by Rob Moseley
Starter: The razzle-dazzle all-purpose back Thomas wanted to prove he could be an every-down player as a junior, and he opened the year atop the depth chart. Thomas led the Ducks in rushing in all three nonconference games, averaging 112.7 yards per game and 8.1 yards per carry against Nicholls, Virginia and Tennessee. But an ankle injury on the opening kickoff of the Cal game to open Pac-12 play derailed Thomas’ season, and he was Oregon’s leading rusher just once more. That was at Arizona, when Thomas was a rare exception to an otherwise listless performance by the team as a whole.
With Thomas on the sideline, Marshall seized the opportunity and finished the season with 1,038 rushing yards. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, as did Thomas (and Tyner, strangely enough). Marshall had 14 rushing touchdowns, and his long carry on the season of 49 yards bested by nine Thomas’ longest of the season. Not to suggest Marshall is the explosive runner Thomas is, but the speed is there when he needs it, for a player more often resembling an every-down work horse.
Reserves: Oregon’s longest carry of the season by a running back was of 66 yards, by Tyner, who showed flashes of his five-star potential on carries like that touchdown run against Washington State. Tyner also led the running backs in yardage lost, not uncommon for freshmen, who need to be more purposeful and dance less than they did in high school. But Tyner’s 711 yards were a school record for a true freshman, and he carried the load in Marshall’s absence against Oregon State, running 22 times for 140 yards.
The next guy off the bench was Forde. His leadership on kickoff coverage remains his primary position of impact, but Forde managed to be the Ducks’ second-leading rusher at Colorado, running 10 times for 88 yards. Roseberry and Bassett also picked up a handful of carries over the course of the season.
Redshirts: Carries with the scout team went to Benoit and Jones, along with Roseberry. As was the case at quarterback, running back featured a spirited battle between a redshirting scholarship player and a walk-on, with the walk-on sometimes having the edge on a given day. Benoit, the 2013 recruit, and Jones, a shifty little walk-on, took turns bashing into the starting defensive line, being pitched around like rag dolls as the defenders tried to strip the ball out, and every once in a while bouncing one outside for a big gain.
With Thomas off to the NFL a year early, the Ducks enter the 2014 spring with a very solid, experienced one-two punch in Marshall and Tyner. Both figure to get even better given their youth, Tyner in particular now that he’s got a season of collegiate experience under his belt. April will be an important month for the rest of the group to lay groundwork for next fall, because the Ducks have traditionally recruited very well at running back, and the competition only gets tougher each year in preseason camp.