There is no hiding it; the loss of junior running back Thomas Tyner is going to hurt the Oregon Ducks no matter what.
Even without their second featured tail back aligned on the depth chart. Oregon, like most top-level programs carry enough firepower throughout its roster to overcome this sort of absence.
It starts on offense, where sophomore Royce Freeman, who is a top Heisman contender this year emerges as Oregon’s leading running back again this season. Freeman ran for over 1,365 yards (ranked 27th nationally) and scored 19 touchdowns, which was an Oregon freshman record.
Now that Tyner will be out for the season due to shoulder surgery. Freeman’s rushing load will have to take a steady increase. During his freshman campaign Freeman was handed the ball off 252 times. In total, Freeman was responsible for 40% of the Ducks rushing attempts last season. However this time there will be help coming his way.
Senior Kani Benoit has patiently waited for his time to come at Oregon and maybe now this is the perfect opportunity to make an impact. Whether it was enduring grueling sessions on the scout team or experiencing minimal snaps during late game blowouts. Benoit’s meager 23 carries and 98 yards for his career will be expected to take a major jolt during his final collegiate season.
Incoming five-star recruits Taj Griffin and Kirk Merritt highlight a recruiting class that was one of Oregon’s best this decade. Overall, the Ducks bring in 12 five-star players, and nearly all of them will be starting at some point this season. Both Griffin and Merritt are-multi-skilled players who were lined up at wide receiver and running back during high school, but considering how much offensive talent Oregon returns this season. Head coach Mark Helfrich will try to squeeze in as much playing time he can as possible.
Speedster Tony James spent the entire part of his freshman season last year on the scout team. In contrast, James was primarily recruited to be a slot receiver. This potentially changes now since a spot is up for grabs and playing time may be expanded. To some, playing a different position will be nothing but a mere carry over. For example, last season senior Byron Marshall’s role of being the Ducks’ primary running back shifted after the first week of the season. Marshall then spent the large portion of 2014 catching passes along the edge from quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The aspect of playing a completely new position never fazed Marshall as he led Oregon in receptions (74) and receiving yards (1,003) during all of last season. Switching over to a new position for Tony James might not arrange into those type of numbers. But, he won’t have to look far to find a strong example of being flexible.
The loss of an impact player is something that Oregon has been dealt with regularly in the past. Much of last season, Tyner was sidelined with the same shoulder injury that he re-aggravated during the Ducks’ premiere home game against Michigan State last year. Through many parts of last season, Royce Freeman was the lone option in the backfield, so in some ways Tyner’s absence will be nothing new.
When wide receiver Bralon Addison went down for the season with an ACL tear in spring camp last year. The loss of Oregon’s most key returning offensive catalyst was expected to resonate shock waves throughout its depth chart. What happened next was more than just a pleasant surprise for the eventual Pac 12 Champions. Red shirts Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford took on their roles head on and adapted on the fly that soared to the top of the conference in receiving yards. Combined, Carrington and Stanford racked up 91 receptions going for 1,449 yards and 10 TD’s.
A running back like Tyner, who when healthy created a dynamic two-way punch on the ground. At times a Tyner/Freeman duo was one the best ground attacks in college football last year. The combination of the two nearly accounted for 2,000 rushing yards and 23 TD’s. Mainly, the speed of Tyner, plus the physicality of Freeman all together gave Oregon’s high-paced offense another wrinkle for opposing defenses to account for.
Seemingly, even with an injury riddled sophomore season. The expectations for Tyner finally reaching his ceiling was bound to happen amid Oregon’s plethora of dynamic weapons. As of now, this theory will just have to be put on hold a little bit longer.