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What to expect from Thomas Tyner in his freshman season

The panel at Talkin’ Ducks savaged Thomas Tyner yesterday.

They questioned his toughness and readiness for the PAC-12, saying he’s been banged around and “isn’t getting it done” at practice.

Quite a lot to put on an 18-year-old kid who’s just weeks into an adjustment to a whole new level of football. 

Touchdown Dash: Thomas Tyner ran over, around, through and past high school competition as a record-setting tailback at Aloha, but he’s been dogged by questions and a nagging injury in his first month as a Duck (Jordan Johnson, northwestelites.com photo).

His health and readiness for the game tomorrow remain a mystery. Mark Helfrich won’t talk about him. Rob Moseley won’t report on his status. All we know is that he missed practice time with an apparent ankle injury, seen walking about the football complex with a boot on his foot and on crutches. He’s since tweeted that he’s looking forward to game day and “champions love obstacles.”

The speculation about his toughness is ridiculous. There’s always an adjustment period when a fast, talented running back goes to a new level. The jump from Oregon 6A to the PAC-12 is particularly daunting. In practice every day as a Duck Tyner faces the toughest defense he’s ever faced, with defensive linemen and linebackers that are much bigger and faster than any he met at Aloha, and a lineup of five or six guys who can stay with him with an angle of pursuit. Even so, anyone who’s seen the exceptionally fast tailback play in person can have no doubt about his toughness. He runs hard. He runs up the middle and takes on tacklers. He finishes with power and determination. Pretty easy to question someone’s toughness from a television studio. 

Critics and analysts forget that the 10.38 sprinter has Gary Campbell in his corner. The Oregon runnng backs coach is a master at guiding young players through their transitions. In a story by Greg Bishop in the N.Y. Times, LaMichael James called Campbell, “the best person I’ve ever met in my life.” 

The coach has mentored Oregon running backs for 30 years, the longest-tenured assistant coach in major college football. He builds deep, trusting relationships with his players. In particular with James, he guided a sensitive kid from a tough upbringing through his Oregon career and brought out the best from him in every situation. He’s a master at combining love, discipline, instruction and reassurance to teach and motivate his players, and he’ll help Tyner understand the offense and bring him along at the proper pace.

Fans will be looking closely in warmups to see if the freshman is running full speed and taking carries. He says he’s ready to run through the tunnel.

If he gets to play, there will be 10-15 carries available for him against the Colonels. Campbell will bring him along slowly in the first month, but as long as Tyner keeps his energy and attention level high in practice, he’ll steadily find a foothold in the Oregon offense.

The spread attack is designed to create opportunites for speed in space, and Tyner has more of it than any player on the Oregon roster, including De’Anthony Thomas. He’s built for durability at 5-11, 201 pounds, and the whole “injury-prone” rap is silly: the kid had 6,796 career rushing yards at Aloha, 3,415 as a senior. Every one in the stadium knew he was getting the ball, and defenses were all massed to hit him on every play. The Friday night highlight reels showed the touchdown dashes, but they didn’t show the 8-yard runs where he dragged four tacklers for an extra four yards. He’s plenty tough, and Campbell will make him tougher.

When you see him run, you’ll believe it.

Tyner in action against Tigard last fall, in a game he ran for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Video includes an interview with his high school coach Chris Casey: