Going into last year Thomas Tyner was the guy. He was the all-everything guy out of high school. The local guy who ran for 643 yards and 10 touchdowns in a single game. I shit you not that is a real box score. Tyner was a guy with all of the talent in the world and just needed to find himself and his running ability. However, an injury kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks. During those weeks Royce Freeman really hit his stride and took off as the freshmen sensation. It was the pressure by Royce Freeman that really pushed Thomas Tyner to make the next step in his development. Now Oregon has two of the best running backs in the country and they have to share the backfield. While there can only be one runner a play this might be the best thing for both players.
Tyner was sometimes frustrating to watch as a fan. He jumped a lot moving side to side in order to find the hole that would take him to the endzone. In his attempt to get the 80-yard rushing play every time he ended up getting 2-3 yard carries where he had a lot of options to get more.
Just like we've seen with LeSean McCoy in the NFL, the zone blocking spread works best a running back who makes one cut and goes. That's what made LaMichael James so deadly and in a way is what made it easier for Chip Kelly to move McCoy to the Bills.
The appearance of Royce Freeman created the urgency for Tyner that he had never had before at Oregon. Freeman was the one cut back that was so physically imposing that his size created the long runs for himself. He trusted the system and his blocker en route to being the first true freshman in Oregon history to rush for over 1,000 yards and the best true freshman runner in conference history. He ran with confidence and ran with a fury where he fell forward when wrapped up by some of the biggest linebackers in the conference.
We all saw photos of Freeman when he was in fall camp and it was tough to believe he was just a freshman in college. It looked like he had been in the strength and conditioning program for five years. His size really takes away from his speed. He's a fast dude.
But Tyner and Freeman are more alike than they are different. Freeman is 5'1" and 230 pounds while Tyner is 5'11" and 215 pounds. I view the two as similar running backs that simply trade some benefits for others. Tyner could be mostly speed with size, maybe 60/40 speed/size. Freeman on the other hand is 60/40 size/speed. Tyner breaks tackles with his speed and taking on glancing blows. Freeman breaks tackles with his size and runs over opponents. The two are different sides of the same coin.
If it hadn't for Freeman's amazing performances then Tyner might not have made the jump. To me there is a clear difference before the Tyner that we saw before Freeman exploded and the Tyner we saw after. During the Rose Bowl I remember thinking, "Maybe Tyner is the better running back. He makes his cuts and makes people miss." Only then to follow up that thought after seeing a Freeman play thinking, "But then Freeman is so good running in small spaces and using his strength to break through arm tackles." Maybe both of them are just as good as the other for different reasons. If you're a defender trying to tackle Freeman it's like stopping a train. If you're a defender trying to tackle Tyner it's like trying to stop a muscle car tearing through the salt flats. Both ways it's just terrible and you'll be hurting afterwards.
In the spring we saw Freeman running with a lot more speed so we're already starting to catch the two feeding off each other. The two at their full abilities will be able to lessen their individual loads and be stronger throughout the game and season. I'd like to think it'll turn into a Magic v. Bird type of scenario where one sees the other succeed and then makes it his goal later in the practice and week to better that. Like the most ridiculous game of HORSE you've ever seen. Just how far can each push each other? How good can both be while working together and competing against each other? That's what I'm looking forward to this year.