Thomas Tyner’s Injury Thrusts Spotlight on Royce Freeman … Again

Royce Freeman, Oregon Ducks

For a second consecutive season, the Oregon Ducks will have to figure out a way to win without star RB Thomas Tyner. On Sunday, it was announced that Tyner will miss all of the 2015 season due to shoulder surgery, a blow to a Ducks’ offense already struggling to find an identity in the wake of Marcus Mariota‘s departure. Famous for their running back-by-committee approach, head coach Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator Scott Frost, and most importantly, sophomore RB Royce Freeman now have a tall order in front of them.

The Ducks will miss Tyner's strength and versatility next season.

Craig Strobeck

The Ducks will miss Tyner’s strength and versatility this season.

Last season, Freeman wowed Duck fans after emerging as the clear No. 1 option in the Ducks’ backfield following Tyner’s injury. By the time Tyner returned, Freeman had established himself as the primary back and Tyner struggled to work his way back into the rotation.

But, after an off-season of rest, Tyner and Freeman were expected to duke it out all the way up until the season opener against EWU to see who could earn the starting nod. Well, as the saying goes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. With Tyner out for the season, Freeman is once again thrust into the spotlight.

Now, this doesn’t mean Freeman will be the only back awarded carries. There are plenty of young – and old – backs that Helfrich and Frost plan to use. Tony Brooks-James has shown flashes of tremendous promise, and returners Kani Benoit and Byron Marshall should be able to shoulder some of Freeman’s rapidly-growing workload.

But, for Freeman, this time around signifies much more pressure. Whereas, last season when the Ducks’ offense flailed against the likes of Arizona and Ohio State, games in which critics were quick to blame Mariota, Freeman will no longer have a scapegoat. Already the face of this young offense, Freeman now will be forced to face heavy criticism, as well as looming expectations. He was already tabbed as an early favorite to compete for the Heisman trophy, and with Tyner’s injury, the stakes are that much higher.

Now, I don’t doubt Freeman possesses the ability to meet, and even exceed all expectations set for him. His rare combination of power, speed and vision is reminiscent of Jonathan Stewart as many coaches will agree, but football is an 11-on-11-man sport. No one man, not even Mariota, could win a game on his own.

Tyner’s injury will call for all members of the offense to step up their game, especially considering that defenses will be keying on Freeman even more. While before the Ducks had balance to their rushing attack, it is now filled with vastly unproven, albeit heavily hyped, talent.

Freeman will be expected to improve upon his nearly 1400 yard freshman campaign.

John Giustina

Freeman will be expected to improve upon his nearly 1400 yard freshman campaign.

With an unknown QB and an on-the-mend offensive line, no group will be under more scrutiny than the Ducks’ RBs this season. Expectations are high, rightfully so, and it is primarily up to Freeman to demonstrate leadership in a time of otherwise unprecedented adversity for this young offense.

That said, Freeman has performed at his best when forced to shoulder the rushing attack. Tyner was first injured last season against the Huskies and didn’t return healthy until a full six games later. During that six game stretch, Freeman averaged 19.3 carries per game, rushing for 663 yards and 5 touchdowns on an astounding 5.7 yards per carry. Moreover, that doesn’t include the Washington game in which Tyner exited early when Freeman rushed for a season high 169 yards and 4 touchdowns.

So, needless to say, Freeman has proven his ability to shoulder the rushing load. But, without Mariota by his side, Freeman’s task now shifts from shouldering a rushing load to shouldering an entire offense. He’s capable — that much is clear — but he’ll need as much help as he can get.

Top photo from Kevin Cline

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Caleb Couturie

Caleb Couturie

Caleb is a sophomore at the University of Oregon intending to double major in Journalism and Sports Management. He is the Managing Editor for, along with being a lifetime Saints and San Francisco Giants fan, as Caleb fell in love with sports at a young age and developed that love into a passion for sports analysis. He is looking forward to cheering on the Ducks throughout his career at Oregon, and is always willing to talk sports with any fellow fan.

  • MarcTheDuck

    I hope Tyner fully recovers and returns to the Ducks. He has an amazing talent. And maybe the surgery is just what he needed in order finally get past his nagging injury problems. But, it’s not a given that he’ll ever play another down for Oregon. And I’m sure the coaches will work hard to establish a new #2 (and #3 and #4 pecking order) this fall. Fortunately we have some promising young guys, and Marshall if we actually need to move him back. But, I’m especially excited about Charles Nelson being back on offense. My hunch is that this year he may be the most electric guy on the field. And could even play running back some of the time a la DAT. But one thing is certain: we will need a credible passing attack if we don’t want Freeman running into a 9 man wall every down. And I’m sure that’s exactly what we’ll see against MSU – until we prove we can move effectively through the air. Should be fun!

    • Caleb

      I agree, but Nelson is still trying to find a balance between offense and defense so don’t assume to see him out there immediately.

  • Robert Petty

    What a luxury that losing Tyner only costs us a little depth. With Freemen seeing extra carries I think will make us stronger. To me, it will be interesting who backs him up and how many carries that RB gets. I suspect it will be Marshall as Helfrich places a premium of no turnovers and he handles the ball well.

    • Caleb

      Yes, and no. Giving Freeman a few extra carries is never a bad thing, and I do agree with you that Marshall would be the logical option to return to the backfield considering this year’s overwhelming depth at the WR position, but to call this a luxury is an overstatement if you ask me. Losing Tyner hurts a LOT, because not only was he far and away the most talented back besides Freeman, some would argue he was the most talented back on the entire roster (when healthy of course). Oregon had been planning to run both backs equally, assuming they both could perform how they did last season, and the loss of tyner is devastating. It causes somewhat of a ripple effect as now opposing defenses have less to worry about, which means they can therefore focus more on freeman, and also when freeman is out of the game there is a much higher chance the team will be passing. Whereas, with Tyner, these issues would never exist.