There is no controversy at the RB position, where senior RB Kenjon Barner gets his chance to step out of LaMichael James' shadow and become the feature back. De'Anthony Thomas figures to see increased carries as the backup, while true freshman Byron Marshall also figures to be in line for significant playing time. Depth behind those three is scant, but sophomore walk-on Ayele Forde had moments last season, albeit in walk-on duty.
The depth chart is pretty defined, the question is about depth, and it may be the question that makes me more nervous than any other. Barner is a legitimate stud, and there are no doubts about his ability to put up huge numbers. His durability is a different issue, and he has sat multiple games the last two seasons due to injuries. While DAT should see increased snaps at the RB position, durability questions remain about his body, and significant snaps at WR is still likely part of his future. Indications are that Marshall will be ready to contribute right away, but the fact remains that he's a true freshman who isn't at spring ball.
If this group stays intact and plays up to potential, the RB unit has the chance to again be among the most spectacular in the nation. However, what if an injury forces DAT or Barner to miss games? What if Marshall for whatever reason isn't ready? We could be seeing Ayele Forde getting significant carries. And I don't even want to talk about the depth chart beyond that. Its an issue of depth, not talent, and there is a reason that rumors persist of Oregon continuing to look for a JC guy that has maybe been overlooked and can come in next season.
Barner is going to have a monster season. I think Kelly will look to utilize the wideouts a bit more this year, but that unit has issues of its own. The QB should also be more of a factor in the running game this season. Its likely that a RB misses time at some point this season, so I think we are looking at significant snaps for Forde. If that comes against Colorado or Arizona State, it shouldn't be much of an issue. If it happens against USC, the Ducks could be in trouble. To have a great season, you need an element of luck. Bad injury luck derailed a potential national championship season for Oregon in 2007. Good injury luck propelled them in their 2010 run. Whether Barner and Thomas can stay healthy could mean the difference between a fourth straight Pac-12 title, or whether the Alamo or Holiday Bowl is our ultimate destination.