PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: Running back LaMichael James #21 of the Oregon Ducks looks on during the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
We all knew it was coming. Still, it'll be strange for Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks to start off 2012 and not see LaMichael James standing right next to their signal-caller. And how happy almost every other Pac-12 defense will be not to face their most formidable foe.
No one, not even Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, gave Pac-12 defensive coordinators more fits in the past three years like #21. James seemed to rack up at least one 50 yard gain almost every gain to negate any defense put in place to stop him. He always churned out the small but crucial gains to keep the more difficult drives going. He was excellent in short yardage and goal-line situations. He did a lot in almost every place his Ducks needed him, and he was the engine that drove Oregon to three conference champions in a row.
The story on LaMichael is far from finished. James probably doesn't have the physical frame to be a dominant back on the next level, but as someone who can come in and change the pace and tempo on a pass-heavy offense, he can certainly be a dynamic grinder who can go fast or slow depending on the type of game he's competing in. He certainly has the toughness to succeed, and that's half the battle to succeeding on Sundays.
Where does Oregon go? It's clear they have plenty of depth at running back. Kenjon Barner will likely be tasked as the main feature back and try and replicate the every-down ability James showcased while De'Anthony Thomas keeps on doing the things he's capable of doing on the outside in space. Tra Carson figures to be a guy who can give Oregon power as well, giving the Ducks a three-headed attack that could provide versatility in numbers.
But with LaMichael, versatility came in one package. It's unclear if having three different guys doing different things will be the same as one guy doing all those things at once. James's departure is going to leave very interesting questions for a fairly intact Oregon team to figure out this offseason, because no one knows what type of Oregon we'll see when next year rolls around.