It was 1993 and I was a senior in high school playing running back for the South Salem Saxons.
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The Oregon football program has an extremely impressive resume when it comes to running backs, especially over the past 10 or 15 years. Among the greats that have come out of the Duck backfield are Maurice Morris, Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.
However, there is a new Duck in town who has the potential to be the greatest on the list, after all is said and done.
Of those listed above, Stewart is the only one who was considered a truly elite recruit. (There was, of course, also De’Anthony Thomas, but he was never limited to a running back role.) That is, until Thomas Tyner, an in-state star on both the gridiron and track, committed to Oregon. Considered one of the best running back prospects in the nation, Tyner gave the 2013 recruiting class a huge boost.
The stud from Aloha, Oregon, even rushed for 10 touchdowns in one high school game during his senior season.
Tyner lives up to the high expectations that come with a five-star rating, as a true freshman – averaging 6.18 yards per carry for 711 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Comparing his first year to former Duck greats and other running backs around the nation, it becomes clear that Tyner is something special.
For starters, Tyner ranked third among freshmen running backs in AQ conferences with his ypc average, behind only Corey Clement of Wisconsin and Baylor’s Shock Linwood. Tyner, however, had 164 more rushing yards than Clement, and one more rushing score than Linwood.
Of the former Oregon running backs, Tyner is probably most comparable to Stewart, not only in terms of hype, but also style.
Oregon’s spread-out system allows for smaller backs such as James and Barner to thrive, even between the tackles. Still, to have a balanced back with both speed and size is invaluable to any team. Stewart had great wheels, but also weighed in at 230 pounds, making him very hard to take down. Tyner is not quite as heavy, but the former track star is pushing 220 pounds heading into the 2014 season.
Looking at Stewart’s freshman season, he rushed for only 188 yards and 6 touchdowns. While Tyner’s statistics, on the surface, far exceeded those of Stewart’s first campaign, they become even more impressive when you consider the fact that he had to compete for carries with both Byron Marshall and Thomas, two of the conference’s best offensive weapons.
With three 1,500-yard seasons in the books, it seems hard to believe that anyone would be able to reach James’ school record of 5,082 rushing yards. Nonetheless, should Tyner cement himself as the Ducks’ primary back over a healthy four years, he certainly has the potential.
During his redshirt freshman season, James was thrust into the spotlight after a season-long suspension of Blount in Week 1. He proceeded to carry the team on his back with 1,546 yards on the ground. That was in 2009 when he was mainly only competing for carries with fellow freshman Barner.
Interestingly enough, James’ 230 carries in 2009 were exactly twice that of Tyner’s 115 in 2013. If Tyner’s numbers were extrapolated to meet his predecessor’s workload, his slightly lower yards-per-carry average would put him at 1,422 yards on the ground and 18 touchdowns (four more scores than James had in 2009).
Like James, Tyner is also a threat in the passing game, catching 14 passes in 2013. That is the kind of balance that NFL scouts love to see, especially if he can demonstrate his ability to pass block.
At this rate, it is plausible to think that Tyner may end up leaving Oregon for the NFL after his junior year, especially considering the fact that professional running backs are reaching their primes at an increasingly earlier stage in their careers.
However, should he stay through the next three years, he would need to average 1,457 yards per season to match James’ record. To put it into perspective, that number is quite close to the total posted by James in 2009, and went on to eclipse convincingly in 2010 and 2011.
An early departure would mean that the sophomore-to-be would need 2,185 yards per season — which are closer to numbers you see in video games than in real life — to get the record. Still, it would not be entirely unprecedented, as Boston College back Andre Williams ran for 2,177 yards with a yards-per-carry average of 6.13 (.05 fewer yards per carry than Tyner).
All numbers aside, Tyner showed that he will be the next great back to come to Eugene. His speed, size and versatility make him a balanced threat that could keep any defense up at night and get any NFL scout excited.
Look for Tyner to push 1,000 rushing yards along with teammate Marshall out of the backfield in 2014, and don’t be surprised if he emerges as one of the biggest breakout stars in college football this year as well.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
The Oregon Ducks’ success in recent years came at such a fast pace, that it hit Duck fans maybe too rapidly and just as hard. Their program went from zero to hero as fast as you can say, “We should have been in every National Championship since 2010 but let it slip in the most painful way to watch.” It all began with of course the mastermind Chip Kelly, and his troops Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. When Chip began to initially run the spread-option offense, this was a running back dominated team. Don’t get me wrong, Darron Thomas put up some of the greatest numbers as a quarterback in Duck history, but everyone knew this was LaMichael’s team, and that’s exactly what happened in the NFL draft as he got drafted and Thomas didn’t.
In a short period of time, the University of Oregon was THE school to go to if you were a short, fast and agile running back. The idea of having a Jonathan Stewart or LeGarrette Blount-type running back in this system was all the sparse history the program had before Chip. However, one recruiting class that Coach Kelly found was very different than any other that we had seen since his time here.
He brought something to the university that Duck fans hadn’t seen in a very, very, VERY long time. He brought us who we like to call now, Super Mariota. Marcus Mariota changed the vision that Chip had brought in initially. This school was a running back dominated program, and people were — and still are – lining up to be top running backs in this system. James, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and now Byron Marshal and Thomas Tyner. That’s a lot of star running backs that this team has seen and will continue to see as the program continues to grow.
But, with Mariota joining the mix, the entire dynamic of the team has shifted from depending on our running back’s success, to making sure Mariota is protected and surrounded by great athletes who can make it work. When Thomas was running the quarterback position, he put up great numbers but was still just an average quarterback in the grand scheme of things. The system truly put him in a position to succeed, as opposed to him putting himself in that position, because quite frankly, he didn’t have the best arm, nor the greatest accuracy. However, as soon as Mariota came onto the field for his first start, you knew he was someone special.
Just like that, the story of Marcus grew, as more people began to hear about him each and every game, and more people began to critique him as all great athletes are. With all of the distractions, Marcus has been able to maintain a level head and continue to inspire his teammates enough so they knew the team was about them, not him. Marcus’ success is undeniable, and the team’s reliance on him is unquestionable; so the question I have to ask is, what would the Ducks do without him?
He’s obviously their plan A, but what if the Heisman-potential quarterback goes down due to an injury? Who’s to take over for him and run the offense at the elite level that we’ve become so accustomed to watching? For some reason, Oregon, as successful as it has been in bringing in a plethora of running backs, hasn’t been able to do the same thing in the quarterback position.
Now, it’s understandable that running backs would continue to want to come here and play, as they’re substituted in and out throughout the entire game, so multiple backs can show off their abilities within one game. But, the quarterback position is a little bit trickier. We expect the quarterback to be able to play the entire game, that’s just how football works today. By having Marcus play every game, now entering his fourth season on campus, it gives quarterbacks behind him little opportunity to exhibit their abilities.
So it’s understandable that Bryan Bennett or Damion Hobbs would choose to transfer out of the system, because they see no future for themselves there. That leaves the Ducks with talent that simply couldn’t get the Ducks into the position that they’d like to be in if Mariota were to go down. The only backups at the moment are Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie, and with much respect to them, their abilities are no where nearly as refined as Mariota.
When top-level high school quarterbacks look at the University of Oregon as a possible destination, and they see Marcus running the show there, that makes them want to look elsewhere because they see they want their playing time. That has been the philosophy for the past couple of years, but now that Marcus is coming down to his final season with the Ducks, quarterbacks are taking notice and wouldn’t mind taking a redshirt year behind him to learn the system, especially from a veteran such as himself.
So as of right now, the Ducks don’t have anyone who could take over for Mariota and perform at that level in the system that exists. Essentially, if Marcus were to go down, the season would go down. But, in terms of future plans, the Ducks have already shown some interest in some of the top quarterback recruits in the nation for next year. One example is Blake Barnett, who unfortunately chose Alabama over the Ducks.
However, that shows that the future is still bright, as top quarterbacks in high school are beginning to peak their heads into the program to see if the place is right for them. With flashy jerseys, awesome perks, and an incredible new athletic facility, how could this not be for them? The Ducks at the moment are in a very interesting spot, but as long as we can keep Marcus healthy for the upcoming season, the flight should be smooth for these high-flying Ducks.
Top Photo By Kevin Cline.
It is the marquee event of NFL Draft process: the NFL Scouting Combine, or the “Underwear Olympics,” to which it has been casually referred, of which four years of college production can become virtually ignored in favor of a limited sample of data collected in the form of physical measurements from arbitrary tasks.
So why would college football fans care about this NFL event? Because it gives them a chance to see how players from their school stack up against players from other schools. In particular, Oregon fans can take delight in players who were less regarded by recruiting rankings demonstrating the full maturation of their talent, making it an opportunity to finally see that finished product realized.
So which Ducks have shined the brightest at the NFL Combine in recent years? While verifying the accuracy of these historical results can be difficult; the Combine itself only began officially tracking results in 2006, and the information prior to that is loaded with apocryphal tales and rumors floated by teams and agents who are trying to best leverage their positions. Factoring in that uncertain information, here are the five best performances by an Oregon Duck at the NFL Combine:
5. Jonathan Stewart (2008)
A gifted athlete destined for stardom from the day he set foot on campus at Oregon, Stewart demonstrated a unique athleticism that helped him dominate at Oregon with an impressive performance at the 2008 NFL Combine. With marks of 4.48 40-yard dash, a 10’8” broad jump, a 36.5” vertical jump and 28 reps of 225 pounds, the last three categories being top-four at his position, paired with his 235-pound frame, Stewart was able to use that performance to become the 13th overall pick in 2008 NFL Draft.
4. Jason Maas scores a 43 on his Wonderlic (1999)
The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test is a popular intelligence test used by the NFL and many other businesses worldwide to assess competency in prospective employees. Though measured on a 50-point scale, scoring close to 50 isn’t expected: 20 is an average score, 30 is considered good.
The Wonderlic is not an easy test in which to excel. It’s a timed test, but not in the way that other standardized tests have time limits; most test recipients won’t even finish the test. They only get twelve minutes to answer fifty questions, and the time quickly becomes one of the biggest challenges once the taker realizes they likely won’t get through all the questions. That’s why only one player ever, Harvard’s Pat McInally in 1975, has ever scored a perfect 50.
Succeeding in the Wonderlic may not be the best predictor of success; the only two quarterbacks in the last 15 years to beat Maas were Ryan Fitzpatrick (48, 2005) and Greg McElroy (43, 2011). But it’s a feat that is every bit as difficult and impressive as running a 4.3 40. If you don’t think so, try to see if you can do better.
3. LaMichael James (2012)
Another strong performance by another star Oregon running back, this time the most statistically-prolific back ever to play the position at Oregon, showed off his skills at the 2012 NFL Combine. James’ marks in the 40 (4.45), broad jump (10’ 3”), three-cone drill (6.88) and 20-yard shuttle (4.12) were all top-three or better amongst that year’s running backs. His performance, matched with an outstanding college career, led to James being selected in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers in that year’s draft.
2. Igor Olshansky does 41 reps of 225 (2004)
In the last15 years, only 13 players have managed to exceed 40 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the combine. One of those players was Oregon defensive end Igor Olshansky, who managed to lift that weight 41 times at the 2004 NFL Combine. While impressive, it was hardly surprising: Olshansky had set the team bench press record by lifting 505 pounds while at Oregon.
He didn’t just impress in the weight room at the Combine, he showed off other aspects of his athletic ability with a sub-5 second 40 (4.96) and 33 ½ inch vertical jump. That performance was good enough to merit an early second-round pick from the San Diego Chargers in that spring’s draft.
1. Jeff Maehl Sets Three-Cone Drill Record (2011)
Most casual fans probably couldn’t tell you what the three-cone drill is, or what a good time is in the event, but it is the only one of the seven official on-field combine tests whose record is currently held by a Duck. Maehl completed the drill in a record 6.42 seconds in 2011, a record that still stands.
He didn’t just impress everyone in the three-cone drill, he also set a then-record for wide receivers in the 60-yard shuttle, and his 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle times are top ten for all players of all-time. Despite that display, Maehl wasn’t able to parlay those marks into a draft selection, but demonstrated enough talent to stick in the NFL, where his college coach Chip Kelly managed to pick him up prior to the 2013 season.
Can any Duck in this year’s combine turn in a similarly remarkable performance? This weekend saw a number of strong performances from talented offensive stars in Colt Lyerla, Josh Huff, and De’Anthony Thomas. With defensive players from the Ducks scheduled over the next few days, we will watch and see if any of them can deliver a performance that puts them amongst this list of impressive performances.
Top photo from video.
Oregon Duck football is not only represented on Saturday’s. A plethora of Duck alum are now NFL players who excel and leave their mark on the NFL landscape each and every week. Here’s how they performed in Week 12:
St. Louis Rams QB Kellen Clemens threw for 167 yards and a touchdown in the Rams 42-21 thumping of the Chicago Bears. Clemens has served as a serviceable replacement for injured franchise QB Sam Bradford.
S T.J. Ward had nine tackles and two tackles for loss in the Cleveland Browns 11-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who would’ve thought that out of the four recruits from football juggernaut De La Salle, the walk on, T.J. Ward, would turn out to be the best Duck and the best NFL player.
TE Ed Dickson caught three passes for 55 yards during the Baltimore Ravens 19-3 win over the New York Jets. Dickson had his best game of a dissapointing season in which he has only accumulated 195 yards.
RB LaMichael James did not record a rush against the Washington Redskins, but he contributed heavily in the return game. James had 125 return yards for the San Francisco 49ers. As long as Kendall Hunter is around, James has not seen the light of day in the running game. In order to make a name for himself, he will have to deliver impressive performances returning kicks and punts.
DT Haloti Ngata accrued one tackle for the Ravens. Ngata has been dealing with knee issues, but has had a solid year thus far anchoring a Ravens defense that doesn’t give up a ton of yards, but is 26th in the NFL in points allowed per game.
Atlanta Falcons WR Drew Davis caught one pass for 7 yards in the Falcons 13-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
DE Dion Jordan earned one tackle in the Miami Dolphins 16-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jordan hasn’t seen much action in his rookie season, but played a career high 33 snaps against the Panthers. If Miami falls out of the playoff picture in the coming week, look for Jordan’s playing time to spike up even higher.
RB Jonathan Stewart rushed the ball seven times for 31 yards for the Panthers. Stewart’s is super talented but his career has been marred by injuries. This season has been no different. Hopefully J-Stew can fully revitalize so we can see even half of his potential as a RB.
LB Spencer Paysinger accumulated two tackles in the New York Giants 21-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
RB LeGarrette Blount received two carries, which he turned into 13 yards for the New England Patriots in their overtime victory over the Denver Broncos.
Kyle Long– Started at G for the Chicago Bears. Long is lucky he has a brother(Chris Long) to looks out for him. Kyle was partaking in a physical altercation with Rams William Hayes before Chris removed him from the scene. Unfortunately for Kyle, Chris was unable to save his brother from receiving a 7,785 from the NFL.
Geoff Shwartz– Started at G for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Adam Snyder- Started at G for the San Francisco 49ers.
Bye Week Players: Kiko Alonzo, Jairus Byrd, Mark Asper, Casey Mathews, Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond and Max Unger