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August 11, 2012A question on the minds of many people tracking the Oregon Duck football team is depth at running back. Following the early departures of LaMichael James and Tra Carson after last season, the depth chart moving from 2011 to 2012 was not what would have been projected throughout the recent years of recruiting.
Duck fans can relax because the cupboard is far from bare.
Duck Sports Authority spoke with Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell to get his assessment of the unit following the first week of fall camp.
"So far I'm pleased," began Campbell. "We haven't really gotten into a lot of hitting or anything yet. Today we were out in pads and yesterday was in shells. Things are coming along and practices have speeded up a little bit. The whole unit is looking pretty good and I like what I see so far. I'm just looking forward for things to continue to improve."
One answer is known in the form of Kenjon Barner. Barner has already been a solid contributor to the Ducks, amassing 20 touchdowns and 1856 yards rushing through his junior season in a backup role to James. Barner has been performing as would be expected of a talented senior so far in fall.
"He's done a great job of showing some leadership," Campbell said. "He is in the best shape he's ever been in. He works really hard all the time. He's got a few little bumps and bruises that he really works through. He's working with the younger players and I can see him helping those guys along. I know that he knows what he's doing and he's willing to share that knowledge with the other players."
Another known quantity is sophomore De'Anthony Thomas. As a freshman, Thomas dazzled the Duck fan base as well as the nation with his speed, shiftiness and ability to catch the football either out of the backfield or as a wide receiver. In 2011, Thomas contributed 18 touchdowns and 2235 all-purpose yards during the Ducks' march to a Rose Bowl championship.
"De'Anthony is such a versatile guy," assessed Campbell. "We would be remiss not to put him a different positions, not to move him around to put him in a position where he can catch the ball. He's got such great hands and such great routes and he's also very good out of the backfield. He can break one from anywhere on the field.
"I think that we will have him in a variety of positions no matter what. The good thing is, if we need him more in the backfield, he's available and ready and willing to do that."
Another addition for fall camp is touted freshman Byron Marshall, who Duck Sports Authority spent a week in San Antonio at the Army All-American game being impressed by earlier this year.
"I'm really pleased with Byron," said Campbell. "He's done a great job of picking up the offense. He's really conscientious. He wants to do well so he studies. I see him in his playbook all the time. He's got a natural feel for the offense because he's a good zone runner. Right now he's really right no track. I think he's going to be a really good player for us.
"He's got that vision. That's one of the main things that you have to have in this offense is to be able to see the running lanes. He's got the speed and quickness to accelerate once he sees them. He runs good routes and as you said he's got good hands. It looks very much like he's a well-rounded player."
Two walk-on players should be able to add to the depth chart as well. Sophomores Ayele Forde and Kenny Bassett. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, Forde rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
"Ayele and Kenny Bassett are both very good walk-on players," confirmed Campbell. "They could probably be scholarship players somewhere else. I truly believe after this spring that they can help us out a lot if need be. We can throw them in there and I have no problem with that at all."
Campbell said it is not certain how many players he will rotate into games, but in normal situations indicated it would be two.
"It's really hard to rotate more than three guys," explained Campbell. "If we've got good enough people I'll rotate four. But the other thing is guys need to get into the rhythm of the game. I won't substitute just to substitute. The number one guy will go in, and when it looks like he's tiring a little bit, the number two guy will go in. When the number one guy is rested he'll go back in.
"One and two is the ideal rotation and then if we can get into a situation where we've got the game in hand, or if the game is out of hand, then you want to get those other players in and give them a chance to play."
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said he would wait until a week before the season opener against Arkansas State to decide on the two-deep. Duck fans will find out then who exactly will be joining Barner in the coveted Oregon running back rotation.