The DAT Question: How Much Can He Take?
By John Baker
Just a few days into fall practice 2013 and the question that's been nagging Oregon Nation since last year's bowl win already is getting kicked around this year: What will happen with De'Anthony Thomas?
News organizations that cover the Ducks on a local, regional or national level all seem curious about how the Ducks will deploy one of the nation's top offensive weapons. They aren't alone. Fans are too.
This much is certain: After averaging seven touches a game as a freshman and just more than 10 last year as a sophomore, Thomas is slated to see the ball more. Perhaps by a significant amount. And that has people a little tentative.
Gone are workhorse running backs like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner to handle the 230 to 260 carries the prime running back delivers each year in this offense. The job of maintaining that productivity in 2013 will fall to new faces in the backfield, and perhaps some redefining of DAT's primary position.
Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost and coach Mark Helfrich said Thomas is going to be more of a focal point this season. When you average a score every 8.5 times you touch the ball, it doesn't take a brainiac to know that with some proven parts gone, getting Thomas more involved is a good move. The question is how much more involved.
Running backs coach Gary Campbell agreed that Thomas will run the ball more in 2013, but stopped short of calling him a workhorse type of back. There will be no 30-carry games for Thomas, who at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds likely wouldn't stand up well to that kind of pounding. Still, Campbell said, the goal is to get Thomas the ball and 20 or fewer carries out of the running back slot would seem to be more plausible. That would also give Thomas plenty of opportunity to line up all over the field, a tactic the Ducks like because it helps create mismatches.
Even though Oregon's coaches have no doubt been pondering the possibilities of Thomas since last season ended, answering the question 'what do we do with De'Anthony?' still seems fairly elusive.
For Thomas's part, he remains open to anything the Ducks need — running back, receiver, returner or even some cornerback, as was kicked around a bit last season. But how much more of a pounding can the slightly-built Thomas take on a game-by-game basis? And is there a magic number of touches out there? The margin for error played out Wednesday when Thomas left practice early with a member of the program's training staff.
As in the Chip Kelly era, new coach Helfrich keeps his practices closed and his injury information private. Guarding Thomas' role is part of the Oregon football equation that catches people's attention.