One of the true glamour positions in all of college football is being the starting tailback in the Oregon football team’s blur spread offense. In 2013 the Ducks’ offense adapted to the departure of career rushing leader LaMichael James and 2012’s leading rusher Kenjon Barner by committee. De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner all took turns carrying the rock for the Ducks’ offense.
The trio looked more akin to Southern Methodist’s “Pony Express” of the 1980s than Oregon’s recent knack of producing one star running back that ranks near the nation’s leaders by the end of the season. One of the biggest questions heading into 2014 is how the rushing attack will adapt to the departure of scat back Thomas to the NFL.
The Ducks return two of the most talented backs in the country in junior Marshall and sophomore Tyner, but may look to one over the other to help the offense settle. Don’t be surprised if the Ducks’ offense gains stability that one of these two dynamic backs makes it to the Heisman ceremony in December.
Early in 2013’s schedule, Thomas was thought to be the starting halfback but was supplanted by Marshall due to injury. Marshall would turn out an impressive campaign turning out 1,038 yards on the ground with 14 touchdowns including a 5-game streak in which he surpassed 100 yards on the ground.
Tyner missed the first game due to injury before stepping onto the field for the first time for the Ducks against Virginia in the second game of the season. Tyner, a native Oregonian and 5-star recruit, was pegged by many to be the spiritual successor to fellow former 5-star recruit, Jonathan Stewart. Both backs combined dynamic speed and strength.
In 2013 Tyner rushed for 711 yards as a true freshman while reaching the end zone nine times on the ground. Both Tyner and Marshall averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per rush. It is not out of the realm of possibility that both backs clear the 1,000-yard mark with ease in 2014.
Joining the returning corps of backs in 2014 will be newcomer Royce Freeman, also a 5-star recruit. Freeman is a bruiser and will be the Ducks’ largest running back since LeGarrette Blount. If Freeman is unleashed this fall expect to see him rack up numbers similar to Tyner’s freshman season.
Still, expect one back to claim rule to being the primary weapon out of the backfield. Oregon’s running game should return a back to the top of the country’s list of leading rushers with the return of dual threat quarterback Marcus Mariota running the read option out of the backfield.
The Ducks will bring a top-5 corps of running backs to the table to handle 2014’s schedule regardless of who starts. It’s a coin toss prior to spring practices on who is in the lead between Tyner and Marshall right now. It will be one of the most compelling position battles this spring that could have major Heisman Trophy ramifications.