Unfamiliar Territory for Eugene

Injuries to Toney Baker and Andre Brown thrust Jamelle Eugene into a starting role last season. Seven starts and 800 all-purpose yards later, he enters camp at No. 1 on the depth chart.

This fall, the roles have been reversed for Jamelle Eugene.

Going into last season, the lightning quick running back was thought of as the third best back on the Wolfpack squad. Behind proven play-makers Toney Baker and Andre Brown, Eugene was seen as a luxury that might make his biggest contribution in the return game.

But injuries to Baker and Brown thrust Eugene into the starting role for the last seven games of the season. His performance on the field, 800 all-purpose yards in those seven games, was enough to move him from third-string last fall to first-string this fall according to head coach Tom O'Brien.

"Jamelle is ahead, because he's played and been around and went through the spring," O'Brien said. "He's the No. 1 guy and we'll go from there."

But for his part, the junior tailback says his status at the top of the depth chart won't change his approach one bit from last season.

"It feels the same as last year," Eugene said. "Nobody's spot is secure. I just see it as we have four or five great tailbacks and any one day you can be off and they can take your spot. I really don't see it as me being the No. 1 guy, I see it as all of us being the same."

His greatest competition for the starting role will come from Baker and Brown. Thursday, the first day of practice for the Wolfpack, was the first time Baker had participated in football activities since opening game last season when he went down with a knee injury. Brown missed time last season with a broken foot, an injury that recurred during spring practice and required a second surgery. But both players are healthy now, and Eugene is just glad to have his teammates back on the field.

"It's definitely nice," Eugene said. "There's a brotherhood we all share in the backfield and its great to have your brother there with you. It's comforting."

Eugene said he's not looking at improving any specific area of his game but just trying to improve all around as a back. He spent the summer working on his burst speed and his agility, and a quicker more elusive Eugene has to be a scary thought for opposing tacklers.

"Football isn't really about long distance, it's about quick bursts," Eugene said. "The longest you'll probably run in football is 11 seconds - that's a 99-yard run with a couple reverses in it. So it's really just about short bursts and giving all you got every play. That's what I tried to do in drills over the summer."

Those skills should also come into play in the return game, where he can help fill the hole left by return specialist Darrell Blackman this season. Last season Eugene returned six kicks for 108 yards total, numbers he wants to improve on this season.

"I plan on returning [kicks] again this year," Eugene said. "I mean its all up to the coaches, just like always, that'll be there decision. But I want the ball in my hands."

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