Pac-12: Dontae Williams

A lot has been said about Willie Lyles, but Lyles has said little about himself, his high school scouting work and his relationships with college players, including Oregon running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk.

Well, he spoke with Jason Whitlock for an hour, a podcast of which you can listen to here.

Lyles, who runs a Texas-based scouting service, is under NCAA investigation after receiving $25,000 from Oregon for scouting material. He also has been accused of asking Texas A&M to "beat" an $80,000 offer for star recruit Patrick Peterson in 2007.

He called all the allegations against him "unequivocally false."

Still, what's at issue for the NCAA is this equation: New scouting service with no track record + "mentor" relationship with elite prospect + significant payment from institution = player goes to said institution.

It's entirely possible that Lyles runs a legit scouting service that provided valuable materials to Oregon that were worth $25,000 and that his relationship with James, Seastrunk and another running back, Dontae Williams, who also signed with Oregon but has decided to transfer, were straight-up mentorship relationships, intended only to help the young men whom he met through his work scouting them.

Said Lyles: "I don't steer kids to schools." What does he do? He offers "insight, not influence."

Oregon has said it is confident it acted within NCAA rules and that it is cooperating with investigators. On the podcast, Lyles said he has yet to be formally interviewed by the NCAA, though it has contacted him.

"I just haven't set up an interview time as of yet," he said. "So I just haven't decided on when and where that's gonna take place."

Lyles, who appeared with his lawyer, provided this interesting tidbit: He said he made $36,000 last year: $25,000 from Oregon, $6,000 from LSU and $5,000 from California.

Mailbag: Who cares about Willie Lyles?

March, 25, 2011
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Who owns Robert Redford?

We may have an angle to fire-up the Utah-Colorado rivalry (albeit a contrived, forced one)!

The response to the Pac-12's blog request for food and drink recommendations in Salt Lake City and Boulder from Utah and Colorado fans has been huge. And when I say "huge," I mean it took me three days to shuffle through all of the notes.

And from reading the notes, it became clear that Colorado fans particularly like "The Sink" -- a Boulder institution -- and many noted that Redford used to work there.

And, of course, Utah fans also know that Redford founded the Sundance Resort in Utah.

So where does Redford's heart belong? Colorado, where he went to school, or Utah, where he built a resort community and lives?

Ready, set ... insult each other! (You may need to consult Oregon and Washington fans about generating endless supplies of bile, though you, of course, have experience with Nebraska and BYU fans).

Anyway, just a thought.

Follow me on Twitter. (Talking to you, Sundance!)

To the notes.

Pedro from Eugene writes: Ted, Today the headline of your links was, "Another Duck knows Lyles." Who cares? Because of who this guy is, hundreds if not thousands of current and past college football players know him. This Oregon thing has been blown so far out of proportion they are writing articles about a guy with a different mentor knowing him; a guy who didn't even play a down of football for Oregon. Wow.

Ted Miller: Pedro, the simple answer is the NCAA is investigating Willie Lyles and other "street agents," and if the NCAA cares, you should care.

Lyles doesn't know thousands of college football players. I doubt he even "knows" a hundred. What I do know is that he knows a lot of players who were highly rated high school prospects, some of whom ended up at Oregon, including Dontae Williams, the player the article is about. Whether Williams played a down or not is irrelevant. He signed with Oregon and was on the team in 2010.

You say "wow," as if you're dumbfounded. You're either trying to spin things or you aren't paying attention. This a serious NCAA matter, whether or not the Ducks are found, in the end, to have violated NCAA rules.

The fundamental lesson in all this, however, is simple. Dear top high school prospects. You do not need to suddenly adopt a "mentor" your junior or senior years of high school. If a guy shows up and offers his mentorship AFTER you already are a nationally known prospect, know that what he offers is worthless to you but probably is valuable to him.


Dustin from Soldotna, Alaska writes: Ted,I was just reviewing your "Who's back from the top-25?" list. I can agree with all of them, but at the bottom you have the players on the left-out list. I have failed to see anywhere James Rogers being mentioned. I understand there is still a question mark by his name pending his full recovery, but shouldn't he still be considered at the very least with an * by his name? If he is able to play this year, knowing his love and intensity for playing the game he will shine like he has year in and year out. He would have no doubt been on your top-25 at the end of the season and the Beavs would have played in a bowl game without question if he had not been injured in Arizona. Alas that is all just would have, could have, should have stuff, but none-the-less I still think there should be consideration regarding the upcoming season when you compile your list this summer and James Rogers being included.I would love to hear your thoughts.

Ted Miller: Because he was out most of the year, James Rodgers was not considered for the top-25, but it would have been wise of me to at least mention his expected return (hopefully) in 2011. Rodgers WILL be in the preseason top-25 if he is cleared to play.

After all, he was ranked No. 6 heading into the 2010 season.


Greg from Hillsboro, Ore., writes: Wazzu. 2011 in the Pac-12. No one is paying any attention. I think they will surprise people this next season. I think they will win at least 5 games, maybe as many as 7. Wins: Idaho State, UNLV, @SDSU, @Colorado (they are terrible too), Oregon State. Losses: Stanford, @Oregon, @California, Arizona State. Unknowns/Swings: @UCLA, Utah, @Washington.They might even shock me and win all those swing games and win 8 games.Their DL has more depth, as does the LB group. DB's are a BIG question. Their OL is going to be better, and their WR group is pretty decent/good. And Tuel is a good QB. Lots of returning starters and players with an upgraded talent level. They gave OSU, UCLA, Stanford, Cal and UW all they could handle last year.... WSU will be better than many predict or think.As Gomer Pyle (in)famously said, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"Doubt not Oregon fans Ted, you know better.

Ted Miller: If Washington State avoids the injury bug, I see it as a threat to win six games and be competitive with just about any team they play. I think the key is line play on both sides of the ball. If the Cougs can run and stop the run -- at least moderately -- much will be different in 2011. I think they are better than "decent" at receiver, and the secondary will be much improved in 2011, particularly if it gets help from a pass rush.

Not sure I'd write in road wins at San Diego State, Colorado and Oregon State. The Aztecs are no pushover, and I'm getting a feeling many of you old school Pac-10 fans are underestimating Colorado. And the Beavers are going to be plenty motivated at home to get revenge versus the Cougars.

Still, your point is solid. Washington State was competitive in 2010. The Cougs will take another step forward in 2011. They are no longer an easy out.


Eric from Albany, Ore., writes: Hey Ted, I love the coaching changes Riley has made this off-season. I have felt that the beavers have looked a little "old skool" on both sides of the ball for a while now. Last year was certainly a disappointment, but not entirely unexpected. What do you think about the changes at Oregon State? Do you think we can expect an immediate impact or are we more likely to only see an impact in recruiting, which could take a few seasons?

Ted Miller: Considering Oregon State had built a reputation over the past decade-plus of producing plenty of top-flight linebackers, it's hard to say that Greg Newhouse, the longest tenured coach in the program at 14 seasons, was dispatched because of his coaching. Though the Beavers LB play wasn't terribly good in 2010. The move did clearly show that coach Mike Riley was unhappy with the way things were going and he was willing to make a bold move. Riley is known for his loyalty to his staff, so it's doubtful that he made a change just to shake things up.

I don't know much about Brent Brennan (receivers) and Chris Brasfield (running backs). Both will be coaching critical positions for the Beavers in 2011. It would be easier for both to break in if they saw a Rodgers brother lining up with their unit this spring. From what I gather -- and a number of Beavers observers have written it -- recruiting was a big reason for making changes.

One of the more notable changes was defensive coordinator Mark Banker taking over the linebackers and Keith Heyward, who coached cornerbacks in 2010, taking over the entire secondary. That seems like a nice vote of confidence in Heyward. Coaching secondary is the quickest route to a coordinator role.

As for immediate impact, hard to say. Having good players helps. Brennan probably will look like a really good coach if he gets to pair a healthy Rodgers with Markus Wheaton. As for an impact in recruiting, we'll see next February.


Ryan from Tacoma writes: Just curious, wondering if you can quickly indulge me (and fully aware that if you do indulge me you possibly open yourself up to eventually making statements like "Player X is not in my top 350 because of Y"), but why did you leave Victor Aiyewa out of your top 45?Being a Dawg fan I know how inconsistent he was, but it seems that the conference's leader in tackles for loss should be one of its top 45 players.

Ted Miller: Aiyewa was a tough player to judge. He led the Pac-10 with 21 tackles for a loss, but he didn't earn All-Conference honors. I asked a couple of people about him during the season, and it seemed he was a bit of a "feast or famine" guy. He either made a big play or got blocked.

That was sort of what happened with Arizona DE Ricky Elmore. He led the Pac-10 in sacks with 11 but also was inconsistent at times, though he did end up second-team All-Pac-10.


Casey from Parts Unknown writes: I understand your perception of Havili being the number #1 fullback in the conference, but let me say you are wrong here. This perception has been driven by all the media. Every time you turn on a USC game the announcers massage the USC ego and talk about what a great player he is. But talk to people who critically watch what happens on the field, NFL scouts, etc and see who they would rather have blocking for Chris Johnson, Adrian Petersen, or Maurice Jones-Drew. Havili is no doubt a good player, but he is not a fullback in the traditional sense. He is a tailback who happens to line up in the fullback position on the field. While he is a good receiver and runner, the main job of a fullback is to block and Havili pales in comparison to Owen in this regard. Ask any linebacker in the Pac-10 who they would rather go up against in the middle of the hole and there would be no stuttering on their part. Let's see, Owen was selected to the Senior Bowl to play fullback, where was Havili? As you stated Owen was 10th in the Heisman voting, where was Havili? Owen won the Paul Hornung Award, where was Havili? As you stated some of this is due to Owen playing linebacker, but it is clear that he will be playing fullback at the next level. When it comes to playing fullback in the traditional sense, I am sorry, there is no comparison.

Ted Miller: I did notice the other day that ESPN.com's NFL draft folks actually have Marecic rated ahead of Havili, which did surprise me.

It will be interesting to see who gets picked first. Marecic is a better blocker than Havili, though I've heard that Havili is a better pass blocker. Also, Marecic is not a natural receiver and Havili is. That's a big skill for a fullback.

There aren't many traditional, lead-blocker fullbacks in the NFL anymore. My feeling is that Havili will be drafted before Marecic because of his versatility. But I could be wrong.

And, again, I love Marecic as a player and student-athlete.


Scott from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: Cliff Harris on the top 25. No doubt that the guy has skills but it may be his real talent is getting coaches, sports writers, teammates and fans to all shake their heads and say "Man, if that guy just , he would be a top 5 pick!". It takes real talent to get that many people to speak the same phrase in unison.

Ted Miller: The best analysis on Cliff Harris yet.

Ducks lose a running back

February, 18, 2011
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More than a few Oregon fans were curious how Ducks coach Chip Kelly would get enough touches for his talented stable of running backs to keep them happy. Well, one way is to have fewer hands wanting the ball.

Dontae Williams, a touted redshirt freshman from Houston, has been granted a release to transfer from Oregon, according to the school.

Williams and Lache Seastrunk, another touted redshirt freshman who apparently eclipsed Williams in the pecking order in 2010, were expected to compete for carries behind juniors LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barner. The Ducks also signed two highly rated running backs in the 2011 recruiting class: De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson.

So now Kelly will have five sets of hands who want the ball instead of six.
ESPN.com's Ryan McGee ranked the nation's top five recruiting coordinators, and two from the Pac-10 made the cut, including a surprise No. 1.

McGee ranks USC's Ed Orgeron No. 5, but he doesn't only praise the recruiting legend. Writes McGee:

There was a time -- a very long time -- when Orgeron would have been the undisputed number one on this list.

But a trail of issues has followed him from one school to another. Some say that's simply the result of his aggressive personality (example: his current selling point to recruits is that USC will beat their current NCAA bowl ban and scholarship restrictions when they win their pending appeal). Others say he lives life with a "ready, shoot, aim" mentality that is a blatant disrespect of authority.


I'd say the reason Orgeron is a great recruiter is players love him and he is relentless. Those two facts often create the above impression, which is supplied by grumpy rivals who typically just saw their guy commit to Orgeron's team.

Ah, but McGee has high praise for his No. 1 guy: Oregon's Don Pellum. Writes McGee:

The first four coordinators on our list all have one very important advantage in common: they live and work right smack in the middle of football talent pipelines. Not Pellum. An Oregon grad and a former recruiting coordinator for the California Golden Bears, he long ago established footholds up and down the West Coast, helping to build up the Ducks from a longtime also-ran into a national power. Now he routinely stakes claims in far-flung locales to the east. Of the Ducks' 20 early commits, there are two apiece from Florida and Texas and three of those four are listed among the ESPN 150. "It's a long way from Florida to Eugene," says former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, "But if anyone can sell that move it is Don Pellum. Of course, winning doesn't hurt either."


When I arrived in the Northwest in 1999, Oregon most recruited regionally and in Southern California -- just like very other Pac-10 team. To me, the transformation of the Ducks from just a "good" program to an "elite" program has coincided with their new aggressiveness recruiting nationally.

Ten years ago, going "east" for a recruit meant the Ducks hit Colorado. Just one player on the roster in 2000 -- a team that finished ranked seventh in the country -- was from the East Coast (who wasn't a JC punter): hard-hitting linebacker Wes Mallard, who hailed from Columbus, Ga., and was initially a walk-on.

And, of course, a guy named "Mallard," well, where else could he possibly play football?

This year's roster featured players from 17 states and Canada. And Oregon is extremely active in Texas now, see running back LaMichael James, quarterback Darron Thomas, receiver Josh Huff, running back Lache Seastrunk and running back Dontae Williams, to name a few.

Of course, recruiting nationally has its downside. It can lead to coming in second in a lot of recruiting battles, which is often worse than not making the effort. Wasting time and resources in recruiting can be a killer come signing day. A lot of young men from other regions also enjoy taking trips to "exotic" places but have no intention of playing far from home. More than a few East Coast prospects use USC and UCLA to get their first taste of LA, then sign with SEC schools.

Still, if you want to run with the big dogs, you've got to, er, run with the big dogs.

Preseason position reviews: running back

July, 22, 2010
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Another year, another strong collection of running backs, even with the departures of Toby Gerhart and Jahvid Best.

While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.

Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.

By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.

Great shape

  • Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
  • [+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers may be the most talented individual running back in the Pac-10 this year, but Oregon has the best group.
  • Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
  • Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
  • California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
  • USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
Good shape
We'll see

  • Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
  • Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.

Judgment day for Oregon?

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
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Oregon running back LaMichael James' will face sentencing this morning after making a plea deal on domestic violence charges, and Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will face a burglary charge in court later this afternoon.

Masoli
Masoli
James
James
And coach Chip Kelly is expected to announce discipline decisions on these two second-team All-Pac-10 performers who were big reasons the Ducks were likely going to be a preseason top-10 team and the Pac-10 favorites heading into 2010.

It's a big day for Ducks football.

So, in purely football terms, the worst case is Kelly either kicks both off the team or suspends them for the entire season. That's highly unlikely, particularly with James, but let's entertain the notion.

First, the Ducks won't tumble into the slag heap, though picking a Pac-10 favorite will become much more difficult.

The Ducks spread-option offense will take a step back if Masoli isn't running the show. He's a two-year starter who's masterful at disguising where the ball is on option runs. He's also a physical runner with a nose for the end zone who's a solid, if at times inconsistent, passer.

Senior backup Nate Costa has seen only limited action in games, starting once last year when Masoli was hurt, leading the Ducks to a win over UCLA. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Recall that knee injuries derailed a promising future for Costa. He was Dennis Dixon's heir apparent in 2008, and Kelly was very high on his prospects. The biggest question with him is whether he can stay healthy.

The future, however, is Darron Thomas, who took a redshirt in 2009, his second season with the program. Thomas, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is best remembered for his poised performance as a true freshman coming off the bench against Boise State in 2008, when he nearly led the Ducks back from a huge deficit. He threw for 215 yards and three touchdowns.

Thomas is a good athlete with tremendous upside as a passer. Would starting his second game in front of 100,000-plus at Tennessee be a shock to his system? Probably. But UCLA won there last year with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, so success in Neyland Stadium with a green QB is hardly unprecedented.

At running back, Kenjon Barner, a 5-11, 190-pound sophomore, is James' capable backup. The former cornerback rushed for 366 yards last year and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. He had seven carries for 64 yards in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks also have senior Remene Alston, who rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns, but Barner's top backups might be one or two of the touted freshmen in the 2010 recruiting class: Lache Seastrunk, rated the nation's No. 6 running back by Scouts. Inc., Dontae Williams and Josh Huff.

Is potentially losing Masoli and James ideal? Absolutely not. Is it catastrophic for the 2010 season? Probably not.

Now some links:

  • John Canzano on Judgment Day -- separating rumor from truth, and Kelly turning to a surprising rival for advice (it actually doesn't surprise me at all).
  • It comes down to felonies vs. misdemeanors, athletic director Mike Bellotti told The Oregonian. In other words, Masoli needs his second-degree burglary charge -- a felony -- to be reduced to remain with the team. "A felony conviction would result in dismissal from the team and loss of scholarship," Bellotti told the newspaper.
  • Ducks headed to the NFL think the team needs better player leadership.
  • A legal expert thinks Masoli will get probation, not jail time, and may get his charges reduced to a misdemeanor.
  • Some fans are venting about the Ducks troubles -- and some are getting creative.
  • And beyond Kelly's discipline, what about school policy?

Strong & weak: Oregon

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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The fifth of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

Oregon

Strong: The backfield

Why it's a strength: First, throw out all the off-field problems. Those will take care of themselves, and obviously negative conclusions for the Ducks would put a dent in this analysis. But as it stands, the Ducks are as good as any team in the nation with their quarterback-running back situation. Jeremiah Masoli is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate as a dual-threat quarterback in his third season as a starter, while LaMichael James became one of the premier home run threats in the nation as a redshirt freshman running back. Those two should be masterful next fall running the spread-option. Moreover, there's solid depth at the positions. Masoli's backups, Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, both have seen quality game action. Behind James is Kenjon Barner, a star of the Rose Bowl, not to mention a pair of outstanding incoming freshmen in Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams.

Weak: The defensive line

Why it's a weakness: While coach Chip Kelly is quick to reject the notion that this is a potential weakness, that doesn't change the fact that the Ducks lose only four position players from their 2009 starting lineup but two -- stalwart end Will Tukuafu and tackle Blake Ferras -- come from the D-line. They also lost backup tackle Simi Toeaina. End Kenny Rowe, one of the conference's best pass rushers, and steady tackle Brandon Bair return. Ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington are candidates to work themselves into a rotation that Kelly wants to run eight-deep. There's certainly potential to match or even eclipse last year's production up front, but the replacements still need to prove they are up to the task.

Oregon picks up commitment from elite RB

January, 27, 2010
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Running back Lache Seastrunk (Temple, Texas), ranked the 40th best player in the nation in the ESPNU 150 Insider, has committed to Oregon.

Seastrunk has been compared to former USC running back Reggie Bush, "Fast, explosive, electric, either way you slice it, Seastrunk is arguably one of this class' biggest game-breakers at the running back position" is how Scouts Inc., begins its evaluation.

He picked Oregon over Auburn, LSU, Memphis, USC and California.

Seastrunk is the Ducks third commitment from the ESPNU 150. The Ducks also have a commitment from touted running back Dontae Williams.

Coach Chip Kelly's first recruiting class may end up ranked in the nation's top-25. Before Seastrunk committed, the Ducks ranked 23rd.

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