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by: CHRIS GRAYTHEN LeGarrette Blount (left) gets congratulations from Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman after Sunday's regular-season finale.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly has watched LeGarrette Blount enjoy a stellar rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he takes some pride in helping the Ducks' former big back bounce back after last year's suspension.

Blount punched Boise State's Byron Hout and then went wild en route to the locker room in the game in Idaho. Kelly suspended Blount for the season, but allowed him to work his way back on to the team, and Blount played in the final three games.

Blount reached the 1,000-yard mark Sunday on the next-to-last play of Tampa Bay's 23-13 win at New Orleans. He finished with 1,007 yards on 201 carries. He also scored his sixth in the finale, after picking up 164 yards, with two long runs, last weekend against Seattle,

Kelly said he and Blount talk a couple times a month.

"I talked to him on Christmas Eve," the coach says. "He's doing great and I'm really proud of him. What he's doing doesn't surprise me.

"He's got a good mindset right now," meaning Blount has focused on his job and his family, "and is working as hard as he can."

Blount joined Cadillac Williams and Errict Rhett as the only Bucs rookies to reach 1,000 yards in a season. And the 6-3, 250-pound Blount did it despite being cut in the preseason and being on the inactive list for three of the first five games.

Tampa Bay finished 10-6, not far out of the playoffs.

Does it make Kelly feel better that he aided Blount's route to the NFL by allowing him to rejoin the active roster last season?

"No. It was never about football," Kelly says. "I'm not concerned about 'LG' as a football player. It was about him as a person."

• The Ducks have practiced more than Auburn since each team's last game Dec. 4, starting a week earlier, as the two teams began workouts in Glendale, Ariz. this week for their Jan. 10 BCS national championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Kelly says the Oregon coaches have been "smart about our approach, in terms of not practicing every day, but we're getting our requisite work in."

Adds defensive end Zac Clark: "We're going to outwork them, that's our goal."

• The Ducks went through their first practice in Arizona on Monday, a 90-minute session at Pinnacle High School.

"Preparation has been outstanding," Kelly said. "Today, they picked up right where they left off (in Eugene), so their mindset is focused on (Jan. 10), and we're really preparing very well right now.

"It's not just one guy standing out, it's the entire team standing out - offense, defense, special teams practiced really, really well today."

Added defensive end Brandon Bair: "(Preparation has) been unbelievable. We haven't missed a beat. I've got to give props to the coaches for having a team that is able to drag out practice and everything for over a month long, waiting for a game like this and not having a slip in the beat at all. Our practices - we just continue to get better."

• Quarterback Darron Thomas said Monday that he doesn't worry about the 35-day layoff between games.

"We're getting our adrenalin back, and we're ready to play," he said.

"Really, it helped us out in the long run, getting guys back healthy and now practicing," he added. "And, in our mental game, it's also helped us out. We're going to be all right."

• Kelly has had other coaches in to watch the Ducks practice, namely Boise State's Chris Petersen. One day last week, it was Willamette's Mark Speckman.

So, what do Kelly and Petersen talk about?

"We talk about how to deal with you (reporters)," Kelly jokes. "He told me to ban all you guys. If we ban you next year, blame Chris Petersen."

At least we think Kelly is joking.

• A lot has been made about Oregon's offense, the fast-paced spread-option attack that has averaged nearly 50 points and 537 yards this season.

Kelly downplays any system as being the key to success, and really downplays his label as an offensive guru.

"If it was all system then everybody would run it," he says. "So much blown into that stuff, 'Well, it's the system they run.' Then I'd tell you every coach in the country is stupid, then, for not running the system.

"This game is played by players and won by players. It's always been about the players. It's not surprising that the finalists (Cam Newton, LaMichael James, Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore) for the Heisman Trophy, their team records were 47-2; one team lost on a field goal (Boise State/Moore) and one team (Stanford/Luck) lost to another guy who was in it (Oregon/James)."

• Kelly had another take on players:

"Physical talent is probably overrated. It's all about the makeup of (players). ... It's putting an emphasis on innate football ability, how smart they are, how well they work at things. ... I think we've got a team made up of 'football players.' We might not win a track meet, but we're not in a track meet. We have a bunch of 'football players' who know how to play the game and practice and prepare for the game. It's what we hang our hat on."

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