The running back duo of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have made headlines together lately as each player was named to the Maxwell Award and Doak Walker Award preseason watch lists earlier this month. But it’s their much-hyped battle for a starting backfield spot opposite Marcus Mariota that is making for an even more intriguing story line this summer.
The competition is close enough between the two that the Ducks will use them both in split-time, barring injury. As is the case most of the time though, splitting time doesn’t equate to an even 50-50 split, meaning either Marshall or Tyner will get the start and often get more carries.
This is a trend with which many Ducks fans are familiar. As recently as the LaMichael James – Kenjon Barner running back tandem, the Ducks haven’t hesitated to split carries between two (or more) running backs. But in those seasons when it became crunch time, James was the undisputed number one running back and everyone accepted it. Now that Marshall and Tyner are no longer true freshmen, the Ducks’ offense has arguably the best running back duo since the James and Barner years.The depth chart currently projects Marshall starting and Tyner at number two, according to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com. Much of this has to do with the fact that Marshall is the older of the two and has more experience. Running backs coach Gary Campbell explained the situation when asked about it in April:
“Thomas came on toward the end of [last] season,” Campbell said. “He’s going to have to overcome the experience that Byron has. But, that’s something that’s possible.” This confirms that the starting job is Marshall’s to lose, but Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff have left the door cracked open just enough for Tyner to burst through and seize it from Marshall. And, in my opinion, the Ducks are better suited to give Tyner the starting spot and let him run wild.
Before explaining my rationale, I would like to say that I think Marshall is a good player for the Ducks. He has consistently shown the ability to quickly seek out the right hole and gain solid yardage. But, he lacks certain explosive and elusive traits that I believe give Tyner the edge.
This isn’t the kind of quality that can be properly represented with statistics, but for the sake of comparison, let’s take a look: Marshall led the Ducks with 1,038 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 168 attempts, while Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns on 115 attempts. Furthermore, they both averaged 6.2 yards per rush, an impressive feat for Tyner considering his limited role in the offense.
But statistics only go so far, especially for the top two running backs on a team that often jumps out to a comfortable lead and adjusts the game plan accordingly. To me, the best way to measure players is simply to watch how they play on the field. Tyner exceeds Marshall on this measurement. Where Marshall runs through a hole, Tyner explodes through it. Where Marshall gets tackled by a defender, Tyner drags the defender with him for an additional five yards.
A perfect example of this occurred in last year’s Civil War, a game in which Tyner replaced an injured Marshall. A little more than five minutes into the first quarter, Tyner receives a hand-off from Mariota up the middle. The first Oregon State defender attempts to tackle him at the Ducks’ 25-yard line and gets little more than a hand on Tyner’s leg. The next defender momentarily spins Tyner around at the Ducks’ 45 and finally, at the 50, a few defenders latch on, but Tyner doesn’t go down before dragging all three of them an additional 10 yards. Here’s the play I’m referring to:
This is what Tyner is capable of doing for the Ducks offense in a more expanded role. Sure, Marshall will be the steady force that he consistently is, but Tyner’s upside can take the Ducks rushing attack to another level. It’s time to throw the conventional approach out the window and let Tyner loose. The Ducks will not regret it.
Top Photo by Steve Francis