So, while a hotshot rookie like Roger Craig, the 49ers' No. 2 draft pick from Nebraska, got a good shot at running back in preseason, Tyler carried the ball just 26 times and gained a meager 80 yards.
"We will get use out of Tyler this season," says Walsh. "He'll get his yards, if we keep him healthy."
If. A big word. After a spectacular career at UCLA, highlighted by a 172-yard rushing performance against Ohio State in the 1976 Rose Bowl, Tyler was drafted in the third round by the Rams in 1977 but spent almost all of his rookie season on the bench. In the second game of the 1978 season Tyler suffered a knee injury and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve. The following season Tyler cracked the starting lineup in the fifth game, rushed for those 1,109 yards, caught 32 passes for another 308 yards and led the Rams into the 1980 Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The next summer Tyler's career reached another crisis point when he was involved in an automobile accident on a mountain slope in West Virginia. "The driver—I was in the passenger seat—just went to sleep," Tyler says. "I woke up just in time to ball up." And possibly save his life.
As it was, Tyler's hip was dislocated, and physicians said that he might never walk again. "They told me I had a 10 percent chance," he says. But Tyler recovered from those injuries and played in four games late in the 1980 season. By 1981 he was completely healthy once again and produced 1,510 yards and 17 touchdowns.
How often Tyler reaches pay dirt in '83 will depend, to a great extent, on the play of the 49ers' offensive line. In Los Angeles, Tyler ran behind a wall of Pro Bowl candidates, including Dennis Harrah, Jackie Slater and Kent Hill, guys who could bore a hole through Fort Knox. But in San Francisco he will be working with counterpunching linemen who know all the tricks of pass protection but probably can't put a hole in a screen door.
"Somebody's got to sustain a block out there," Tyler says. "Somebody's got to lift some weights."
True, but as one 49er lineman says, " Walsh has always been a passing coach, and it's hard to change what you are."
Change, though, is needed. Or, as another 49er put it, "I only know that we don't go this season unless Wendell goes."