De'Anthony Thomas Shows His Feature Back Credentials vs. Virginia

Kyle KensingContributor ISeptember 7, 2013

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 7: De'Anthony Thomas #6 of the Oregon Ducks celebrates after rushing for a one-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Any concerns about the 5'9", 176-pound De'Anthony Thomas handling the burden of playing feature back were emphatically addressed Saturday in the Ducks' 59-10 rout of Virginia. 

Against an aggressive Cavaliers front seven, Thomas split the bulk of the Ducks' ball-carrying responsibilities with Byron Marshall. He garnered 11 carries to Marshall's 15. All Thomas did with that workload was roll up 11.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns. 

Through two weeks, Thomas is the primary option in the Ducks' multifaceted backfield with 29 rushes. He may not be a back who rushes 25 to 30 times a game, because head coach Mark Helfrich's offense does not need him to be.

But if Thomas continues using his speed and elusiveness to parlay huge gains from his 15 to 20 carries per game, he'll register statistics on par with the most prolific workhorse, every-down backs in college football. 

Thomas is far from those prototypical feature backs because of his slight frame.

That posed no problems to the quick-strike Oregon offense in his first two seasons, with LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner fulfilling the every-down back role. Their respective presences in the Duck backfield allowed Thomas to operate on the edges and in space, which Thomas did as a wide receiver in 2011 and as a change-of-pace running back in 2012. 

With inexperienced Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner vying for the position Barner vacated, Thomas provides the Ducks their most potent option out of the backfield. Make no mistake, that is no indictment of Marshall or Tyner. The freshman, Tyner, in particular demonstrated his ability, scoring a pair of touchdowns Saturday.

However, Thomas is and will continue to be a cornerstone as vital to the Ducks as quarterback Marcus Mariota.  

Bleacher Report Lead Writer Michael Felder broke down Thomas' potential to the Oregon offense in the offseason and astutely pointed out the running back's value in the passing game. 

Indeed, Thomas displayed the same ball-catching skill against Virginia that made him a 605-yard receiver in 2011 and a 445-yard one in 2012. He turned his one reception Saturday into a 28-yard gain. His ability in the passing attack will be a vital component for Oregon throughout 2013, but Thomas' first two performances of the season suggest it will be a supplementary facet of his well-balanced game rather than a centerpiece. 

As the above-linked piece notes, Thomas' production dipped the more he carried in 2012. However, Saturday, he gained 43 yards on his five second-half touches, including eight yards on his final scoring rush. 

His production against the Cavaliers defense cannot necessarily be dismissed as the by-product of facing an opponent coming off a 4-8 season, either. Virginia held opposing rushers below four yards per carry a season ago and limited BYU to 3.5 yards per carry in its 19-16 Week 1 win. 

Virginia also stymied Thomas' running mate, Marshall, who rushed for 31 yards Saturday. Marshall had an outstanding Week 1 performance against Nicholls State but may be better served feeding off Thomas' production—not vice versa.