By Rob Moseley
A look back at Oregon’s month of spring practices that culminated in the spring game on May 3.
Where things stood: Though De’Anthony Thomas opted to enter the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining, the Ducks still returned significant talent at the position. Byron Marshall ran for 1,038 yards as a sophomore, and that despite playing minimally in the final two games of the regular season due to an ankle injury. With Marshall not in uniform for the Civil War, Thomas Tyner ran 22 times for 140 yards. He ended up with 711 yards for the season, a UO record for a true freshman. Ayele Forde made his biggest impact on kickoff coverage, while 2013 recruit Kani Benoit shared carries with J.J. Jones and Lane Roseberry on the scout team as a redshirt.
What happened in April: Both veterans showed clear development over the course of 15 practices. Marshall came in a step faster, and looked like a more explosive runner day in and day out during the run-up to the spring game. Tyner was lauded by coaches for his improved practice habits; a reliable player in practice is a more reliable player in games, which bodes well for Tyner in what will presumably be an expanded role this fall.
Results from the spring game should be taken with a grain of salt for several reasons, but regardless, Tyner had a very encouraging day. He ran 10 times for 58 yards, and just as significantly did not have a carry for negative yardage, after leading UO running backs in that stat last fall. Tyner also caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota, indicating that despite Thomas’ absence, the Ducks still consider their running backs a threat as receivers out of the slot moving forward. Marshall, on the other hand, struggled to zero net yards on four carries. The spring game would indicate a level of separation between Tyner and Marshall that simply wasn’t apparent the other 14 practices, but it’s also clear the Ducks have no less than two capable Pac-12 running backs.
Among the other backs, Benoit had a breakout spring, capped by 44 yards on five carries in the spring game. He’s not as explosive in the open field as Marshall or Tyner, but Benoit is a shifty back who will break a tackle. Bassett looks like he could be an asset in the fall in the slot receiver role.
Who to watch in August: It’s inevitable that one preseason storyline will be whether Marshall or Tyner wins the “starting” job, but the fact of the matter is, both figure to play extensively in 2014, perhaps even in tandem. More interesting will be the development of the newcomers, at a position where the Ducks have an extensive track record of playing true freshmen. Royce Freeman was one of the top running back recruits in the country, having piled up 2,824 yards as a senior, and Tony James could be a fit in the hybrid role Thomas played. Can Benoit keep developing and win some carries in the fall, or will the freshmen make an immediate splash?
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART