Senior running back says this is his year to shine, make draft
by: JONATHAN FERREY, Jeremiah Johnson of the Oregon Ducks signals to the crowd while being carted off the field because of an injury to his knee after a run against the Washington State Cougars at Autzen Stadium last year in Eugene.

EUGENE -While much was being made of running back Jonathan Stewart, backfield mate Jeremiah Johnson sat back and watched and listened and kept his mouth shut.

'He was the name. People say Jonathan Stewart, they say the Ducks,' Johnson says.

Next season, it could be Johnson's turn for stardom and acclaim. He expects to have a great senior season.

'Just give me the rock,' he says. 'I'll do what I do. I'm not worried about how the fans feel. I'm just here to win games.'

After feeling somewhat overshadowed, Johnson doesn't have anyone stealing the limelight. New running back LeGarrette Blount and returnee Andre Crenshaw will get their carries in 2008, but Johnson expects to be the man.

'My goal is to tote the ball all season,' says Johnson, a 5-9, 205-pounder who has sat out spring drills as he completes rehab from knee surgery. 'My whole thing is to get the ball, score and get to the (National Football) league.'

Johnson has tagged 2,000 yards as his goal. It's a lofty one, and he uses some unique math to establish it.

'I could have had 1,000 last year,' he says, recalling the season that ended Oct. 13 against Washington State. 'I'll get 1,000 for sure this year. Since I didn't get it last year, I've got to put 2,000 up there (this season).

'I'm going to try to turn some heads so I can get the No. 1 (running back) spot in the draft. I'm really excited because people are telling me I'm the premier back in the Pac-10.'

Sharing carries at times with Stewart, Johnson ran for 1,135 yards in his first three years. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He also has 28 career receptions and was the better dual-threat for Oregon the past three seasons.

Johnson, from Dorsey High in Los Angeles, says his knee feels good and that he can move laterally and run really fast, clocking a 4.43-second 40-yard dash before spring drills.

Next season, the coaches won't want to wear him down, but Johnson plans on running with more power to complement the trademark stiff arm and slashing style that 'gives people those loose ankles.'

'One thing I work on is lowering my shoulder,' he says. 'But I'm not going to waste my time and try to run (defenders) over; then the other people behind can catch me. I try to get around players and score touchdowns. I'll use power when it presents itself, like at the goal line.'

Johnson expects to catch some passes, and 'I'm trying to throw the ball, too; heck, yeah, I can throw it.'

Crenshaw, another elusive runner, continues to make strides. And Blount, a junior college transfer, has shown enough in spring drills to earn playing time.

Johnson has sort of taken Blount under his wing. Blount and the other backs got thrown for some losses in Friday's scrimmage, but Blount kept plugging away and eventually scored - twice.

'You get stopped on one run, but you could pop the next four,' Johnson says, 'and then you have your confidence back up.'

Johnson says he likes what he sees in Blount.

'He's 240, and defenders are bouncing off him,' he says.

As far as quarterback, where six players have been going through drills, 'I'm thinking it's going to be Nate Costa,' Johnson says.


Next: The spring game is 2 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Nate Costa, limited to drills because of his knee rehab, will not play, but the other five quarterbacks will see action.

• Justin Roper has been the No. 1 QB in scrimmages, and walk-on transfer Cade Cooper performed the best in Friday's scrimmage. He's coming on. 'He made a lot of plays - he moved the team - but he also had a couple mistakes,' coach Mike Bellotti says. 'It's difficult because he's never practiced with us. He's still rounding into shape' after foot surgery. 'He has a good background and he's a solid quarterback who's learning what we need in this system.'

• Tackle Fenuki Tupou and center Max Unger will be Outland Trophy candidates. 'That's great,' Bellotti says. 'It'd be nice to have two outright winners, and not just two nominees.'

• Receiver Derrick Jones hasn't enrolled at Oregon; he's rumored to be taking classes at Lane Community College. 'Derrick's not in my mind,' Bellotti says.

• Defense ruled Friday's scrimmage. 'We played better upfront with the defensive line and linebackers,' Bellotti says, citing linebacker Spencer Paysinger and lineman Michael Speed. 'We were much less porous against the run and played with great pride.' Bellotti says no one on offense played well. 'I think our offense can be really good, but we weren't (good Friday).'

- Jason Vondersmith

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