With an all-time top ten list featuring players like Derek Loville, Saladin McCullough, Reuben Droughns, Jonathan Stewart, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner — the Oregon football program has always done well with running backs. The way they have been used has evolved over the years, but the emphasis on stocking the backfield with high quality players remains unaltered.
The iron-man-bell-cow-three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust days of the 70’s and 80’s, when one player would routinely rack up 25-35 bruising carries per game as the “featured back,” may be over, but as players such as LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and De’Anthony Thomas have shown us, the modern day running back is different, but just as effective — if not more so.
This coming season though, the Ducks seemed to have loaded up at the position like never before. Considering what is becoming an increasingly crowded depth chart, the possible backfield combinations seem almost exponential.
So, just how will the Ducks divvy up the touches? With Marshall and Tyner both back and healthy, is there anyone else on the roster who could challenge for playing time? Let’s take a closer look at the contenders.
No. 9 Byron Marshall
Entering 2013, many wondered whether it would be Marshall or Tyner that would carry more of the load. While each back was used often, Marshall ended up with the bulk of the carries and cracked the 1,000 yard mark despite an injury toward the end of the regular season.
Marshall was at his best during a stretch in the middle of the season in which he posted five of his six career 100-yard games, headlined by his 192-yard, three touchdown performance in the pink uniform game vs Washington State. Marshall appeared to settle in to the pace of the game better this season, and will enter as the probable starter in 2014.
No. 30 Ayele Forde
Ayele Forde comes into his redshirt senior season already having accomplished more on the field than many would have expected from a 5-foot-7 walk-on. Now with 99 career carries and more than 500 yards, Forde has established himself as a shifty and surprisingly powerful runner with a low center of gravity and a killer spin-move that has proven effective against unsuspecting foes. More importantly, Forde has managed to carve out an excellent niche role on every Special Teams unit, where his speed and physicality are especially valuable as a gunner on the punt team.
No. 34 Lane Roseberry
During the monsoon that was the Cal game, I turned to a friend and exchanged a high-five when Roseberry entered the game. “Hey look,” I said, “They’re putting in Lane Roseberry!”
The couple next to us turned to me and asked “Who is Lane Roseberry?”
The answer: Lane is a 6-foot-1, 233 pound former all-state linebacker from Bly, Oregon, who once recorded 33 tackles in a single game. After a season on the scout team, Roseberry’s presence last season often was a sign of a game well in hand. Roseberry’s entry was a welcome sign after enduring the next-level downpour that day.
No. 36 Kani Benoit
One of the relative unknowns on the roster, the 6-foot-0, 205 pounder will get his first opportunity to compete for playing time after redshirting in 2013. The Arizona native was regarded as a three-star recruit after rushing for more than 200 yards in six of his 12 games, accumulating 2,260 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior in high school.
The five-star recruit was ranked as the No. 3 running back prospect in the nation by 247 Sports, and was offered by the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, and virtually every Pac-12 school.
The 5-foot-11 bruiser is listed at 215 pounds, and proved to be dominant in the high school All-American game when he cruised to three touchdowns. Most fans are looking for Freeman to be a primary challenger to Marshall and Tyner for carries in 2014.
Gary Campbell and the Ducks literally stole one out of the Gator’s backyard when the Gainsville native James committed to Oregon. A bit more under the radar than Tyner or Freeman, the four-star recruit is listed at a De’Anthony Thomas-esque 5-foot-10, 170-lbs. and like Freeman, was recruited by many of the same major programs such as Miami, Ohio State, Clemson, and Auburn.
A late season injury would seem to make James a likely redshirt candidate in 2014. But after an expected offseason of rehab, conditioning, and adjusting to the college game, James will likely be a crucial piece of the offense in 2015 and beyond.
No. 31 Kenny Bassett
The two-time Pac-12 Academic all-conference pick from Beverly Hills probably won’t be counted on for major amounts of carries, but the redshirt senior has appeared in 12 games over the past two seasons, and finished tops in his position workout group in both the bench press (320 lbs.) and shuttle run drill (3.88 sec)
No. 24 Thomas Tyner
Thomas Tyner put himself in truly elite company last season as a true freshman. Not only did he see the field, but at certain times he looked downright unstoppable. As a consensus five-star recruit, the in-state prospect seemed to justify the high praise and accolades that surrounded him coming out of Aloha High School, when the speedy and powerful 5-foot-11, 211-lb. back was named as the 6A state Offensive Player of the Year after putting up ridiculous stats as a prep.
The saying goes that a player will make his biggest improvement on the field between Year 1 and Year 2. And towards the end of last season, it was clear that Tyner was running at a different level. Whether it was boosted confidence, gaining a better knowledge of the offense, improving himself physically — or a combination of all three — Tyner seems poised to continue his steep trajectory and likely be counted upon early and often in 2014.
In these eight players, Oregon has a strong stable of RBs going into the offseason. Much of what will determine the role each one has in the 2014 Duck offense will be what they do in spring practices, training camp, conditioning workouts and in the weight room. It will be exciting to see who becomes the next stand out Duck RB stud in what has become a tradition of great Oregon backs.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck