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Loss of Thomas Tyner Won’t Change Oregon … Much

Shoulder injuries aren’t something that is prevalent among running backs. It’s usually the dreaded blow out knee.

Oregon running back Thomas Tyner has had some knee issues, but he will miss the entire 2015 season due to shoulder surgery. He injured it last season during the Washington game and it never really healed properly.

The surgery occurred Friday, Aug. 7, spelling out the end for the former five-star running back who was expected to play a pivotal role as Royce Freeman’s back-up. In the Oregon system, Freeman was No. 1 on the depth chart and Tyner would have been 1a.

Not even an hour after the news broke, speculation ran rampant that wide receiver Byron Marshall would move back to running back due to the Ducks’ enormous depth at receiver.

Before Freeman came to campus, Marshall saw a lot of time at running back, a position where he struggled. Although he came into Oregon as a heralded prep running back and he did OK at the position as a freshman and sophomore, Marshall had a hard time with consistency. He had a hard time hitting the holes in time.

Marshall was spectacular in the open field once he got there. The problem was getting there. He did gain over 1,000 yards in 2013, but once Freeman came to town, Marshall’s playing time was going to be hindered.

The coaching staff saw Marshall in the opening field numerous times and saw how electric he was. The position change to wide receiver was necessary for the team and for Marshall. The Ducks had lost their best receiver, Bralon Addison, for the 2014 season, so there was an opening for Marshall.

At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Marshall didn’t have the prototypical size for a receiver, but to his credit, he didn’t transfer, looking for other opportunities. He took the ball and ran with (or caught) it.

And it was a very good thing he did. There’s a strong argument that if Marshall didn’t excel in his new position, the Ducks would’t have made it into the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Marshall turned out to be one of Marcus Mariota’s favorite targets last season; he was Oregon’s leading receiver, catching 74 balls for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns. Just to change things up every once in a while, Marshall still gained nearly 400 yards on the ground on 52 carries. The Pac-12, a conference that is filled with great receiving talent, gave Marshall an honorable mention in its yearly postseason awards.

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff are smart. They, along with Marshall, probably saved the kid’s career and with another good season, could be an NFL prospect. Moving him back to running back would most likely kill that future.

The depth chart at receiver is loaded, but with Darren Carrington being suspended due to drug use late in the 2014 season and his return date still a question mark, Oregon needs Marshall where he is.

As for running back depth, no doubt, it took a huge hit. Tyner was the ying to Freeman’s yang. This is where recruiting is so vital to a program that is in the upper echelon. Ducks don’t lack talent at the running back spot.

October 11, 2014: Oregon Ducks running back Thomas Tyner (24) during the game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl  in Pasadena, CA.

October 11, 2014: Oregon Ducks running back Thomas Tyner (24) during the game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.

Freshman Taj Griffin, a 5-10, 175-pounder from Powder Springs, GA should propel himself into Tyner’s spot. He was rated as the nation’s top all-purpose back by Rivals.com and was on the list of their Top 100 players in the country. Griffin is a five-star back and ESPN.com ranked him among the top five backs in the nation and the No. 7 recruit coming out of Georgia.

His home is in the heart of SEC country, so no doubt he played against top high school defenses. Griffin should be able to make the transition to Division I ball.

But Griffin isn’t going to be handed job automatically. Again, this is where recruiting is so important. Tony Brooks-James redshirted last season, has been in the system a year longer, and is no slouch himself.

At 5-9, 185 pounds, Brooks-James was named as Oregon’s Scout Team Player of the Year. He’s a speed-time back and should be a key component as a returner and he introduced himself to Duck fans on the track last spring running the lead leg on the third-fastest 4×100 relay in school history.

As a prep running back, Brooks-James was a Top 10 player coming out of Florida in 2013 and gained over 1,200 yards as a senior in Gainesville with nine touchdowns.

Oregon is still in good position at running back. All of that will be thrown out the window if Freeman goes down for any extended amount of time. It’s just more proof on how fragile a football season can be and nothing is guaranteed.

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