Pick 6: James, Rosen could make big impact after injuries
Royce Freeman hardly looked like himself last season.
An injured knee in the first month of the season caused Oregon's dynamic running back to miss a game. Then he took a shot to the chest that further limited his hard-charging style.
Freeman finished the season with 945 yards rushing, a little more than half what he had in 2015. Coming off a down year, he decided to return to Oregon for his senior season.
Across the country, teams are hoping to get a boost in 2017 from players returning from injuries that limited, cut short or wiped out last season. Here are some notable ones.
Shaun Crawford, CB, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were hoping for Crawford to become their shut-down corner in 2016, but he tore his Achilles tendon in the second game of the season. Crawford was limited this spring only as a precaution. He did more than enough to show coaches that he could be one of the best players on a defense that needs some difference-makers to emerge.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
James was one of the best defensive players in the country as a freshman in 2016. At 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, he is the prototype for that combo defensive back-linebacker hybrid that has become such a vital piece in defending spread offenses. A knee injury in the opener last season limited him to two games, and the Seminoles' defense took a while to figure out how to compensate for his loss. James looked like his old self at Florida State's spring game and is one of the big reasons why there is national title talk in Tallahassee this year.
Toa Lobendahn, OL, Southern California
After starting every game at center or tackle as a freshman, Lobendahn has had season-ending knee injuries each of the last two seasons. Torn ligaments in his right knee ended the 2016 season after one game. The Trojans have some rebuilding to do along the offensive line this year and are hoping Lobendahn can provide stability and versatility. He could end up playing just about any position.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen injured his shoulder halfway through the season and the Bruins fell apart without him, finishing 4-8. He was back in action this spring, recovered from November surgery. Rosen has the type of talent that championship teams are built around, but the Bruins haven't provided him much stability. A breakthrough season by Rosen could make UCLA one of the top turnaround teams in the country, give job security to coach Jim Mora and turn Rosen into a top-five pick in next year's NFL draft.
Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, defensive linemen, Tennessee
The Volunteers were crushed by injuries last season, including losing two big-time talents along the defensive line. Tuttle tore ligaments in his knee midway through last season and was held out of spring practice. McKenzie tore a muscle in his chest in October and missed the last six games. He was limited in spring. The hope is that the 300-pounders both will be 100 percent for the start of the season. Add in Jonathan Kongbo, Kendal Vickers and Kyle Phillips, and the Vols could have one of the best defensive lines in the Southeastern Conference - if not the country - 2017.
Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon, offensive lineman, Penn State
One of the notable subplots of the Nittany Lions' surprising run to the Rose Bowl last season was how they managed to survive key injuries to the offensive line in the second half of the season. Nelson went down with a knee injury in week six and Mahon was lost early in November with an undisclosed injury. The backups filled in capably and Penn State's offense hardly missed a step. Both Nelson and Mahon were limited in spring and there is some question about whether Nelson will be ready to go by September. If both are 100 percent, the Nittany Lions will have more quality depth up front than they have had since being hit by NCAA sanctions in 2012.
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