Very few programs in the country can lose someone like LaMichael James and hope to simply replace him with a similar talent. One of the biggest ways to be a true power program in college football is the ability to do just that.
The Ducks hope to prove themselves this year as they have a talented group of backs who should continue the dominant Oregon running game.
With James' departure, senior Kenjon Barner finally has the chance to be the go-to back for the high-flying Ducks. Being the go-to back means little in Chip Kelly's system, as Barner knows very well.
Like Barner did for James over the past three seasons, he will be pushed by sophomore sensation De'Anthony Thomas and touted freshman Byron Marshall. Beyond those three, there is little depth, but the Ducks have a roster loaded with versatile athletes who can step into the backfield if need be.
Kenjon Barner: A healthy season should see Barner leap up the Ducks' rushing chart to No. 2 all time.
Barner has never been an every-down back, but he has a chance to prove his doubters wrong in 2012. In 2011 Barner rushed for 939 yards on 152 carries, for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. He had 11 touchdowns on the ground and added three more through the air on 17 receptions.
Barner is not as tough in traffic as James, but he is a better receiver out of the backfield and should see the ball in a variety of ways.
Barner has been named to the watch lists for the Maxwell Award (college player of the year), Doak Walker Award (running back) and Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player).
De'Anthony Thomas: Even more so than Barner, Thomas has his doubters when it comes to being a true running back.
In reality, Thomas is an athlete who thrives in any situation. Running the ball between the tackles 15-20 times a game is not what Duck fans should want to see out of the nation's most exciting player. Thomas is tough despite his slender physique, but being in space is where his world-class speed is best utilized.
Thomas was a Freshman All-American last season while sharing Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors with USC's Marqise Lee. The "Black Mamba" was also named First-Team All-Pac-12 at kick returner and shared team MVP honors with David Paulson.
He rushed for 608 yards and seven touchdowns on just 55 carries (10.8 avg.). He was second on the team with 46 receptions for nine touchdowns and 605 yards. He also averaged 17.3 yards per punt return and gained 983 yards and two touchdowns on 36 kick returns (27.3 avg.). He was the only player in the nation to have 400 yards or more rushing, receiving and return yards.
With all those accolades it is hard to imagine the record-breaking Thomas to be any better, but he has never been one to disappoint. His sophomore season could be something special.
He joins Barner on the watch lists for the Maxwell, Doak Walker and Paul Hornung awards.
Byron Marshall: Marshall comes into 2012 as a highly touted prospect. With the transfer of Tra Carson, Marshall immediately becomes the third running back for the Ducks. His size and power will make him an important piece for the Ducks regardless of injuries. If an injury should occur to Barner or Thomas, Marshall would be thrust into the spotlight.
Marshall has good speed and elusiveness that should see him easily transition into the offense. He could wind up being a Jonathan Stewart-style back.
Ayele Forde: Forde has seen the field during mop-up duty so he has the experience should injuries arise.
Forde is smaller than Thomas and came to Eugene as a walk-on, but is more than serviceable as a fourth back. He scored two touchdowns and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2011, as he rushed for 176 yards on 36 carries.
Others: The Ducks roster is loaded with athletes who played all over the field in high school, and there are a couple of receivers who could become emergency running backs if necessary.
Junior Josh Huff played everything in high school and even got some carries out of the backfield as a freshman in 2010. His size, speed and athleticism would make him the ideal fit. Huff has struggled some at wide receiver and has even expressed his interest in getting some carries to running backs coach Gary Campbell.
Freshman Bralon Addison is another Texas prospect who played everywhere in high school. Like Huff, he is versatile and has similar size and speed, making him next in line should the season dictate a position move.