Marshall needs to grab RB job by the throat
With the loss of All-American running back Kenjon Barner to the NFL, Oregon football fans turn their lusty eyes toward the thoughts of De'Anthony Thomas getting far more carries in 2013.
It's important to temper those hopes, however, as the Oregon coaching staff know that DAT is most effective when he's not carrying the whole rushing load, preferring to employ him as a weapon that plays off the other offensive dynamics the Duck offense creates. In short, DAT averaged just over 12 touches a game and that wil likely approximate his opportunities in 2013.
Given that, the Ducks will look to establish their running game with a new lead back. The top dog in that equation at this point is Byron Marshall, a sophomore who got off to a good start within the offense in 2012, then slowly faded from view but for a few moments here and there. Heading into spring camp, Marshall has a chance to take this job and make it his own for the next few years. At 5-foot-10 and just more than 200 pounds, he doesn't seem like a big back, but plays like one -- with speed. Marshall was the second-leading running back behind Barner a year ago, so he is in prime position to establish himself as the prime back and take the pressure of more carries (and more hits) off DAT.
If Marshall can't win the position outright, look for any number of youngsters to get a chance, including homegrown star Thomas Tyner, who's virtually as fast as DAT. Spring offers the Ducks a chance to reload the offensive formula that has worked so successfully for them the last two years -- get a lead back who can pound and produce big plays, freeing DAT up to be the sniper, picking off big plays when the defense has to pay attention to the other assets Oregon brings to the offense.
Thomas will still be the scary, big play guy we've all grown to love, but don't expect him to touch the ball 20 times a game moving ahead. Oregon's coaching staff knows how he functions best and under what conditions -- and those conditions require a lead back or at least a lead running game that creates fatigue for a defense and opportunity for the offense. That means Marshall, or some other back, needs to emerge this spring or early fall. Watch for it.