The lineage of running backs coming through Eugene has been almost mythical the last 10 years. From Jonathan Stewart to LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, the Oregon running game has been in good hands.
In 2013, despite losing Barner, nothing will change, and that has nothing to do with De’Anthony Thomas, or the two highly touted recruits coming in.
That’s because Oregon has Byron Marshall.
Highly touted out of Valley Christian in San Jose, CA, Marshall played a small role this season. He carried the ball just 87 times for 445 yards and four touchdowns, mostly in mop-up duty. He tore up a hapless Tennessee Tech and ripped apart Oregon State (a big play was called back from a penalty), but for the most part Marshall flew under the radar.
That will change this season, in a big way. 5′-11″, 200 pound backs with speed don’t show up on your door step everyday (at least not in Corvallis or Pullman), and they certainly don’t get the opportunity to play in Oregon’s system. Marshall has all the talent to be the next star. The coaches see it, which is half the battle.
“He’s a guy I’ve got a lot of faith in,” running back coach Gary Campbell said. “I’m sure as the season goes on he’s going to build his confidence, and ours in him to put him in those situations.”
Two days later Marshall had a career day, rushing for 125 yards against Tennessee Tech.
The next week, he didn’t play.
Such is the life for a youngster in a crowded backfield. Marshall, for one, took the lack-of-action in stride — but the pain of sitting was evident.
“I don’t ever want to get used to it,” Marshall said of not playing. “It’s just something different. I just come out and work that much harder, so I don’t have to go through that again…
“Obviously it’s not my decision. I just had to come out, have a good week of practice, and hopefully the coaches will see that and I’ll get in.”
Marshall would see action in every other game except Stanford. He sat, kept his mouth shut, bided his time. Now with Barner lost to graduation, this figures to be his job to lose. His 10 appearances this season gave fans and teammates alike a glimpse of how good Marshall can be, and with another year of practice and the weight room under his belt, he only figures to get better.
New coach Mark Helfrich has hinted at opening up the passing game more in 2013. With a Heisman candidate in quarterback Marcus Mariota, you won’t find many objections from Armchair Quarterbacks. But this is still the Oregon offense, and running the ball will still be their bread-and-butter.
The running back position figures to be the most watched position battle when fall camp rolls around. Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Dontre Wilson will all have equal opportunities to land one of the most sought after positions in sports: starting running back for the Oregon Ducks.
All three are big. All three are track stars. All three have been or are currently highly ranked high school studs. Only one, however, has the experience. Only one has proven he can step into a PAC-12 game and show he belongs.
Only one can win the job. If I’m a betting man, my money is all in on Byron Marshall.