With LaMichael James gone, the smart move for Chip Kelly will be to transition Kenjon Barner into James' role, while allowing De'Anthony Thomas to continue to flourish in the change-of-pace, playmaker position.
The Ducks are a national championship contender, and while Marcus Mariota at quarterback brings some newness to the offense, Barner and Thomas are known commodities.
Barner is the guy who filled in for James during his suspension and did admirable work during James' bout with injury. Barner and James are quite similar in size and style. They are one-cut-and-go guys who can hit the seam and get away from the defense in a hurry.
As James looks to make it in the NFL, it should be Barner who steps in as the feature back.
We know that Barner can work the zone, the counter, the cutback, the zone-read, the trap and everything else Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has in his bag of run plays.
While we know how Barner should and likely will be used, the real debate is De'Anthony Thomas.
Thomas, who boasted a 10.82 yards-per-carry rushing average last season, is likely due for a breakout. Kelly would be best-served to let that breakout occur naturally. Last year, Thomas burst onto the scene as the primary receiving target of Darron Thomas and was a remarkably explosive change-of-pace player when in the backfield.
This year, with teams fully aware of the sophomore, the goal should be getting Thomas his touches in the flow and letting him make the most of those opportunities.
First feed Barner the rock, and as the chances present themselves—and they will be plentiful—get Thomas loose on the edge with a quick pass, open downfield with play action or surprise people with a run. Thomas is going to get those touches because he can get open in the passing game and he can outsprint defenses to the corner.
Throw in the fact that Marcus Mariota, if everything goes as planned, is going to draw plenty of defensive attention, and Thomas should have lots of room with which to work.
As the season comes, look for Barner to be the workhorse. The more interesting part is seeing if Oregon can avoid forcing Thomas the ball, instead getting him touches in the flow as he potentially becomes an even more explosive playmaker than a season ago.