Don't Sleep On Incoming Ducks RBs
By John Baker
It's hard to get a clear read on just how many carries at running back De'Anthony Thomas will get in 2013, or just how sold on sophomore thumper Byron Marshall the Oregon Ducks coaches are heading into the dog days of summer.
Thomas works best when spread all over the field. Marshall, the between-the-tackles job his for the taking, had good moments in the spring, but didn't seem to solidify a certain number of carries.
Can Thomas take 20 touches at running back in an offense that wants to run between the tackles? Doubtful. Oregon will need some help to free DAT to do his usual damage.
Again, the Ducks work within a fairly heavy veil of secrecy, a mindset bequeathed to new head coach Mark Helfrich by former coach Chip Kelly. Behind those two backs are some unproven veterans and question marks of all sorts. A nagging feeling continues to hover that an incoming freshman will get a chance to slap his name on the running game and deliver for an offense that invites big numbers.
Naturally, Oregonians are convinced that freshman will be homegrown superstar Thomas Tyner, a five-star recruit out of Aloha High School. You remember Tyner, sprinter's speed, strong as an ox, rushed for more than 600 yards and 10 scores in a high school football game. The general feeling around the state is Tyner has a chance to make a big impact from day one.
It hasn't been a seamless transition from high school megastar to imminent stud for the Oregon offense. Tyner, a sprinter who plans to run track at Oregon, has had hamstring and other leg issues during the last three years and chose not to run track this spring. Initially, it was implied that he wanted to just have a normal senior year without the pressure of being a star sprinter, but time has revealed that he also had some schoolwork and grades that needed attention. All that's been attended to and Tyner is ready to come to Oregon and take over.
Cut to Lee Corso and a big, "Not so fast, my friends."
Tyner is not the only freshman running back set to arrive in Eugene this summer. Kani Benoit is a 6-foot, 212-pound bundle of energy out of Phoenix who, despite a three-star rating, seems far more talented and productive than those stars would indicate. Benoit rushed for 2,260 yards and 36 touchdowns his senior season, averaging nearly eight yards a carry in the process.
Benoit was a late target for the Ducks, but according to everything you hear about the kid, he's a football player who has a good blend of speed and power. He also returned kicks and seems to have a sixth sense about finding the end zone.
Naturally, Tyner is the name that elicits excitement in Oregon circles, as his feats on the football field sometimes bordered on legendary. However, it's important to note that Ducks coaches, while certainly salivating at the prospect of getting Tyner's speed on the field, may have uncovered a little gem in their running back expeditions this recruiting cycle.
Don't assume that Tyner is the only incoming freshman back who could make a push for substantial playing time this fall. Benoit, while not as heralded as Tyner, seems to have the word "special" attached to his name by his coaches and opponents. Those are the kinds of kids that shouldn't be underestimated when it comes time to earn their spurs.
Given a perfect situation, Oregon's coaching staff probably would like Marshall to be its main back, freeing DAT to be used all over the field and create more matchup problems. Then they could supplement those two with some of the other backs on the roster while redshirting Tyner and Benoit in anticipation of letting them go at it for real in 2014. Additionally, it's likely DAT will make the move to the NFL after this season if he's as productive as in past seasons, so there will be real opportunity to take playing time, particularly if Marshall is not deemed "the guy."