).

20-yard shuttle: 4.16 seconds (third).

60-yard shuttle: 11.64 seconds (fourth out of six times posted). 





The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning backsReceivers/Tight endsOffensive lineDefensive backs; LinebackersDefensive line.   


Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges. 

Key departures: Senior Royce Freeman moved on to the NFL after breaking nearly every school record imaginable.  Versatile senior backup Kani Benoit is also gone.  

Projected 2017 starter: Tony Brooks-James, RSr., (5-9, 175),

Key backups: Darrian Felix, Soph., (5-11, 178); C.J. Verdell, RFr., (5-8, 192); Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178); Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RFr., (6-0, 208). 

What we know: Freeman is gone. Let's all take a moment to reflect on his greatness.

Now, let's take a moment to reflect on what his absence could mean for Oregon.


Then toss in the loss of Benoit. 

Double yikes!

Oregon hasn't lost this much running back talent in one offseason since maybe ever. But, in typical Oregon tradition, there is a potentially great running back waiting in the wings. 

Brooks-James has rushed for 1,557 yards in his career on 226 carries (5.9 per carry) and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns. If he managed to put up those same numbers in one season, the Ducks will be in business. 

Essentially, Oregon needs Brooks-James to become the next Kenjon Barner, who after backing up LaMichael James for three seasons, rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior in 2012. 

What we don't know: Can Brooks-James be that guy? And, will he truly need to?

At a listed 178 pounds, it might be a lot to ask of James to carry the ball 20 times per game and survive the season. If he isn't up to the task, the Ducks do have options, albeit of the unproven variety. 

Felix saw minimal time as a freshman and gained 182 yards. The real wild card is Verdell, who by all accounts is the next great UO running back in waiting. He redshirted in 2017 due to injuries and ample depth already in place. 

We can't ignore Griffin, who was moved to wide receiver last season but still received some carries. He has 848 career rushing yards in his career on 6.1 yards per carry. 

Habibi-Likio has a lot of ground to make up on the depth chart in order to crash the rotation next season. But he does offer more bulk at 208 pounds than every other running back, except maybe Verdell, who packs 192 pounds on his 5-8 frame.  

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Clearly, Oregon must be able to run the ball well in order to succeed. Ideally, the Ducks will have a clear No. 1 back, and that man should be Brooks-James. But he doesn't have to match the level of play displayed in the past by the likes of Jonathan Stewart, James, Barner or Freeman. Brooks-James could simply be what Byron Marshall was in 2013 when he rushed for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns while Thomas Tyner chipped in 711 rushing yards and De'Anthony Thomas went for 594. 

If Oregon gets that type of production out of its top three running backs in 2018, the Ducks will be just fine. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: Someone compliments WR Dillon Mitchell. 

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

USA Today

Oregon running back Royce Freeman wise to sit out Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman made what had to be a tough decision for him to sit out Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

He made the wise decision, even though it might appear to be selfish on the surface. 

"This is hard for him, now," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said today prior to practice at Bishop Gorman High School. "This is not an easy thing for a guy like that."

Freeman, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, was not made available for comment today.

Freeman leaves Oregon as its all-time leading rusher (5,621 yards) and the Pac-12 Conference's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60). He has given 947 carries to the program, a total that's also a record. Going out a winner in a bowl game was probably enticing for Freeman but the risk of injury isn't worth the reward. Few will remember or care who won the Vegas Bowl within days after it ends. An injury could hinder Freeman, projected to go in the third or fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, for the rest of his career. 

Senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby would be wise to follow suit. Cristobal said Crosby would announce his intentions on Friday. Projected by many to be a first-round pick, Crosby could literally be risking $10 million or more by playing in the Vegas Bowl. A serious injury could knock him out of the first round and into the later rounds, as it did former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore an ACL during practice prior to the 2014 Rose Bowl. He ended up getting drafted in the seventh round and never fully regained health in his knee. He is now out of the NFL. 

NFL-bound players electing to not play in their team's bowl game is a growing trend. Former Last season, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette sat out their respective team's bowl games. 

Cristobal is not in favor of this development. 

"I like to see key players play," Cristobal said. 

That doesn't mean he isn't with Freeman on his decision. 

"Am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not," Cristobal asked. "Do I want to see him play? Absolutely. But I stand by him just like I gave him my word and I don't break my word for nobody."

Cristobal said the entire team backs Freeman, as they should 

"They understand that this family thing is not just talk," Cristobal said. "This family thing is real. This family will stick together, support each other and we'll press forward."

Oregon's running game should be just fine on Saturday. When Freeman went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30 the Ducks still won 45-24 and rushed for 328 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2016, after Freeman went down with a foot injury at Nebraska, the Ducks managed to rush for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Crosby was lost for the season in that game. 

Interestingly, following practice offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo met with the media and when asked about Freeman's decision said that he was unaware of the situation. 

"It's unfortunate," he said. "Obviously, Royce is such a big part of who we area. But guys are going to made decisions based on the betterment for their life. Royce has done an awesome job for us. We're going to miss him...but just like when he went down, we have to find a way to pull together."

The Ducks will lean on senior Kani Benoit, redshirt junior Tony Brooks-James, who will likely be next year's top back, junior Taj Griffin and freshman Darrian Felix. 

There is plenty of talent there to win with making Freeman's decision ever more on the mark as being the right move for his future. 

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

Freeman and Crosby not yet all in on Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman and left tackle Tyrell Crosby will play their final game as Ducks in Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

Or will they?

Both players practiced with the team today at Bishop Gorman High school, but there is a strong chance that each played their final games as collegiate players during the Ducks' 69-10 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 25. 

"We will be having more extensive discussions some time between tonight and tomorrow," UO coach Mario Cristobal said.

Freeman and Crosby were not made available to the media today. Crosby said last week that he hadn't yet decided if he would play. Freeman when asked in the past has also not stated definitively either way.  

Those discussions will undoubtedly involve the risk-reward factor of playing and not playing. 

On one hand, both must eagerly want to end their careers with a bowl victory. As freshmen, they were vital parts of the 2014 team that won the Pac-12 Conference title, defeated Florida State in the first college football playoff game ever played that just so happened to take place in the Rose Bowl, and they participated in the national title game. 

Those were the good old days. Since then, Oregon has blown a big lead in the Alamo Bowl and went 4-8 last year when Crosby missed 10 games and Freeman missed some time while being banged up for the entire season. Going out with a bowl victory, any bowl victory, would certainly give both young men something to smile about on the way out the door. 

Then there is the risk factor. Both can start getting paid soon after the Vegas Bowl in endorsements and card signing contracts. The NFL Draft is about four months away. Many draft sites project Crosby to be a first-round pick. Freeman should go off the board somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. 

An injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl could damage their draft status and cost them money. Most recently, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu severely injured his knee while practicing in preparation for the 2014 Rose Bowl game against FSU. Once a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu went in the seventh round to Cleveland and is no a free agent. 

The odds of something like that occurring to Freeman and/or Crosby are long. But it does happen. Any injury that holds them back from working out for the NFL Scouting Combine or provides NFL teams with questions regarding their durability could cost them money in both the short and long terms. 

Is winning the Las Vegas Bowl worth that risk? Each player must decide that for himself. 

My vote: Sit it out. Both have given plenty to the program. They will have gone out as winners against Oregon State and Arizona and helped get the program back on track. Nobody is going to remember this bowl game beyond next year. Heck, UO fans barely cared the day Oregon defeated Texas in the 2013 Alamo Bowl. 

Protect your bodies and get ready for the next chapter in your careers. 

Then again, it sure would be great to see both play just one more time. 

UO RB Royce Freeman breaks Pac-12 TD rushing mark

UO RB Royce Freeman breaks Pac-12 TD rushing mark

EUGENE - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman became the Pac-12's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns after scoring twice in the first half of today's Civil War against Oregon State at Autzen Stadium.

Freeman entered the game needing one rushing touchdown to tie former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton's conference record of 59. Freeman got that in the first quarter from two yards out to give Oregon a 10-0 lead.

Moments ago, Freeman scored the 60th rushing touchdown of his career with a 13-yard run in the second quarter to give the Ducks a 31-7 lead with 10:49 remaining. 

Royce Freeman exits as a true 'man of Oregon'

USA Today

Royce Freeman exits as a true 'man of Oregon'

The legend of Royce Freeman began in August of 2014 with whispers escaping Oregon's closed practices about a freshman running back laying waste to Ducks defenders. 

Witnesses described his exploits as something akin to Bo Jackson running amok on the Tecmo Bowl video game. Big. Fast. Unstoppable. Defenders bounced off of Freeman's rumbling 235-pound frame like bowling pins. 

When unveiled to the public, Freeman lived up to the hype. He was, and remains, a similar package to that of former Ducks legends, Reuben Droughns and Jonathan Stewart. Fast but punishing. Powerful, yet nimble. 

Simply put: unfair. 

Three years, thousands of yards and many flat-backed defenders later, Freeman will play his final game at Autzen Stadium during Saturday's Civil War against Oregon State. It could actually turn out to be his final game should he elect not to play in UO's bowl game. More on that later.

Freeman will leave Oregon as the most prolific offensive player in the history of the program. More importantly, he will also leave Oregon as one of the most stoic and treasured people to ever wear the green and yellow. 

UO has had its share of legends. There's no need to decide where Freeman ranks among them. Time will gradually decide where he rates among the pantheon of great Ducks. But it should never be forgotten that last year when the program was at its lowest point in recent memory, when Freeman had every reason to leave for the NFL and become an instant millionaire, he stuck around to help make things right. 

Freeman also did everything the right way. One has never heard a negative word about him. Nobody, of course, is perfect. But, according to teammates, they've never really seen him even get angry. He's always even-keeled. Stoic. Thoughtful. He smiles and laughs, but rarely frowns. Freeman simply goes about his business of working hard, churning out yards and being a great teammate.

"He’s a War-Daddy," UO coach Willie Taggart said following Saturday's 48-28 win over Arizona. "He is everything to this football team. I told Royce afterwards how proud I was of him and how much I appreciate of him. I know one thing he wanted to do and a big reason for him to come back was to make sure that this program was going back in the right direction. He can say that now.”

The Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) haven't had the season Freeman had hoped they would enjoy. That's primarily because sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert missed five games with a broken collarbone. During that 1-4 stretch, however, is when Freeman demonstrated his true warrior nature. 

With virtually zero threat of passing game to keep defenses honest, Freeman rushed for 626 tough yards but never found the end zone. He made up for that with four touchdowns against Arizona on the night Herbert returned to action. 

Keep in mind that Freeman has been playing with pain most of the season. He left the team's win over California on Sept. 30 with a shoulder injury and hasn't been 100 percent since. 

Taggart said that he has taken precautions to help Freeman work through his pain. Freeman takes mostly mental reps on Tuesday to give him a day off from any pounding his body might take during a regular practice. His body has taken a lot of punishment over his 928 career carries. 

“He’s everything," Taggart said. "I’m proud of him and I love him. I’m so appreciative to him for coming back. He does it all for the love of the University of Oregon.”

Freeman has amassed 5,499 rushing yards, tops in Oregon history and ninth all-time in college football. His 62 total touchdowns and 58 rushing touchdowns are both program records. He needs one more rushing touchdown to tie former Oregon State Ken Simonton's career Pac-12 mark of 59. 

Freeman could tie and break that record against Oregon State on Saturday. 

"It's going to be a special one," Freeman said. "I'm excited to be out there. I've played here for quite awhile. The fans have been nothing but supportive. And, it's a rivalry game so it's going to be fun."

Following the game, Freeman will exit Autzen Stadium for the final time as a player. The only question remaining will be if he will play in the team's bowl game. Freeman was asked about that on Tuesday. His answer was unclear. 

"I'm just focused on this week," Freeman said. 

In reality, Freeman would be better off making Saturday his Oregon swan song and not playing in a bowl game. There is no point for him to do so. He is already battling injuries and has done his part to help UO return to winning after going 4-8 last year. Oregon has plenty of good running backs to turn to and would do just fine in a bowl game without him. Nobody could blame him for choosing to rest his body and start preparing for the next chapter in his life. 

Either way, make sure to take in the awe of No. 21 running at Autzen one more time on Saturday. He's been a site to behold and one to remember long into the future. 

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman has been named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given annually to the nation's top running back.

With two regular season games remaining, Freeman has rushed for 1,218 yards and 10 touchdowns on 206 carries. Freeman ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 121.8 rushing yards per game. 

The Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) host Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

Earlier this season, Freeman became the program's all-time leading rusher surpassing LaMichael James (5,082). Freeman has rushed for 5,364 in four seasons. 


Desperate Ducks running out of time to find answers

USA Today

Desperate Ducks running out of time to find answers

PASADENA, Calif. - The Oregon Ducks left Southern California on Saturday a desperate football team, and their coach, Willie Taggart, departed as a man searching in vain for answers following a 31-14 to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. 

Three consecutive lopsided losses by the combined score of 113-31 have made it clear that this young and battered team is all but incapable of producing a winning product without starting quarterback Justin Herbert, who has missed three games with a broken collarbone. 

There is plenty of blame to go around. Select any section of the team and you could find fault within. But the bottom line is that all of the team's woes can be linked right back to the absence of Herbert. 

The offense, aside from the yard-churning play of senior running back Royce Freeman, is a disaster. The defense, brilliant at times, isn't skilled or wise enough to carry a team in such a high-scoring conference. 

All of these realities left Taggart somewhat exasperated while he explained mistake after mistake made by his young quarterback, freshman Braxton Burmeister, and the rest of the team.

“Those are the headaches that you get right now," Taggart said in a frustrated tone. "But, you understand that it’s going to get better."

If it doesn't in a hurry, Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) could miss a bowl game for the second consecutive season. The Ducks need two victories to reach six and become eligible. Right now, three of the team's four remaining games appear to be imminently losable without Herbert. 

It shouldn't be possible that one player could mean so much to a team. Even in 2015 when the Ducks lost quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., they managed to score 140 points over three games with backup Jeff Lockie as the starter. Taggart would give almost anything right now for that type of offensive production. 

The positive sign Saturday was that the team certainly looked better than it did during a 49-7 loss at Stanford last week. Burmeister, who passed for 23 yards against the Cardinal, connected on some promising throws on Saturday but still amassed just 74 yards through the air. UCLA knew the Ducks couldn't throw well and stacked up against Freeman, who gained 160 yards on 29 punishing carries to become the program's all-time career leading rusher

Oregon fell behind 14-0 before Burmeister manufactured two scoring drives that required 15 plays each and ended with him scoring on the ground. Such long drives covering 6:03 and 5:16 were a departure for UO. But it worked and gave the Ducks hope. In the second half, however, the mistakes resurfaced. Drives died. UCLA (4-3, 2-3) added some scores and that was that.

“We can’t do that to ourselves," Taggart said of the miscues. "I think for us, we’ve got to play cleaner and smarter, all around.”

Especially when you don't have a quarterback that can make plays. Oregon, and most teams for that matter, is not capable of playing so perfectly that they can overcome not having a playmaker at quarterback. The Ducks had to be nearly perfect against a team led by a vastly superior quarterback in Josh Rosen, held to a reasonable 266 yards passing and two touchdowns. 

Taggart said the team entered the game with three goals they needed to reach in order to win the game: Don't turn the ball over. Force turnovers. Reduce penalties. They only accomplished the latter, committing just three for 15 yards after entering the game averaging 10.2 per game, while coughing up two turnovers and forcing zero. 

The fumble was committed by freshman running back Darrian Felix on the Ducks' opening drive and converted into a touchdown. The interception came in the third quarter with the Ducks trailing 24-14. The receiver on the play, Taggart said, ran the wrong route but Burmeister forced a pass deep to him anyway. His underthrown ball ended up in the hands of UCLA cornerback Colin Samuel. 

“We’re taking our lumps right now with a lot of these young guys playing but those guys will continue to get better and we’ll find a way,” Taggart said. 

The biggest positive, according to Taggart, was that his team fought back from being down 14-0 in the first quarter to tie the game at halftime. 

“I thought our guys showed a lot of fight,” Taggart said.

However, when things went south in the second half, so did the team's resolve. 

“Right now I think from a mental standpoint we have to get ourselves right, staying positive, especially when things go wrong," Taggart said. 

When asked if Herbert could return next week at home against Utah, Taggart said he had no idea. Notice that he didn't say "no."

If Herbert returns, the Ducks would have a strong chance to win at least two more games and become bowl eligible. But that is hardly a given. If he remained out until the Ducks host Arizona (4-2, 2-1) on Nov. 18, UO would be in serious jeopardy of not reaching a bowl game for the second consecutive season. 

That certainly was not the plan when Taggart took over for Mark Helfrich, fired last winter. Starting quarterback or no starting quarterback, Taggart was expected to at least get the Ducks back to the postseason. A lot must change in order for that to happen. 

“I believe in this team and love this team and I feel like this team will get it corrected," Taggart said. "We’ve just got to stay the course, stay positive and find the way.”

The opportunities to do so are drying up quickly. 

Royce Freeman becomes Oregon's all-time leading rusher

Royce Freeman becomes Oregon's all-time leading rusher

PASADENA, Calif. - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman became the Ducks' all-time leading rusher with a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter of the team's 31-14 loss at UCLA.

The run left Freeman with 153 rushing yards on the day and 5,096 for his career. He finished the game with 160 yards on 29 carries and has 5,103 for his career. 

Freeman entered the game needing 140 yards to break LaMichael James' career record of 5,082, amassed over three seasons from 2009 through 2011. Freeman is in his fourth season with UO. 

Freeman breaking the record today appeared to be a given. The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) entered the game ranked last in the conference and 128th in the nation in rushing defense allowing 313 yards per game. Oregon (4-3, 1-3) entered the day ranked third in the conference and 18th in the nation in rushing with 244.3 yards per game. 

Freeman started the game ranked third in the conference and ninth in the nation with 797 rushing yards. 

Freeman began the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record.