By Rob Moseley
Analyzing where things appear to stand at each position group entering preseason camp, based on developments last season, in the spring and over the summer.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
RB: Byron Marshall, Jr.; Thomas Tyner, So.; Royce Freeman, Fr.; Kani Benoit, RFr.; Tony James, Fr.; Kenny Bassett, Sr.; Ayele Forde, Sr.; J.J. Jones, So.; Casey Eugenio, Fr.; Jarrett LaCoste, Jr.; Lane Roseberry, So.
The veterans: In junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner, the Ducks boast what NFL.com calls the best running back tandem in the Pac-12 entering the 2014 season. Marshall was Oregon’s leading rusher in 2013 with 1,038 yards, despite missing most of the final two regular-season games due to injury. Tyner filled the void at that point, going on to a UO true freshman rushing record of 711 yards. It probably will remain helpful to think of the duo in tandem, because the Ducks figure to use them together quite a bit, perhaps the way LaMichael James and were utilized a few years back. Both Marshall and Tyner are capable of being every down backs, and each has solid hands, opening up a wealth of possibilities.
The other backs on the depth chart with extensive game experience are Kenny Bassett and Ayele Forde, two guys who joined the team as walk-ons before going on to earn scholarships. Forde has typically been the first guy off the bench, but Bassett had a very nice spring and could be in line for more carries in reserve as a senior. Both will try to hold off redshirt freshman Kani Benoit, another guy who had a very encouraging spring after running with the scout team last season. His spot with the scout team this season figures to be filled by the likes of J.J. Jones, Jarrett LaCoste and Lane Roseberry, hard-working guys looking to follow in the footsteps of Bassett and Forde by earning scholarships.
The newcomers: Here’s where it gets interesting. Position coach Gary Campbell has a long history of playing true freshmen, and he’s got a couple of good ones who arrived this summer. Royce Freeman immediately made a very good impression on many of his new teammates. He’s a big, fast back who averaged 11 yards per carry as a high school senior, and ran for 41 touchdowns. While Freeman is the bruiser, Tony James is smaller but has run the 100 meters in 10.56 seconds. Like non-scholarship newcomer Casey Eugenio, James could play running back or slot receiver initially, opening up the potential for even more two-back craziness this season and beyond.
What to watch: There figures to be a lot of questions throughout August about whether Marshall or Tyner will be the “starter,” but regardless, the Ducks will have an enviable one-two punch at running back. Then the question becomes how things sort themselves out among Freeman, James, Benoit and the others. Last season, the Ducks threw the ball on more than 40 percent of their offensive snaps for the first time since 2007, but with all this talent in the backfield, it’s fair to wonder whether the play calling will revert to form in 2014.