<
>

How should Oregon utilize two-way threat Charles Nelson?

2h
Speedster Charles Nelson has the ability to start for Oregon at receiver or cornerback. AP Photo/Ryan Kang

If it were up to Charles Nelson he would play every single snap of every single game for Oregon -- offense, defense and special teams. Last season we watched him go from special teams star to offensive threat before hearing about his transition to the defensive side of the ball this spring.

But still, in Eugene, it’s a question of where exactly the sophomore will play.

"That's a wrestling match of coaches," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in a news conference last week.

So, Ted and I decided to take the gloves off and wrestle with words, or "wordstle" if you will, as we look into our crystal balls and imagine where exactly Nelson will be most needed this fall.

Miller: The good news is that Nelson, a special teams ace as a true freshman, could play either receiver or cornerback and be good at it. He might even be able to play both ways and be good at that, too, though at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, at some point you'd start to wonder about the wear and tear on his body. That's not a question of want-to but of wisdom, both for Nelson and his future and for Oregon coaches and the Ducks’ present season. The one thing we know without qualification is that Nelson is far more valuable playing than sitting out because he's hurt.

So how should Helfrich handle Nelson, getting the most out of him without setting up the speedster for overload? To me, it starts in two places: 1. What Nelson wants; 2. Need. Though the Ducks look deep and experienced at receiver, there are some questions, both with players coming back from injuries and the uncertainty surrounding Darren Carrington's suspension. If Nelson would be a top playmaker for a new starting quarterback, a guy who can consistently turn a 5-yard out into a 55-yard TD, well, that's Oregon's thing.

On the other hand, the Ducks are rebuilding their secondary, and Nelson has the speed, hips and a hard-nosed aggression that he showed on special teams last season to become an All-Pac-12 cornerback. That would seem to be the need area, though the Ducks also have some promising youngsters in the secondary.

Nelson surged late last season as a receiver, catching a season-high seven passes for 104 yards in the Pac-12 title-game victory against Arizona. In the spring game, he turned short passes into 52- and 46-yard touchdowns, respectively. He also had an interception on defense. This feels like a choice between gold and diamonds, only with the shadow of greed -- both! both! -- suggesting a course of temperance.

This is not a decision, however, that needs to be made with finality in August. So why not begin the season with him playing both ways, with defense being his primary unit and him serving as a change-of-pace guy on offense. Of course, you'd have to monitor how much he's on the field, but the nonconference schedule -- including a week 2 visit to Michigan State -- would probably give Ducks coaches a good idea of what they could expect out of Nelson on both sides of the ball.

Jennings: I never really agreed with the idea of Nelson going to defense in the first place. Yes, there's certainly an area of need on defense, but I also don’t know if Oregon is in a place in its program yet where it can truly rely on the defense bailing the team out. I think as it has been in the past, it will be in the future -- the offense is going to be what pulls this team out of tough situations. Call me a negative Nancy, but I just don’t see the defense being that much better than last season.

Now, I don’t think the time he spent on defense this spring was necessarily a bad thing altogether. If there’s a time to try players out at new positions, the time is then, not midway through the season. So, I think this spring gave him a good baseline at which to play, and his natural instincts and athleticism will take him far enough on that end. If the defense needs him at some point, they can throw him into the fire knowing that Nelson has some idea how to walk out of it.

But where I disagree with you, Ted, is having him start the season off by playing both ways. I think he starts on offense and offense alone, because that’s where this team needs to make its footprint. It’s going to be breaking in a new quarterback (yes, I think Vernon Adams will be the guy) and that’s going to create enough of a setback as it is on offense. The more weapons Helfrich can consistently put around Adams, the better. Keep Nelson out there with Adams as much as possible.

I don’t know if there’s really that much of a difference in the play between cornerback Arrion Springs and Nelson. At least not enough of a difference to say you should (as you said) risk injury to one of your best offensive weapons, just to give him some of Springs' snaps. Give Springs the start on defense, and the confidence that comes with that kind of position, and allow him to really grow into himself before the conference season begins. Let him know that he’s not walking on eggshells and let him loose out there. If he gets into a really sticky situation, then maybe throw Nelson or Ugo Amadi (who also had an awesome spring) out there for a few snaps just to give the defense a change of pace, but I don’t think you start out with the mindset of Springs and Nelson splitting snaps. Allow Springs to grow into his role from Day 1. That, I think, will eventually make him better down the road, which in turn, will make this team better down the road.