Running back isn’t an open question for the Ducks, not with senior Kenjon Barner ready to step into the #1 role vacated by LaMichael James. But running back depth will be a point of emphasis in camp.
Super soph De’Anthony Thomas is listed as a “running back”, but Thomas at 5-9 and 173 pounds isn’t your typical run in between the tackles back. He is better utilized with misdirection, traps and in the passing game.
“I think De’Anthony’s role will increase and I think Kenjon’s role will increase,” Kelly said. “We really had three guys who could have played for anybody at that position. Knowing we have those guys makes you sleep better at night. The cupboard is certainly not bare. We will see who we can develop as a No. 3 and no. 4 running back because you’re going to need some depth in this league.”
As a true freshman, Thomas gained a school record 2,235 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He also set a Rose Bowl record with a 91-yard touchdown run. The question was raised, given the fact that LaMichael James left, does Thomas NEED to get better for this team to be successful.
“I believe he can be better,” Kelly said. “For him to do what he did with his numbers kind of jumps out at you. Sometimes the vision or the eyes you see your own guys through everyday, you don’t really think about it. We see him in practice and he has done things I’ve never seen before.”
But Kelly won’t hand the ball to Thomas 25-30 times a game like he did with LaMichael. It will be up to Barner to get the bulk of the yards that are to be gained between the tackles and by the sounds of it, he is more than ready.
“Coming in here (as a freshman) … to grow and develop, everything just slows down for you,” said Barner. “But now you’ve learned the system – you know what’s going on so you just relax and let the game come to you.”
“I am going to be hard on everybody and I would expect the same from them. As a leader you can’t allow the slightest slip up – if you allow it once someone might think they can get away with it twice. You have to be hard but at the same time you have to be a good leader.”
Barner could have started for most of the teams in the country, especially the Pac-12, if he had not been behind James on the depth chart for three years. He will get plenty of opportunities to show his talents as the No. 1 guy and possibly do what no Duck as ever done before and that’s to play in four BCS games.
“Most guys don’t ever make it to a BCS game, let alone a bowl game,” Barner said. “So for me to have the opportunity to be here in this program and go to three straight BCS games and have the possibility of a fourth, it’s just amazing.”
The Ducks have three very inexperienced players behind Barner and Thomas; sophomores Ayele Ford and Kenny Bassett. Incoming freshman Byron Marshall is a highly touted recruit seen to be capable of following the footsteps of Thomas to be an immediate threat.
As a senior from San Jose, Calif. and Valley Christian High School, Marshall played in the 2012 Army All-American game, rushed for 914 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 9.38 yards per carry despite missing three games due to injury. As a junior, he was named to the all-Mercury News football team second-team where he carried the ball 145 times for 1,360 yards and 20 touchdowns.
– Don Smalley