BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 22: Quarterback Bryan Bennett #2 of the Oregon Ducks runs for a first down past a diving attempt by defensive back Anthony Perkins #7 of the Colorado Buffaloes during the first quarter at Folsom Field on October 22, 2011 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Time for a change in Eugene, and I don't mean not being able to watch spring practice anymore. Two years of domination with Darron Thomas and LaMichael James in the backfield are done. The Oregon Ducks have to move on, and they have to find the right combination to keep the success rolling.
Losing LaMichael will be tough for Oregon to deal with. No one was more consistent and explosive than the James show the past few seasons. But it'll be easier to plug the gaps. Kenjon Barner should provide similar characteristics in terms of running style, although it remains to be seen whether he can replicate those numbers for a whole season. And there's the ultra game-changing talent in De'Anthony Thomas, who should be even more ready to cause defenses all sorts of headaches in his sophomore campaign.
There are depth concerns with the departure of Tra Carson. None of the other runners on the roster are on scholarship (Ayele Forde is probably third-up in the two deep, with Kenny Bassett likely to make a challenge as well), meaning Chip Kelly's going to have to get creative this spring in terms of how he handles the running offense. Kelly loves creativity, but I doubt running Barner and Thomas into the ground is what he has in mind. It's doubtful he wants to weigh too much on Byron Marshall too much in his first season either. Expect Thomas and the walk-ons to get a lot of burn in preparation for the summer.
Bennett is the odds-on favorite. He's the only quarterback who has any playing experience, and he performed quite superbly when Thomas went down due to injury. He helped rally the Ducks against the Sun Devils, then led them to a first half torching in Boulder. You'd figure he'd be the favorite to win the spot.
There are questions about how consistently he can complete the football. He only passed the ball a couple of times against ASU, and completed barely half his passes in his lone start against Colorado. These aren't great passing defenses, so it's a bit of a concern, but Bennett's running ability in those contests (a first down a carry in both games) negated all those issues.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota figures to give Bennett a push. He is definitely physically talented and provides a cannon of an arm, although he probably has similar concerns about his passing acumen. Oregon could be committing all-out to the run the next few seasons. Bennett and Mariota are guys that love to run the football, which could make Oregon very tough to stop.
The other big issue surrounds the offensive line. Two have graduated (Darion Weems and Mark Asper) and another is unavailable until fall (Carson York), meaning there will be a lot of individual battles taking place for each position. That might not be a bad thing, but considering how much the Oregon O-line struggled out of the blocks last season, it's yet another trouble spot.
Could be likely that Oregon is running a lot, lot more next season if they can't out work all the kinks in spring practice.