Without Carson, Ducks’ Depth Issues a Worry
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 3, 2012
Ironically, Tra Carson would have been a better traditional running back than the sublime De’Anthony Thomas, though not a better all-around offensive weapon. For all his unparalleled athletic gifts, Thomas lacks the size to be a LaMichael James-like every down back — though James, it should be added, also had to answer the inevitable questions about his own size, or lack thereof. Note the past tense in the first sentence: As first reported a month ago by the Eugene Register-Guard, Carson is in fact transferring, though Oregon, in a university-issued statement, pointed out that Carson “had not completely dismissed the notion of a return to Oregon until shortly before the end of the winter term.”
You can see why Carson might have had second thoughts. Transferring might guarantee a starting job elsewhere beginning in 2013, but is there another F.B.S. program that could offer an offense quite like Chip Kelly’s at Oregon? Perhaps more than any other attack — outside of Navy, Army and Air Force — Oregon’s system ensures that its backfield puts up crooked numbers on a weekly basis.
Carson was one half of Oregon’s gifted running back haul last February, joining Thomas, and rushed for 254 yards and a touchdown in fairly limited duties as a true freshman. Those numbers would have jumped ahead in 2012, had he opted to remain on campus.
James is gone, taking with him the 247 carries he earned a season ago. No, Carson wasn’t going to leapfrog ahead of his competition to earn the starting nod; regardless, he would have been in line for a serious bump in production, perhaps as the the more traditional second option to senior Kenjon Barner, James’ replacement in the starting lineup.
Carson had his options. Barner is a senior, Thomas a sophomore. Barner was going to carry the load this fall, with Thomas continuing to alter opposing defensive game plans as a running back and a receiver and in the return game. But Thomas isn’t an every down back; Carson, at 6’0, 227 pounds, has 250-carry size.
So he could have waited it out. Barner’s going to have a huge senior season, leaving Carson in a secondary — or tertiary — role, but there’s no reason to think that Carson couldn’t have been Oregon’s lead back in 2013, had he not transferred. With Thomas looking like a potential three-year player — now I’m really getting ahead of myself — Carson could have held a stranglehold on the position as a senior.
His decision to transfer — Carson wonders “what color uniform I’ll be in next year,” which is a great, only-at-Oregon quote — doesn’t hamper the Ducks’ bottom line too much heading into 2012. Barner is going to break out in a major way. Both he and Thomas should be considered Heisman contenders. They’ll do yeoman’s work for Kelly in the running game, but what happens if one suffers an injury?
Carson will be replaced in due time: Oregon signed Byron Marshall in February and has already landed a verbal commitment from five-star back Thomas Tyner for the class of 2013. For this coming season, however, Carson robs Oregon of valuable — and relatively proven — depth at the position, leaving the Ducks relying on Barner and Thomas to remain healthy for the entire season.
Ignore Thomas’ ability to win games as a receiver, or his ability to alter field position in the return game. If he misses, say, a month due to injury, Oregon would need either Marshall or former walk-on Ayele Ford to help pick up the slack in the running game. Marshall, a four-star recruit out of San Jose, won’t arrive until over the summer. For now, Oregon’s depth chart has Ford as the next in line for snaps behind Barner and Thomas.
With Carson officially gone, Oregon would be in trouble if Barner misses an extended period of time due to injury. Thomas had only 55 carries over 14 games last fall, and only twice more than four carries in any game during Pac-12 play — with a season-high of seven carries against Arizona State. If Barner misses September, the Ducks would need to cobble together a strong running game with Thomas, Ford and Marshall splitting Barner’s projected workload.
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