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At Oregon, 'tazer' spot offers options

8/19/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

EUGENE, Ore -- It's not hard to imagine Dr. Evil, er, Chip Kelly gathering Oregon's most elite minions to announce that he had developed an offense-changing machine which was in essence a sophisticated weapon he called a [finger quotes] "tazer," which he'd used to punch holes in a defense.

"According to Coach Kelly," tazer Kenjon Barner said. "It's a position where we could play X, Y, Z or tailback or the R."

That alphabet soup probably means little to you.

"It's pretty much an athlete," Barner concluded.

That's the rub. Standard offensive positions were preventing Kelly from getting as many of his athletes -- he's got a bunch -- on the field as possible, so he decided to say bollocks to standard offensive positions.

So Barner and LaMichael James, both running backs, and speedy tight end Ed Dickson are now [finger quotes] tazers. They can line up in the backfield. Or any of the receiver positions.

Think of it as an H-back on jet fuel.

"We didn't want to be limited by being a one-back team," Kelly said.

Dickson was a second-team All-Pac-10 tight end last year. He caught 35 passes for 508 yards and is a likely first-day NFL draft pick this spring.

The official explanation for the name is about positions. A running back is a T. A tight end is a Z. A slot receiver is an R. T-Z-R.

Dickson, however, whispered the hidden meaning of the name "tazer."

"We can freeze a guy in motion when we run our routes -- that's why they call it a tazer," he said. "You taze somebody and they're stuck. That's what we do to somebody when we run our routes."

The position might help Dickson bust out of the shadow of Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, who seems to hog most of the tight end attention in the Pac-10.

"He's a really good player," Dickson said. "I respect his game. He's tough and big. We're two different players."

James, who missed Wednesday's practice because of illness and a thigh bruise, has been impressive most of camp. Barner, a converted defensive back, has exceeded expectations since switching to offense during spring practices.

Having them only spell starting running back LeGarrette Blount for a handful of plays a game didn't sit well with Kelly.

Of course, for Barner, it means his former defensive mates tease him about going over to the dark side.

During "thud" periods when the contact is supposed to be light, Barner might get a little extra mustard.

"They give me a hard time all day every day -- the whole secondary," he said. "They call me traitor -- 'This is what happens when you leave us.' But it's all out of love."

If the [finger quotes] tazers punch lots of holes in opposing defenses and score a bunch of touchdowns, then there surely will be love all around.

And maybe a few other teams will employ tazers.