There might not be a more anticipated spring practice session in the Pac-12 than the one just about to get underway in Eugene due to the departure of Chip Kelly, and while the first steps of the transition from Kelly to Mark Helfrich will be the most intriguing part of the Ducks' spring, there are also some interesting position battles that will be taking place. The most interesting of which, might be taking place in the Ducks' backfield as they will begin looking for an "every down" type of back to replace Kenjon Barner and compliment De'Anthony Thomas.
It seems like record breaking running backs have been growing on trees lately in Eugene as this is the first season they have entered without a returning back that ran for more than 900 yards the previous season since 2008. While the experienced Thomas is probably the most dynamic and explosive running back they have ever had, he likely will not be expected to shoulder a huge carry load and is more effective when used more as a pure playmaker, than a traditional between the tackles runner. The Ducks were able to use LaGarrette Blount, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in this role throughout Kelly's tenure, but one of the few things that Kelly didn't leave Helfrich is an experienced and proven player for this role and he will probably be looking to establish one starting this spring.
The Ducks are actually shockingly thin at running back this spring, with Thomas and sophomore Byron Marshall being the only scholarship running backs on the entire roster, so expect Marshall to be given a great opportunity to shine. The 5'10 201 Marshall was one of the top running backs on the West Coast when he signed in 2012 and excelled whenever given the chance, running for 447 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. Marshall has yet to flash that top gear that James and Thomas have, but has more than enough speed to fill the role and could be comparable to Barner in size and speed.
The other two backs who have seemed some very limited action, who should at least compete for some carries are junior walk-ons Ayele Ford and Kenny Bassett. Both are very small, but will assuredly be counted on to at least spell Marshall and Thomas from time to time during the spring and could compete for scholarships and possibly fall carries with good enough performances in the spring.
No matter what happens during the spring, the competition should get much more interesting in the fall though, when five-star signeeThomas Tyner arrives with his 6'1 200 plus frame and world class track speed and that could be when the true competition begins. Until then though, the Ducks will have likely be focusing on seeing how well Marshall can handle the load Barner and James shouldered so well.