Preseason Camp Preview: RB
Who's back: As has become the norm around Eugene, the Oregon football team will have a deep stable of talented, experienced running backs to lean on when the 2020 football season begins. CJ Verdell is back after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, having posted the No. 11 all-time rushing total in UO history (1,220) and the sixth-highest average per carry (6.19) as a sophomore in 2019. Verdell is a punishing runner between the tackles who added just enough cutback ability late in the 2020 season to confound Utah's vaunted defense in the Pac-12 championship game, to the tune of 208 yards and three touchdowns.
Were Verdell not around, the Ducks would probably still feel very comfortable with the veteran duo of Travis Dye and Cyrus Habibi-Likio. Dye is an explosive jitterbug with toughness to match his older brother Troy, who recently graduated after leading the Ducks in tackles the last four years. Habibi-Likio has helped form the bedrock of Oregon's team culture under head coach Mario Cristobal, and he will forever be remembered if for nothing else than running over, around and through Washington's defense as the Ducks rallied to beat the Huskies in Seattle last season.
There's youth on hand as well, after both Sean Dollars and Jayvaun Wilson redshirted in 2019. Dollars is a versatile all-purpose runner who selflessly moved to the developmental squad for Rose Bowl preparations and mimicked Wisconsin's vaunted veteran Jonathan Taylor. That earned Dollars some game reps in Pasadena, and he'll look to build on that this season. Wilson practiced with the developmental squad while also getting mental reps with the travel squad in 2019, and he'll look to carve out a role in games this fall as well. Back too are developmental squad guys KJ Maduike and Cross Patton, two more culture guys who toil behind the signs giving the defense the best look possible in practices.
Who's new: To that stable of backs, position coach Jim Mastro added yet another talented runner this summer, Trey Benson. A native of Mississippi, Benson averaged 144.6 yards per game while winning two state championships in high school. Benson's enthusiasm for Oregon's program on social media during the recruiting process made him a fan favorite; though the veteran depth above him will make it a tough battle for early playing time, Duck fans will be rooting for Benson whenever he does earn a shot on the field.
Projected depth chart
RB: CJ Verdell, Jr.; Travis Dye, Jr.; Cyrus Habibi-Likio, Jr.; Sean Dollars, RFr.; Jayvaun Wilson, RFr.; Trey Benson, Fr.; KJ Maduike, So.; Cross Patton, RFr.
What to watch: Verdell handled about 40 percent of Oregon's carries in 2019, while Dye and Habibi-Likio accounted for about another 40 percent. The rest were picked up by quarterback Justin Herbert and other weapons on offense. Will those ratios stay the same under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead? Given the lack of a nonconference schedule, it's reasonable to think touches may be a little tougher for the younger backs to come by this season. Of course, a breakout performance in preseason camp can influence that. So guys like Dollars — who looked more fit and more explosive in March — along with Wilson and Benson will have a chance to grab a share of the spotlight in October.