The Ducks will kick off practice for the 2013 season on Monday, Aug. 5. Over the next two weeks I'll preview each position group, offering my own analysis and projected depth chart, keeping in mind that the team doesn't actually have an official depth chart at this point.
Projected depth chart
RB: De'Anthony Thomas, Jr.; Byron Marshall, So.; Thomas Tyner, Fr.; Ayele Forde, Jr.; Kani Benoit, Fr.; Kenny Bassett, Jr.; Lane Roseberry, So.; Jordan Thompson, Sr.
KNOWN QUANTITIES: Headlining this group is one of the most exciting, intriguing weapons in all of college football, De'Anthony Thomas. He's a threat to score any time he touches the ball, which he's demonstrated in each of his two BCS appearances, running for touchdowns of 91 and 64 yards in the 2012 Rose Bowl and returning the opening kickoff of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl to the house. Thomas is Oregon's top returning receiver over the past two years, too, with 91 receptions for 1,050 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite Thomas' success in the "tazer" role, part slot receiver and part running threat, position coach Gary Campbell said in the spring Thomas could be the Ducks' primary ballcarrier in 2013. Given Thomas' stature — 5-foot-9 and about 175 pounds — he doesn't figure to pile up the carries the way predecessors LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner did. Then again, given Thomas' explosiveness, perhaps he won't have to.
The No. 2 back to start the fall figures to be sophomore Byron Marshall, at 5-10 and 200 pounds a more stout runner than Thomas. Marshall carried 87 times for 447 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman, primarily in games the Ducks were winning handily. Marshall had six carries for 60 yards in the spring game, early enough that he was facing some of Oregon's better defenders. Afterward, UO coach Mark Helfrich said the staff is still looking for more consistency from the young back. Newly on scholarship as of the spring was Ayele Forde, a hard-working jitterbug of a back who demonstrated his heart and toughness on the kickoff team a year ago. Filling out the veteran ranks are Kenny Bassett, Lane Roseberry and Jordan Thompson, all looking to follow Forde's path from walk-on to scholarship player.
NEW FACES: This summer, the Ducks added the fastest high school sprinter in state history, and also the most prolific running back in Oregon prep history, Thomas Tyner. Those accolades have resulted in a mountain of expectations for the true freshman, and in August the coaching staff can finally see how ready Tyner is — if at all — to help the team this season. On the eve of his move to Eugene, Tyner expressed a reserved optimism in his ability to do so, the sort of ego-less confidence that's a welcome sight in a young player. Less heralded, but perhaps just as valuable to a roster that returned just three scholarship backs, was the signing of Kani Benoit, like Tyner a bigger back who was still explosive enough to be a factor in the return game in high school.
TO BE DETERMINED: Just how will all the carries will be spread across the running back ranks, and will the Ducks will run as often as they did while Chip Kelly was head coach? For a variety of reasons, it seems likely the offense's run-pass balance may shift closer to even, after the Ducks ran some two-thirds of the time in 2012. But there will still be ample work for the running back corps. To avoid stressing Thomas, it might make sense to keep him between 15 to 20 carries per game. How much will the staff feel they can lean on Marshall? And just how ready is Tyner to contribute?
ESPN's Pac-12 blog says: The Ducks are in great shape at running back.
Coming up tomorrow: Tight ends
Preseason camp preview: Running backs
Release Date: 07/23/2013
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