|AP Photo / Ben Liebenberg|
|Oregon is counting on running back De'Anthony Thomas to continue his big-play ways.|
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- How many carries per game can running back De'Anthony Thomas handle? That's a question Oregon coach Mark Helfrich hopes he never has to answer.
"You never want to know what that number is because he is hurt," Helfrich said Friday afternoon at Pac-12 media day on the Sony Pictures backlot. "You never want to know what the magic number is on your starting pitcher to have Tommy John surgery."
Thomas is one of the most exciting players in college football with 11 career touchdowns longer than 40 yards, but he has never had more than 18 offensive touches in a game in his career. He set that mark in the Civil War against rival Oregon State last season, rushing for 122 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and catching one pass for four yards.
But with featured back Kenjon Barner now with the Carolina Panthers, Oregon has a lot of "carries to account for," as Helfrich noted. The 5-foot-9, 176-pound junior has the most experience among a depleted group of running backs, but Helfrich expects Thomas to stay in his all-purpose role, lining up in the backfield, the slot and out wide.
"He is a guy that likes to move around," Helfrich said. "He fancies himself as more of a slash guy and we like that role."
Thomas led the Ducks in receptions this past season and has 91 catches for 1,050 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 27 career games. Helfrich said Thomas would be "phenomenal" as a full-time receiver, but "people could account for him much more easily.
"When you can move a guy around not only as a receiver but as a tailback, but then something in between, it is much harder to rotate coverage or bump the front to account for that guy," Helfrich said. "That's the kind of stuff we try to do with him constantly."
As exciting as Thomas is on Saturdays, he also operates wildly entertaining Twitter and Instagram accounts, featuring the "Black Mamba" nickname that was bestowed on him by rapper Snoop Dogg. Thomas' force of personality carries over to the whole team, Helfrich said.
"He has always been a million miles an hour with a gigantic smile," Helfrich said. "To have your 'marquee guys' going a million miles an hour every day, that matters to the backup left guard and backup safety and that makes us all the better."
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.