With spring practice over, The Oregonian/OregonLive is reviewing Oregon’s depth chart position by position. We continue the 25-part series by looking at the running backs.
Nothing was supposed to change in Oregon’s running back room this spring, nothing did and that’s a good thing.
C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye aren’t budging from their leading roles and as the only two healthy scholarship running backs this spring, they got reps but also were limited in terms of contact.
Together, when healthy, they are either the No. 1 or 2 running back tandem in the Pac-12 — depending on your view of Colorado’s duo.
Sean Dollars and Trey Benson both missed spring due to injury but are expected back in the fall.
The key for the position group, which has been a pillar of the offense’s identity, has been and will continue to be durability.
Post-spring depth chart
C.J. Verdell: 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, redshirt junior
Travis Dye: 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, junior
Sean Dollars: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, redshirt freshman
Trey Benson: 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, freshman
Verdell had just 65 carries for 285 yards and three touchdowns over five games last season. The thumb injury derailed his short season though, knocking him out of the Pac-12 Championship game and Fiesta Bowl, the first games Verdell missed in his career.
His long list of injuries is well chronicled, as is his willingness to play through all of them before the end of last season.
If Oregon is going to three-peat as Pac-12 Champions and make it to the College Football Playoff it needs Verdell to be on the field for 13 games before the postseason.
He plans to spend the summer in Eugene for workouts and has his eyes on a third 1,000-yard season.
“I’m putting my head down and I’m going to go to work,” Verdell said. “It’s back to the offseason grind for us. I’m going to come in here every day with a working mentality and look to get better.”
Dye had 64 carries for a team-leading 443 yards and a touchdown last fall but it was his nine catches for an obscene 239 yards and four scores that separated him from most any other back in the Pac-12.
Getting Dye a head start on routes out of the backfield was clearly effective and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did so in a variety of ways to create favorable matchups last season. That should only increase next year.
“Coach Moorhead used the phrase, ‘It’s time to take the training wheels off this year,’” Dye said. “I’m very excited; I cannot wait. He’s utilizing me really well, the way I want to be utilized and it’s going to be a really fun season.”
With Verdell likely getting a bigger share of carries at full health and Sean Dollars and Trey Benson also likely to see more reps to make up for the loss of Cyrus Habibi-Likio, the proportion of work Dye gets in the fall will be of note. He’s clearly an effective weapon, it’s a matter of what the balance is for carries and pass protection for the entire group.
Dollars and Benson both missed spring and while it may not cost them long-term, it was definitely a missed opportunity in the short-term. There’s no question they would have gotten the majority of the work this spring had they been healthy, but alas a leg injury suffered during winter workouts by Dollars and a knee injury that sidelined Benson in the fall kept them off the field.
“It’s the worst; I know that,” Dye said. “I was hurt my freshman year coming in here during spring ball. It’s not fun watching other people play and getting their reps and you’re not getting any reps. I’m here for Sean and Trey and all them and I’m making sure that their mental health is good and right and making sure that the plays is right for them. When they get back they can get back rolling, hitting the field running.”
Dollars flashed in the Pac-12 title game and clearly has game-breaking abilities.
Benson should at least be in line for some early carries against Fresno State and Stony Brook. Depending on when Dollars returns to full strength Benson’s role could grow.
Seven McGee and Byron Cardwell will join the Ducks over the summer. In a room that’s three-plus-deep already it’s going to be hard to see a lot of early action, but nothing can be totally discounted. They’re each considered among the best backs on the East and West coasts, respectively, so even if taking more of a long-range view the running back room isn’t going to drop a ton when Verdell and Dye move on, both potentially after next season.
“C.J., a freak injury he had last year but Travis had an unbelievable year last year. He’s got to capitalize on that and have a better year this year. It’s a year better; people should look and say, ‘Man he’s a year better.’ That’s what we’re looking for out of both those guys.” — Running backs coach Jim Mastro