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Charles Nelson: Offense or Defense?

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The Ducks explosive kick-returner has illustrated his special teams prowess routinely, but he is being underutilized

NCAA Football: Colorado at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The most versatile athlete on the present Oregon Ducks football roster is Charles Nelson. His current position of wide receiver only constrains his true athletic ability, relegating him to just one position. Truth be told, Nelson should be given more opportunity than he currently possesses at multiple positions.

Nobody will deny his special teams ability, on both kick and punt returns. He is a game-changing athlete with rare traits of both an offensive and defensive player.

"I would bet my mortgage and everything I have on Charles Nelson every time out," said Ducks’ head coach Mark Helfrich.

In 2016, the junior has returned 19 kickoffs for 583 yards including a touchdown. For the season, Nelson is averaging 30.7 yards per returned kick. He has also returned six punts for a total of 101 yards, which is 16.8 yards per return.

Not withstanding, he is a talented offensive player. The Daytona Beach, Florida native has lined up at wide receiver, running back and even quarterback, while in the wildcat, already this season. However, he still has NOT played a single down at his strongest position.

Nelson should be starting in the defensive backfield, namely at safety. The Ducks have nothing to worry about with a deep plethora of talented running backs, alongside a stable of playmaking wide receivers. So, why continue to minimize Nelson’s playing time?

It seems like a waste to have the ultra-explosive Nelson competing with 6-8 other Duck offensive specialists for playing time. In reality, it’s Oregon’s defense that remains their greatest weakness. The defensive unit would welcome him back happily after his superb 2015 season.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State
Charles Nelson is the most exciting player to watch on an offense loaded with talent. Yet, the versatile athlete needs more opportunity, everywhere on the field.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Last year, Nelson started the last eight games for the Ducks at safety. There, he collected 46 total tackles, (34 solo) alongside a tackle for loss, two interceptions and four passes defensed.

His standout game from the 2015 season came against Arizona State when Nelson recorded 15 total tackles, 14 were solo.

For his stellar all-around play, the Coaches awarded him 2015 1st-Team Pac-12 All-Conference alongside being named to the Paul Hornung Award Watch List for the nation’s most versatile athlete.

So far this season, Nelson has caught 24 balls for a pedestrian 240 yards, averaging a modest 10.0 yards per catch and no touchdowns. His stats out of the backfield have been mediocre in limited action, rushing twice for 13 total yards. Most of his action at running back or wildcat quarterback has come during two-point conversion attempts.

“With the skill set of Charles, it’s a rare combination out of something teams have to prepare for. That’s something we’ll continue to do,” Helfrich stated in reference to Nelson quarterbacking the wildcat two-point conversion attempts.

No. 6 should spend zero time on the sideline during a Duck game. Sure, the occasional breather on offense is fine, but what is not acceptable is someone with the talent and explosiveness of Charles Nelson being wasted on the bench. If he isn’t going to play every down for Matt Lubick’s offense, then he should never come off the field for Brady Hoke’s defense.

Oregon v Michigan State
Once Nelson has the ball in his hands, anything is within range of occurring. The Ducks need to multiply their opportunities by having Nelson on the field more often.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Right now, the Ducks offense just needs a field general. Once the right quarterback is found, everyone else on offense will fall into their role. However, it is the defense that remains starless and undisciplined. Someone needs to step up, and soon.

The night before kickoff, we know Nelson will not beat the No. 5 Washington Huskies (5-0) all by himself. Yet, we also know he has the ability, more than any other player on the field, to change a game in an instant.

If Helfrich wants to tilt the college football world off its axis Saturday, he would be wise to have Charles Nelson leading the Duck defense onto the Autzen Stadium field surface. T-minus 24 hours!

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