Oregon’s offensive players are versatile. They run, catch, block and drive the gears of one of the highest octane offenses in the nation. The running backs are no exception.
Even with De’Anthony Thomas’ departure, the Ducks have plenty of firepower at the position with junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner.
Running backs coach Gary Campbell said the duo can be expected to make a few plays from the wide receiver position this fall.
“Both those guys have great hands. They run great routes,” Campbell said. “They’re not up to par with some of the receivers because they haven’t done a lot of it, but they’re capable. We’ll definitely have those two guys catching the ball.”
Marshall, who finished the 2013 season with 1,038 yards rushing at 14 touchdowns, will continue to mentor Tyner — who tallied 711 yards and nine touchdowns for the Ducks last season. They both averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
According to Campbell, one thing that Tyner has strived to improve upon from last year is lowering his pads and running more downhill.
“Thomas is a smart kid,” Campbell said. “He understands. And one thing about it, the defense will teach you to get your pads down. I think he’s learned. He’s a big strong kid. He can take those kind of hits straight up. I’ve seen a big improvement on him lowering his pads.”
This weekend’s spring game will be Tyner’s first, but he’s no stranger to the playing field at Autzen Stadium.
“He looks good. He looks fast and strong,” Marshall said. “I think he’s just trying to improve his play-making — seeing the hole a little bit better, reading everything a little faster. He just looks real comfortable.”
Tyner declined to comment.
The Ducks will benefit from Marshall’s leadership in the backfield. Marshall and quarterback Marcus Mariota have already established their offensive explosiveness.
“Just working hard,” Marshall said. “There’s always room for improvement. Coming into my junior season I’m pretty familiar with the playbook, now it’s just working to get it down to a tee and keep practicing harder because there’s always something left in you.”
In addition to the Tyner-Marshall duo, Marshall said that redshirt freshman Kani Benoit looks especially strong this spring. Benoit lit up the scoreboard frequently during his senior season of high school, running for 2,260 yards (7.9 avg.) and 36 touchdowns.
“Working hard and a very productive runner,” head coach Mark Helfrich said of Benoit. “It doesn’t look like LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner or some of the guys we’ve grown accustomed to, but he’s been, especially in 11-on-11 situations, very productive.”
Follow Jonathan Hawthorne on Twitter @Jon_Hawthorne