Oregon running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in tight competition

Oregon running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner in tight competition
April 8, 2014, 9:45 am
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Helfrich: Week 2 of spring practice

Oregon Ducks running back Thomas Tyner (24) runs the ball against the Oregon State Beavers at Autzen Stadium.

(Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

EUGENE – One of the more interesting position battles underway during Oregon’s closed spring practices is between junior running back Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner.

It’s been awhile since the Ducks entered an offseason with at least some uncertainty as to who the starting running back would be the upcoming season.

In this case, Marshall, who led the team last season with 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns, is the returning starter.

On the other hand, Tyner, the most celebrated running back recruit since Jonathan Stewart (2005), lived up to his billing by rushing for 711 yards and nine touchdowns.

Their high level of talent presents an interesting dilemma that running back coach Gary Campbell would embrace every year.

“In my mind, they are both going to play,” Campbell said. “How much will depend on how well they do, obviously in the spring and in the fall. Staying healthy is going to be a factor as well.”

Tyner has the edg in the sheer physical gifts department. He’s larger at 5-foot-11, 211 pounds, compared to 5-10, 201 for Marshall. Tyner's track history suggests he’s faster, but he’s gained weight since winning the 6A 100 meters while at Aloha High School, so the speed difference isn’t huge. Marshall was an accomplished track star, as well.

But where Marshall has the competition in hand, at least for the moment, is with his savvy.

“Thomas came on toward the end of the season,” Campbell said. “He’s going to have to overcome the experience that Byron has. But that’s something that’s possible.”

Especially if what people are saying about Tyner is true.

The word out of spring drills is that Tyner has learned how to take preparation more seriously, and that has translated into a different player on the field.

Tyner and Marshall were not available for interviews due to class schedules.

“I think Thomas is really growing up and learning how to practice,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “Guys developed a lot toward the end of last year.

Offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Tyner is on the right track.

“If he keeps practicing like he is right now we’re going to have a really good player on our hands,” Frost said. “I think he’s kind of decided to take it to the next level and it’s really showing up.”

The loss of De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL left the team without an elite receiver out of the backfield. But Marshall and Tyner are no slouches in that department.

“I think both Thomas and Byron have really good hands,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “They kind of pose a mismatch with linebackers in that sense when the have a one-on-one. We’re really going to look to them for that.”

What Campbell is looking for is that competitive edge. But he might never truly find a distinguishing character that sets one apart from the other.

It could simply be a 1A, 1B situation in Oregon’s backfield.

But everyone expects Marshall to do what he can to remain No. 1.

“Byron is a competitive guy and he’s going to work his butt off to keep his job,” Campbell said.