What happened to that guy? I asked myself Saturday night, after seeing Oregon running back LaMichael James being held to just 54 yards on 18 carries against LSU.
Yes, I realize the LSU defense has special athletes. Yes, I realize James had a sore ankle at one point.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about how he has become a shadow of the darting, nimble, explosive player he once was.
I hearken back to his redshirt freshman season opener against Boise State. The one where LeGarrette Blount hit Byron Hout afterward. Even in his limited action against the Broncos, I thought James looked like he was going to be really good.
Check out this video of his freshman year and you’ll see why:
The James of 2009 was quick as a whip and he trusted his vision.
One reason for that quickness: He was a lot smaller back then. I don’t mean short, I mean that he carried less weight, checking in at about 175 pounds.
But, apparently, James has fallen prey to the great strength coach lie of ‘bigger, faster, stronger’, which claims that added weight/muscle mass comes in conjunction with improved speed.
And so, he gained 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, according to this story by Ken Goe of the Oregonian. He is now 195 pounds.
The problem is, no one gains 20 pounds of actual muscle in an offseason without using artificial means. In reality, that 20 pounds he gained probably contained a decent amount of body fat or non-muscle mass.
Whatever the case, all muscle or not, you don’t get faster when you have to carry around 20 more pounds on a 5-7 frame. That’s just common sense and you could see it in how he played on Saturday.
Not only was he not exploding through holes like he used to, he also missed a lot of cutback lanes that he normally would’ve turned into big gains. It’s as if he doesn’t trust his vision any longer because he knows his speed isn’t there.
You could actually see the beginning of this decline last season. Granted, I’m aware that James was not 100 percent for much of the time, but in the six games since rushing for 239 yards against USC (in his seventh game of 2010), he has averaged just 95 yards and 4.0 yards per carry.
This is not to say that James won’t have a good 2011. I fully expect him to gain well over 1,000 yards and have plenty of excellent outings. But he’ll probably have to do it less efficiently, with more help from his linemen and by carrying the ball more. That means fewer highlights and less of the spectacular LaMichael we’ve come to know.
To me, he’s just not the back he once was and, as a result, I can’t see him getting back to New York.