The Oregon football program has a history of having productive running backs. Players like Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, LaMichael James, and Kenjon Barner are all household names for Duck fans.
Oregon usually uses a two back system, and many of the players listed shared time until they took the job over. Headed into the 2014 season, the Ducks once again have a stockpile of talent at running back. But before we can move forward, we must look backwards.
Last season was the first year Byron Marshall was the stand-alone starting running back. Kenjon Barner was gone for the NFL, and Marshall had an opportunity to improve on his freshman season the year before. In 2013, Marshall didn’t disappoint, he led the Ducks in rushing yards (1,038) and rushing touchdowns (14), but unfortunately slowed late in the season. After the Stanford loss, the Ducks’ overall production slid, as well as Marshall’s. During the final five games of 2013, Byron Marshall would rush for only 159 yards. His late season slide can be attributed to a lack of overall team production while also battling a nagging injury.
With the 2014 season on the near horizon, Byron Marshall has questions he needs to answer. Can he again be a productive runner like he was half of 2013? Is the 100% healthy? Is he the most talented running back on the roster? Marshall will have every opportunity leading up to the season, and during the season, to be the number one guy. However, he is going to need to stay productive or we might hear TY-NER chants early on.
It’s hard to say that Thomas Tyner burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season. Tyner was a highly touted recruit and even appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine at 16 years old. He is an exceptional blend of size and speed. While that sounds cliché, consider this: Thomas Tyner is 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds… and runs a clocked 4.34 sec 40-yard dash, also running a 10.1 sec 100M in high school. Tyner’s natural gifts are obvious, but he lived up to the hype as a true freshman. Seeing number three running back reps (behind Byron Marshall and DeAnthony Thomas), he still was productive when he saw the field. It wasn’t until DeAnthony got hurt and Marshall started to struggle that Tyner saw early playing time.
On his first carry of the season, granted it was in the 3rd quarter of a blowout win vs Virginia, Tyner broke a long run up the middle and broke several tackles in the process. He had caught the attention of coaches and fans alike. Tyner finished the season with 711 yards and 9 touchdowns on only 115 carries. While some of those numbers can be attributed to the Ducks having a large lead in the game, he is talented. Headed into 2014 the Ducks will probably start with Marshall as the number one back, but if Tyner has a few productive games in a row, on fewer carries than Marshall, we could see a switch at the top of the depth chart.
The Oregon Ducks will likely use both running backs heavily, and its realistic to believe they can both rush for over 1,000 yards, but only time will tell. Injuries can happen and force changes, one back can get on a roll while the other struggles, or another less known player can emerge out of nowhere, there are many variables to a football season. What is clear is this: Byron Marshall should be looking over his shoulder… because Thomas Tyner is not far behind.