One of the more intriguing USC prospects at the upcoming NFL combine will be tailback Marc Tyler. At this point a year ago, Tyler was the projected senior starter who was expected to power the Trojans run game. A big back with the ability to run between the tackles, Tyler was looking forward to a banner year.
However, an early-season suspension due to alcohol-related issue and a mid-season shoulder injury changed those plans, and Tyler was limited to a secondary role in 2011. He did have a pair of 100-yard rushing games -- with a season-high of 149 yards on 22 carries against Arizona State -- and finished 2011 with 568 yards rushing on 122 carries (4.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
Tyler totaled 1,751 yards on 334 carries with 15 touchdowns in his USC career. He led the Trojans in rushing in 2010 with 913 yards and had a single-game career high that season against Arizona with 160 yards on 31 carries.
WeAreSC caught up with Tyler as he prepares for the NFL combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, Indiana.
WeAreSC: Talk about your combine training.
Tyler: I’ve been up here in Westlake at Proactive. Rhett (Ellison) and Marshall (Jones) are also up here. There are a couple guys from UCLA, Derrick Coleman and Sean Westgate. Loni (Fangupo) has been here too. All the NFL guys have been coming in now, guys like Clay Matthews.
It’s really been a lot of explosive training, combine stuff. We get on the field and run, do 10s and 20s, and then we lift. It’s just basically focusing on those areas. I’m in real good shape right now, they have us on a food plan and I’ve lost like nine pounds since the Shrine game. I’m down to 221 pounds.
WeAreSC: Talk about that experience of the Shrine game. That seemed like a good opportunity for you to get on the field in that setting.
Tyler: Oh yeah, it was real good. Just to get out there and be on the field but also to get my face in front of the scouts, to answer their questions, let them know who I am, explain things to them.
WeAreSC: That’s part of the reality of your draft process is that people are going to want to talk about off-field stuff as much as the on-field.
Tyler: It wasn’t too bad. They already know everything so it’s just a matter of telling them the truth. Just let them know the kind of person I am, that I learned from those mistakes. The football part of the interviews was pretty easy because Coach [Kennedy] Polamalu had prepared us so well with his meetings. The fact that he came from the NFL, his meetings were just like what we saw, it was like being in a week of camp.
As far as the Shrine practices, I thought I did well. I had one day where I didn’t really catch the ball well, which is weird for me. I was a little rusty. I’ve been working real hard on that, hopefully when I go to the combine I can show some better hands.
WeAreSC: Coach Polamalu is a guy who had a big impact on you during your time at USC. Talk about that.
Tyler: He’s been great, he’s like a father to me. I wanted to quit when I got suspended, I wanted to leave school. He wouldn’t let me, he just told me to stick it out. He told me you can’t quit on things when they get hard. He even worked me out individually while they were in camp, he would work the whole day with the team and then stay after to work with me.
Me and Rhett actually went down to campus last week to go through all the on-field combine drills with him. Then we went up to his office and went over plays, just as if we were in a meeting. He’s been great through it all, always calls me to tell me what to expect, he told me about which hallways to stretch in at the combine, how the hotel is set up, all of that.
WeAreSC: What has your dad (former UCLA and NFL RB Wendell Tyler) told you about the combine and what to expect?
Tyler (laughing): He hasn’t said a lot, I don’t even know if they had a combine when he came out (1977 draft). He just asks me how I’m doing, how fast I’m running. I’m not as fast as he was, so the 40 isn’t my strong point.
WeAreSC: How fast are you running?
Tyler: I’m in the 4.6’s, that’s what I’m probably going to run. It’s not as easy as it looks. You watch it on TV and think ‘I could run faster than that’ but you are what you are and I’m not that speed guy. You get hand-timed in high school and think you are really a 4.5 or 4.4 but then you get to college and the times get real.
WeAreSC: Are you done with classes?
Tyler: Yes, I’m finished, I graduated. I got my degree in sociology.
WeAreSC: You’re only a couple months removed from your USC career but when you look back, what are your thoughts right now?
Tyler: I’m kind of happy about it but I also feel like I left a lot out there on the field. I feel like I could have done better. I was happy to be able to come from last on the depth chart to starting during my redshirt junior year. The shoulder injury my senior year, that really hurt me, set me back a lot. I still wish I could have got a 1,000-yard rushing season. Overall it was a great experience -- I played with some great players who got me better, guys like Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, Keith Rivers and Mark Sanchez. I got a chance to be coached by Coach [Pete] Carroll and Coach [Lane] Kiffin. And to get a degree from that school, that is a great thing.”
WeAreSC: Do you have an on-field moment or two that stand out to you?
Tyler: My first game starting against Hawaii in 2010, to rush for 147 yards. To go on the road against Arizona and carry the ball 31 times for 160 yards. And then to come back from my suspension against Utah in the Coliseum this year and run for over 100 yards, that was a good moment.
WeAreSC: Talk about the support you got from so many ways at USC during your suspension.
Tyler: It was great. Part of what I got in trouble for was embarrassing the school and for Pat Haden and J.K. McKay to still support me was great. They were by my side the whole time, I met with them a lot and they made it easier for me. Haden always stressed to me that -- regardless of football -- he wanted me to graduate. To be able to graduate -- after all he had done for me -- that was great.
WeAreSC: Talk about your relationship with Lane Kiffin.
Tyler: Any coach could have easily thrown me under the bus after all that, but Coach Kiffin stuck by my side and kept on telling me things were going to work out. He allowed me to keep on lifting the whole time and then he let me back on the team.
WeAreSC: Coach Kiffin got emotional when he talked about walking down the tunnel with you at the Coliseum for your first game back from the suspension.
Tyler: Coach Kiffin really opened up this year. He’s a quiet guy, like me. I remember walking down the tunnel for that game and he put his arm around me and said some good things. Coach Kiffin, he don’t really do that a lot, he doesn’t show a lot of emotion. That meant a lot.
WeAreSC: What are your memories of playing in the Coliseum?
Tyler: Playing in the Coliseum, you really don’t understand it until you’re done. Rhett was talking about it last week, about how we will never play there again. It hit me right then. I mean, my dad played in the Coliseum. I got to play there. A lot of greats played there. It’s weird to never be able to play in there again, but I was lucky enough to get to do it.
WeAreSC: If you had one message to deliver to USC fans, what would it be?
Tyler: I just want to thank them for sticking by me through the hard times. They allowed me to be a part of the USC community. I’m a Trojan for life and hopefully my kids can go there someday.