It’s only one game.
Thomas Tyner touched the ball four times in his first action as a Duck, in mop-up time of a decided game, but what he showed fans in that brief stint has everyone projecting and speculating on his value, output and potential as a first-year player.
High-flyin’ Ducks: Blake Stanton and Thomas Tyner celebrate the second of the fabulous freshman’s two touchdown runs against Virginia. Tyner was mobbed by teammates after both of the scores, and that rite of acceptance and initiation will reverberate through his rookie campaign (Andrew Seng/Oregon Daily Emerald photo).
Coming off an August ankle injury. Tyer had four carries for 51 yards and two touchdowns in his first game as a true freshman. LaMichael James as a redshirt freshman in 2009, began his stellar Duck career with 2 carries for 22 yards against Boise State, and 9 for 56 yards the next week against Purdue. His running mate Kenjon Barner, now #2 on the all-time rushing list, began his first campaign with 1 scant 7-yard reception against the Broncos, 5 carries for 34 yards against the Boilermakers, including a darting 21-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter that won the game.
Tyner excites fans because he’s bigger and faster than both Barner and James at 5-11, 201 on the program. He may play at 215-220 for the bulk of his Oregon career, and his high school best in the 100 meters, 10.35, is a full two-tenths faster than James, three-tenths better than Barner’s, electronically clocked. Tyner might run one day in the Olympic Trials, and he has more potential as an NFL back than both of the Oregon greats that proceeded him.
The brief audition at the end of the Virginia game should dispel doubts about his toughness. Before breaking his sensational 31-yard run for a touchdown the former Aloha Warrior broke hard off tackle twice, finishing runs driving through tackles for 8 and 9-yard gains, the second for a first down. Head coach Mark Helfrich called the cut the freshman made on the 31-yard blast “something you just can’t teach.”
In the weeks ahead, fans will see the promising freshman get a larger role in the offense, perhaps 10-12 carries a game. He’ll give defenses more to worry about, and allow De’Anthony Thomas to stay in the multiple look, in-space role where his sudden acceleration and elusiveness make the biggest impact. Tyner’s ability to cut, see a hole and make a quick read make him a tough inside runner with speed and drive to give a leg and take it way at the second level, giving the Ducks another dimension in what was already a loaded offense.
Comparisons are tricky, but among the most entertaining of sports conversations. Particularly with running backs, fans want to quantify a player’s style in terms of someone they’ve seen, a legend of the past. Though the sample size on Tyner is small, a few knowledgeable fans have compared him to Tony Dorsett, who had a similar glide and acceleration.
Dorsett, though, was 5-11, 192. Tyner’s already bigger and likely to add muscle in Jim Radcliffe’s training and conditioning program, with no loss of speed.
The best comparison in Oregon football history, minus the off-field antics, might be Onterrio Smith. Playing at 5-10, 214, Smith had 1000-yard seasons for the Ducks in 2001 and 2002. Tyner is much more grounded personally, with extraordinarily supportive parents and a stable network of friends.