In the three years since Chip Kelly took over the Oregon program, the Ducks have been known for several things. There has been memorable uniforms and plenty of success, and the one thing people typically talk about with Oregon is the speed it plays with on the field. Not its hurry-up, spread-option offense, but rather the flat-out speed the Ducks show.
In recent years, that speedy offense usually involved running back LaMichael James hitting a hole and outracing the defense. James was considered to be the fastest and most exciting back in college football in his seasons at Oregon. James is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers, but Oregon's speed isn't going anywhere.
It is hard to imagine a team losing a player such as James and becoming even faster. While that might be a stretch, the Ducks have a lineup of Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and incoming freshman Byron Marshall that ensures that the Ducks will continue to have one of the most exciting backfields in college football. Losing Barner and replacing him with two high school track-and-field legends will make 2013 much of the same.
When thinking of speed in college football, a lot of teams from the South, particularly the SEC, come to mind. The way Chip Kelly has built his Oregon program puts the Ducks squarely in the conversation for having one of the fastest backfields in college football history.
In terms of speed, Barner is equal to James. Incoming freshman Marshall runs the 100-meter dash in 10.6 seconds, putting him on the same level. Then there’s Thomas. Thomas has run a 10.5 in the 100-meter dash, and what is most impressive is his ability to lose no speed when he straps on the pads. Many prominent coaches and analysts have said Thomas is one of -- if not the fastest -- players they have ever seen.
The extra workload that Thomas, an early Heisman Trophy candidate, is sure to get in 2012 will only add to the excitement of the Oregon attack.
Incoming freshman Bralon Addison also enters the fold as an athlete, and he is likely to see a similar role to what Thomas enjoyed last year. The staff will be moving Addison all around on the field in an effort to get the ball in his hands.
With the two current running back commitments for the class of 2013, the Ducks are only going to get faster.
Thomas Tyner (Aloha, Ore./Aloha), the No. 9 running back in the nation, is on his way to being a world-class sprinter. Oregon's other running back commit, Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) just wrapped up a track season in which he led DeSoto to a state championship. Wilson played a big role in that as he ran a leg on both the 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams that recorded a top-five time in the history of high school track and field. Wilson is in the mold of James and Barner; Tyner is in a mold all his own.
Based on personal bests, Tyner would blow away any of the aforementioned backs in a 100-meter race. As a sophomore, Tyner smashed the Oregon 100-meter record by running it in 10.35 seconds. As a reference, the two previous state-record holders were Gus Envela, who participated in five different Olympic Game,s and Ryan Bailey, who qualified this past weekend for the 2012 US Olympic team in the 100.
"They have an elite track program with a strong history but recently they have been missing elite sprinters. With my speed and the success I've had in the relays in high school I couldn't find a reason not to choose Oregon. It made the most sense for me with track and the offense they run on the field," Wilson said. If you're a speed guy you don't want to play in a offense that puts limits on itself. Coach Kelly does the opposite. He pushes the limits every time they get the ball."
Tyner is unique in many ways and his frame is one of the things that separates him from the rest of Oregon's recent speed backs. 5-foot-10, 185-pounds has been the going rate when one looks at James, Barner and Thomas. Tyner adds a couple inches and about 25 pounds. His unique combination of size and speed should present even more problems for opposing defenses. Marshall also has good size to match his speed, making him another valuable weapon in the future.
"With Byron coming in close to my size with great speed of his own and myself and Dontre coming in next year it is crazy to think what we might be able to do together," Tyner said. "LaMichael, Kenjon and De'Anthony were incredible last year so I just want to come in and make sure to uphold the tradition of blowing people away in the open field."
Oregon has a history of pushing the limits and the future backfield of Thomas, Marshall, Tyner and Wilson will do just that. The gamebreaking speed of backfield will make it intriguing to college football fans and one would be hardpressed to find a crew of running backs with the type of explosiveness that the Ducks will possess.
Until then, the Ducks and their fans will just have to make due with a couple of Heisman candidates and the top high school running back on the West Coast in 2011.