Time to Take Off the Training Wheels — Let Thomas Tyner Run Wild

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.

As it currently stands, Marshall is projected to be the starting running back.

Photo by Steve Francis

As it currently stands, Marshall is projected to be the starting running back.

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.

Gary Campbell says Tyner has to "overcome the experience that [Marshall] has."

Photo by Cliff Grassmick

Gary Campbell says Tyner has to “overcome the experience that [Marshall] has.”

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:ThomasTyner_CivilWar

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

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Will Denner

Will Denner

Will Denner is a junior at the University of Oregon majoring in journalism with a focus in electronic media. Since he worked for The Oregonian as a freelance sports reporter, he has known for sure that he wants to pursue a career in the field of journalism. Will is most passionate and knowledgeable about Oregon Ducks football, basketball and softball. You can follow him on Twitter @will_denner

  • LADuck

    Remember, Marshall was the second team RB behind DAT last year until the Cal game. Byron came on very strong once he was given the top spot he should have had from the beginning of the season. I like having them both on the field at the same time. One at RB, one at Slot. They could be interchangable but I do believe that of the two, Tyner could tie up two defenders working out of the slot without touching the ball. Just his presence will trigger that moment of indecisiveness in a defender’s mind that could bust a play the other direction.

    • Will Denner

      That’s a great point, LADuck. Both players have shown that they can be capable receivers as well.

    • OregonDuckingIt

      Both on the field is such an effective tactic. It forces defenses to play honest and have to account for every threat on the field. You don’t need them both on the field every play, but use it more than we have in the last couple of years.

      • DJ

        Both on the field is against the concept of “the spread” (however you want to interpret that).

        If you actually look at the stats, the Ducks have been significantly less effective with two running backs in the backfield, compared to one, for quite some time.

        • OregonDuckingIt

          Clarification. I didn’t mean in the backfield. One in the backfield the other in the slot

  • ccross15

    I think I would like to see a combo of Tyner and Royce Freeman, assuming Freeman is what he’s hyped up to be. I think Marshall is a Great backup option but I just don’t think he is that special as a starter. His power and elusiveness are average MAYBE a BIT better… although he does have pretty good speed. Both Tyner and Freeman are big backs and could really help us against the Stanford and SEC type teams. Marshall just doesn’t seem to power through and break many tackles to me.

    • Will Denner

      I see the same issue with Marshall that you mentioned. He hasn’t done a bad job by any means, but at the same time his game isn’t overly impressive.

      I wouldn’t count on Freeman getting very much playing time as a freshman considering the coaching staff’s tendency to lean on guys who have more experience. However, I do like his size the same way I like Tyner’s.

      • hokieduck

        Will, take a look at the 2d day post-practice interview with Coach Campbell on O-Live. While I think he partially said this in order to goad Tyner to greater heights, he isn’t one to use words loosely. He said (paraphrased) that Freeman after 2 days in practice looked to be where Tyner was at the end of the season. Derrick Malone said he had never seen a back like Freeman at Oregon during his tenure.

        Helfrich said he is picking up the culture, speed and playbook extremely well (as is Mahalak). This kid is getting accolades that I have never heard a Duck back get at this time in his career.

        • Will Denner

          I heard Coach Campbell say the same thing and I’ll admit I was very surprised. I hadn’t heard the coaching staff ever praise an incoming freshman that highly prior to the Freeman comments, so perhaps I was wrong and he will end up getting a nice share of carries. But it would come as a surprise given the recent trend of easing in freshman running backs to the offense.

          • hokieduck

            Tyner sure got a lot of carries as a true freshman last year. I cannot wait to see this kid … heck, I just can’t wait to see football again. Duck football.

            Go Ducks!

    • hokieduck

      I agree with you as well. I respect Marshall and do not wish to demean him, but he has simply never impressed me. Marshall does not have the lateral quickness and explosive north-south burst through the hole which is essential for the zone read. Tyner has this.

      As to Freeman, it is too soon to tell obviously, since he hasn’t even practiced in full pads yet. But Coach Campbell is a laconic guy but he couldn’t stop himself from gushing over Freeman after two day sin practice. He also plainly said that the kid would be on the field this year. At 6’0″ and 229#, he is a load with speed.

      My opinion (for which I was soundly ridiculed in an Oregonian comment section) is that Tyner and Freeman, in that order, will be the primary backs by the end of the season. Marshall will certainly take snaps (more than Freeman over the course of the year), but I simply do not see him being the featured back or even the second-most important back by the time this season is nearing the end.

  • jake

    It’s not about who can run the fastest or break the most tackles. It’s who understands the play book best: blocking schemes, blitz pickups, option routes on passing downs. There’s a reason Lache Seastrunk never saw the field at Oregon and it wasn’t because LaMike or Kenjon were bigger and faster.
    Sure Tyner is coming on strong but all these calls for Freeman to see the field ahead of Marshall are plain disrespectful to the work Byron has put into this system and playbook

    • Will Denner

      And that’s exactly why Tyner was eased into the rotation his freshman year. But now that he has a year of experience under his belt and a better understanding of the playbook, there’s no good reason to keep him behind Marshall.

    • Anthony Joseph Gomes

      the person who could understand the playbook schemes the best is probably some geek that is 5”5″ 140 pounds. runs the 40 in 6.1 and has a gpa of 3.8. why didnt the ducks recruit him?

  • Godux

    The moves both create more yards and more likelihood of injury as contact happens during twisting. Still, with the depth Oregon has, let him run wild and create some excitement as well as yard.

  • LocalDuck

    For a team to have dual running backs is great. Its even better if both rush for over 1,000 yards. Do I dare say that it is highly probable that Oregon will have not 2, but 3 thousand yard rushers this year? Can you name the third?

    • t- dub

      I’ll guess Devon Allen.

    • Will Denner

      It’s only happened once in NCAA history (2009 Nevada Wolf Pack team that included Colin Kaepernick). Highly probable might be a little optimistic, but the Ducks certainly have the right offense and weapons to accomplish such a rare feat.

    • t-dub

      It could be Tony James as well. Amazing!

    • t-dub

      Or even Royce Freeman. His highlight video was amazing.