While competing for carries, Duck hones rest of his game

Photo Credit: PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Thomas Tyner, the University of Oregon sophomore running back from Aloha High, says he comes into his second college season much better prepared to contribute consistently for the Ducks.EUGENE — The former great state-of-Oregon prep running back Thomas Tyner cannot remember throwing any blocks while playing at Aloha High.

He probably threw some blocks, but “I just remember running,” he says, smiling.

A season into his Oregon football career, however, Tyner has worked hard on his all-around game and drawn praise for his ... blocking.

“It’s very natural for him as a ballcarrier,” coach Mark Helfrich says. “But, he’s an excellent blocker when he cuts it loose.”

Why is it important? Because UO running backs have to block to protect QB Marcus Mariota at times, and some haven’t been too good at it (see: De’Anthony Thomas). It even took Byron Marshall, Oregon’s No. 1-A running back to Tyner’s No. 1-B, awhile to learn some intricacies of the game that include blocking.

With such things in Tyner’s repertoire now, after a full year and 711 yards rushing (6.2 per carry) and nine TDs in his true freshman year, the 5-11, 215-pounder from the Metro League says he is more ready to play and play well — and, perhaps, live up to his promise as a five-star recruit and potential NFL player.

Tyner says he expects to play with more reaction and instinct, rather than second-guessing himself.

“I’m a lot more confident,” he says. “Last year, I thought too much. It’s more natural now. I’m more comfortable with the options (on offense). I know what I’m doing.”

Helfrich agrees.

“Most of it is confidence (with Tyner),” the coach says. “He absolutely grew, watching Marcus, Ifo (Ekpre-Olomu) and Keanon Lowe practice. And that’s the scary thing — he’s got so much more in him.”

Tyner says it took all of the 2013 season to adjust to college ball. It didn’t help that he commuted to summer workouts from his Portland-area home; this year, he stayed in Eugene for summer workouts.

He wasn’t feeling the pressure last year, “but just getting used to being here meant that (I was) not being completely ‘there.’ This year I’m a lot more comfortable being here. I’m feeling a lot better, on the field and off the field with my teammates.”

One problem last year?

“Managing time in college is a lot harder than it was in high school,” he says.

Tyner clearly had some moments last year, including rushing for 140 yards and a score on 22 carries in the Civil War game (when injured Marshall sat out).

In the Alamo Bowl, Texas held both running backs in check — Mariota had a great game — as Marshall and Tyner combined for 65 yards on 19 carries.

As always, it’ll be interesting to watch the Oregon offense perform in 2014. Mariota will get his chance to shine with his arm and legs, but he’ll be working with an inexperienced receiving corps, outside of returning starter Lowe. Bralon Addison has been rehabilitating his blown-out right knee, and says he could return later in the season — if the Ducks need him.

Meanwhile, the 1-2 punch of Tyner and Marshall could be complemented by burly true freshman Royce Freeman (5-11, 230), a touted recruit from Imperial, Calif., and perhaps another young back or two.

“He runs hard. Pretty fast, put together well, he runs downhill. Big guy,” Tyner says of Freeman. “He’s going to do well here.”

The thing is, will Tyner even start? The 5-10, 205 Marshall spent most of last season as Oregon’s primary running back, as Tyner developed and Thomas spent time on the sideline injured and then doing different things.

Who’s the leading rusher returning in the Pac-12? It’s Marshall, who had 1,038 yards (6.2 per carry) with 14 TDs, despite missing the Civil War game.

“I’ve made improvements from year to year,” the junior from San Jose, Calif., says, “and now I’m looking to make another jump. ... You never stay comfortable. I want to work on my catching, work on my speed. I’ve been trying to get stronger this summer, learning the playbook even better than I already know it.”

Much of the same can be said about Tyner, who has received many reps on special teams to become an all-around player. He learned to block at Aloha, for example, but really saw the significance of playing physical at Oregon.

“You have to protect,” he says. “It’s part of being a running back.”

Tyner says he and Marshall are really good friends off the field, and competitors on it.

“But, we have a good relationship,” he adds.

Marshall agrees.

“We compete against each other. It’s not like a rivalry,” he says. “It’s more like, ‘OK, he had a good run in practice, now I’m in, let’s get a good run.’ Or, ‘He had a nice move, let me get a nice move.’ We joke around with each other, like, ‘Beat that.’ But it’s not serious. We’re both ready to work.”

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