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Purdue RB coach always knew Giants’ fifth-round pick Tyrone Tracy was a running back

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Lamar Conard began trying to convince Tyrone Tracy Jr. that he was a running back all the way back in 2017.

At the time, Conard was an assistant coach at Illinois State University. Tracy was a high school kid listening to recruiting pitches and trying to figure out where to play college football.

“I was the only one who recruited him as a running back,” Conard told Big Blue View.

As a high school player, Tracy had gained 3,525 yards rushing and averaged 87 yards per carry. He also caught 134 passes, averaging 19.7 yards per catch.

Tracy chose Iowa, and wide receiver. He played four increasingly frustrating seasons for the Hawkeyes. Tracy caught 36 passes for 589 yards (16.4 yards per catch) with three touchdowns in 2019, but then saw his playing time dwindle the next two seasons. In 2020 and 2021 combined, he caught just 29 passes.

He entered the transfer portal and landed at Purdue in 2022.

Due to the pandemic, Tracy was one of many players granted an extra year of NCAA eligibility in 2023. As fate would have it, Conard landed the job as Boilermakers’ running backs coach in 2023.

He convinced head coach Ryan Walters that the best way to get production out of Tracy would be to move him to running back.

“Ryan hired me. He was like, man, Tyrone is just an unbelievably talented kid. Why isn’t he more productive? What’s the best position for him?,” Conard said. “He didn’t know I had the relationship I had with him. I pretty much broke it down to him really quickly. I recruited him in high school. I’ve coached both his brothers. I know him. He’s a running back. You have to give him to me.”

Walters went for the pitch.

Conard, though, still had to convince Tracy that his path to playing time, success, and ultimately the NFL, was by committing to being a full-time running back. Something he had resisted since those high school recruiting days.

Conard had coached and/or recruited Tracy’s brothers, Kenny (a running back) and Javon, a defensive back) at Miami of Ohio.

“Thankfully I had a relationship with them. They trusted me, the family trusted me,” Conard said. “Hey, coach Conard will take care of you. He can get you where you want to be.”

Conard said the move wasn’t easy for Tracy. He said it “tore him up” emotionally.

“He’s a very religious kid. It tore him up, but ultimately his faith, his family, we aligned,” Conard said. “Yes, I am proud of the fact that I hit it from an evaluation standpoint. I’m more proud of him.

“A lot of guys at that age don’t want to change. Professional athletes, colleges athletes. To his credit, he opened up his heart and opened up his mind and it all worked out.”

Would Tracy have gotten a shot in the NFL without the move to running back?

“Probably not,” said Conard. “He definitely doesn’t get drafted.”

Conard said Tracy is an “elite athlete,” which is a claim certainly backed up by Tracy’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS):

Conard said he always felt Tracy’s best traits were that he was “tough to tackle” and an “unbelievably gritty football player.”

One of the settling points of the move to running back? How many times the Boilermakers would be able to put the ball in Tracy’s hands.

Conard said knowing he needed to “change the scenery” is the biggest reason Tracy moved from Iowa to Purdue. The final step was committing to the position change.

“You have to trust coaches to put you in the right position to be successful. It worked out for him, but as just a receiver, I think ultimately he knew that and that’s why he transferred from Iowa,” Conard said. “I need to change the scenery here. Is it me or is it them? Or, is it both of us?”

Ultimately, with one season of college football eligibility to show NFL teams he deserved their attention, Tracy realized the change would be his best chance.

“I can sit here and give you 50 snaps a game as a receiver and touch the ball five times, or I can play a tailback,” Conard said. “They can turn and hand the ball 10 to 15 times a game and I might catch three or five passes. Well, you know, if you don’t have the football in your hand it’s hard to show what you can do.”

Tracy ended up carrying the ball 113 times for 716 yards (6.3 yards per carry) with eight touchdowns. He caught 19 passes. He earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game and to the NFL Scouting Combine.

At the Combine, Giants’ running backs coach Joel Thomas was among coaches on the field in Indianapolis working out backs. Tracy got Thomas’s attention.

“Afterwards, Joel sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, your guy’s got some juice, man. He’s a good player,’ ” Conard said.

At the Combine, Tracy did an interview during which he made it clear he understands how much Conard has meant to his career.

“Coach C, man. I give this man props on everything,” Tracy said. “A lot of the aspects from running back is from him … He taught me a lot of things that I didn’t even know that I was capable of … Without him harping [on] me and being so relentless I wouldn’t be here.”

Field Yates of ESPN listed Tracy as one of the best value pick in the draft class, and said his “versatility could easily lead to early opportunities for the Giants.”

Conard offered several high-profile comparisons for Tracy. He mentioned Jahmyr Gibbs, Deebo Samuel, Cordarrelle Patterson and Tony Pollard as similar style players.

“They’re so talented, you’ve got to give them the ball,” Conard said. “The kid that I thought he resembled in many facets was Jahmyr Gibbs. “You can line him up anywhere. When he was at Georgia Tech, when he was at ‘Bama. That guy’s super twitchy. He catches the ball out of the backfield. They could split him out. Run the ball. He’s just as fluent as a receiver.

“You fast forward, they do the same thing with him in the NFL. And I’m like, Ty, that’s you. I’m not saying he’s Jahymr Gibbs, but if you talk about the traits, the ability to play in space, the ability to play, run the ball between the tackles, throw the ball down the field they were very similar.”

Watch him on film and Tracy looks natural as a runner. There is no hesitation in his cuts, and he seems able to find space and work through tight creases. Conard said that may be part athleticism, but it is also because of Tracy’s diligent study of the game and understanding of situations.

“It’s football IQ. He studies the game. It’s a lot easier to be confident in what you’re doing and playing through contact if you understand situations,” Conard said. “He studied the game. He loves football.

“I look a lot better when I have a really good student, somebody who’s passionate about elevating their knowledge and wants to know the intricacies of how to be elite from a fundamental standpoint. It doesn’t always happen with a guy that has his talent. Very rarely does happen, to be honest.”

Conard said Tracy “had a purpose” in his move to running back and a desire to “take advantage of this moment.”

He did all of that well enough to earn an NFL opportunity that seemed unlikely before the 2023 season.

Conard believes there is a “high probability” Tracy will outplay his status as the 166th pick in the draft.

Tracy is old for an NFL rookie. He will turn 25 in November. As a running back, though, he has taken only one full season of hits.

“The more reps he gets the better he will get,” Conard said.

Conard and Thomas, the Giants’ running backs coach, have known each other since Conard was a Purdue teaching assistant and Thomas was in his second stint as the school’s running backs coach (2006-2008).

“I think they’re going to marry up very well. I think Joel will get the best out of him,” Conard said. “There’s things, there’s things that translate no matter where, where you play at. One thing for Tyrone that he does exceptionally well is he’s hard to tackle. From Pop Warner to high school to college. I know it’s a different level of athletes. The game’s a bit faster. But I wouldn’t put anything past that kid in terms of to continue to change his body, change his mind. He’s tough as nails, man.”

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