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Oregon Ducks Running Backs Preview: So. Many. Stars.

Despite the loss of Kenjon Barner, Oregon's backfield remains the class of the conference.

Christian Petersen

There aren't really any true weaknesses on the Oregon Ducks' offense. Prognosticators and pundits, in searching for story angles, and Oregon fans, who lead the nation unnecessary panic, point out the running back position as a potential Achilles' heel given the loss of Kenjon Barner, who rushed for over 1,700 yards last season and has been a staple of the Oregon offense for the past four seasons. While Barner was an excellent back--one of the very best in Oregon history--such panic is selling short the extremely impressive collection of talent that is amassed on the current roster. If we measure by recruiting stars, this is the most talented backfield in the entire country. And, while stars don't count for everything, its worth noting that everything Oregon has touched at running back has turned into gold (and churned out thousand-yard seasons) since Saladin McCullough roamed the sideline in the mid-90s. Is anyone seriously concerned that this is going to be the group that doesn't pan out.

Of the three running backs in the group, Byron Marshall seems to be the most forgotten, but is also the likely starter. Fans clamor for freshman Thomas Tyner because he is a local kid and one of the biggest recruits in the nation last season, but Marshall was a four-star recruit in his own right two years ago, and was seen as the best running back recruit on the west coast. Nothing that happened last season gave any reasons for concern--in limited action behind Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, Marshall rushed for 5.1 yards per carry. At 201 lbs., he's a bit bigger than Barner and LaMichael James, but is hardly a bulldozer. He showed an ability to get tough yards last season. His break away speed isn't a fast as Barner or James, but word is that its fast enough to break away from most Pac-12 defenders. We'll see just how fast he is this season, and I expect Marshall to get 15-20 carries per game.

De'Anthony Thomas returns this season. We know DAT isn't an every-down back. Running backs coach Gary Campbell has mentioned that they want to increase Thomas' touches to 12-15 per game this season. That likely will be once again split up between time at RB, slot receiver, and in the return game (he only had 12 touches in a game five times last season). Thomas will serve as a change of pace from Marshall.

The wild card is freshman Thomas Tyner. He has spent the last week in a boot with an undisclosed foot injury that is thought to be minor in nature. While this likely takes him out of the running for the starting job, he is likely too talented to keep off the field. He is built very similar to Marshall and is even faster as a former track star who holds the Oregon prep 100-meter record, but doesn't have the experience in the system that Marshall does. An interesting conundrum is at play--Tyner is the likely starter for almost any school in the nation. At Oregon, he enters the season decidedly third-string. This is the most intriguing storylines on the offense. Will Tyner be used as Marshall was last season, which was essentially a garbage-time backup? Will he eventually split carries with Marshall? I don't think he overtakes Marshall as the primary guy, but do believe that he forces his way into getting a chunk of first-half carries.

Walk-ons Ayele Forde and Kenny Bassett should resume their roles as guys who will get carries finishing out blowouts. Freshman Kani Benoit will likely redshirt this season.

This unit is absolutely loaded with talent. Not having an established star taking over, a la Kenjon Barner last season, is no reason to be concerned.