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Ducks draw a crowded backfield

There's a quartet of quality contenders for running back

Chris Vincent has the little 'hop,' as he calls it, a move with which he sidesteps defenders to get extra yardage. 'Guys say it looks like I don't touch the ground,' he says.

Ryan Shaw has the power. He's a north-to-south runner with an affinity for bolting outside, earning him the nickname 'Sideline Shaw.'

Kenny Washington has 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, although few outside the Oregon football team have seen it, thanks to a broken leg two seasons ago.

And Terrence Whitehead has a nose for the hole, a runner not shy about bursting forward for yardage even though coaches preach to him about patience.

Among those four relative unknowns, the Ducks will find their running backs for 2003.

With Onterrio Smith gone early to the pros, the position is wide open. And, even though Whitehead saw the most playing time last season, he could be third or fourth on the depth chart by September.

Oregon's spring drills start April 5. The Ducks don't keep an official depth chart, but offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's order of assessment gives an indication of how things stand.

On Shaw: 'He showed us a lot toward the end of the season. He runs well inside and has good instincts on the perimeter.'

On Whitehead: 'Very good in pass protection. We look for him to be better and stronger and better at scheme recognition.'

On Washington: 'He's got a different body type, a little leaner than the others. He shows speed on the perimeter and as a pass receiver. That's where we want to look at him, when he has the ball in space.'

On Vincent: 'The wildcard. He's got the most to learn. He did a good job in rookie scrimmages with a small playlist. In the spring, we'll find out what he's good at, how we want to feature him and the other guys.'

The Ducks have featured a 1,000-yard rusher six times since 1995. They had two in 2001. With an experienced offensive line returning, someone could top the 1,000-yard mark again. But who?

Whitehead, 6-0, 203 pounds, seems to be the odds-on favorite. He played in 11 games last year, starting three, and had 272 yards rushing, 91 yards receiving and three TDs. He went for over 100 yards against Stanford.

'T-Dub's the man right now,' Vincent says.

A sophomore from Los Angeles, Whitehead has a stocky build and lacks the running speed of the others. But he has experience in the system.

Whitehead says he needs to work on 'being fast, being able to take it the distance. I'm quick, but not fast enough.'

As Ludwig says, the 5-11, 201-pound Shaw was on the brink of getting many carries, perhaps as Smith's backup last year, but a bum ankle got in the way. The Carlsbad, Calif., native had 42 yards on seven carries against Washington.

Shaw and Washington entered Oregon at the same time. Both are redshirt juniors itching to play.

'You have to feel like your time will come,' Shaw says. 'It'll be a great competition. They run a fair system here, no politics with our position. Coach (Gary) Campbell is really diplomatic.'

Washington suffered a broken leg in practice during the 2001 season and made his comeback last year, scoring a touchdown against Idaho. He practiced through pain all season, however.

'I've been here awhile,' says Washington, from Brea, Calif. 'If I don't start, I'm looking to get some playing time. I don't want to sit anymore. I want stats. I want carries in all 12 games.

'It's up for grabs,' he adds. 'Nobody's the man.'

Vincent was the man for the scout team last year. 'The players here are telling me I'm good,' he says. 'My dream has always been to play Division I football. I could be one of those guys pretty soon. It hasn't set in, yet. I'm modest; maybe a little case of denial.'

It has been a long road for Vincent, a redshirt freshman. After his prep career in Philadelphia, he went to Valley Forge Military Academy to get his grades up. From there, LSU recruited him, snatching him away from Oregon. LSU wanted him to play defense, then switched him to running back. He didn't like the uncertainty, so he left and ended up at Oregon.

At 6-1, 220, Vincent has a size advantage on his competitors.

'Kids here compare me to (Oregon State's) Steven Jackson,' he says. 'He's big, but they say I'm more elusive.'

NOTES: Washington says his roommate, Duck quarterback Jason Fife, plans to get married March 22 in San Diego. Washington tried to get a bachelor party organized for Fife but says the QB 'doesn't drink or like strippers.' É Linebacker Kevin Mitchell also plans nuptials, in the summer. É Among the UO position changes: Matt Toeaina from fullback to defensive end, Darius Sanders from tight end to defensive end and Shawn Perkins from defensive line to offensive line. É Toeaina says his cousin, Albert, signed by Oregon in 2002 (he failed to meet academics standards for entry), has been taking classes at City College of San Francisco and will reach Division I eligibility standards by winter 2004, when the Ducks can re-recruit him. É Fullback Matt Floberg had offseason shoulder surgery and won't participate in spring contact drills.

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