A Weakness: Oregon Football’s ONE RECRUITING PROBLEM

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 66 Comments

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A weakness? Mr. FishDuck, don’t you know that Mario Cristobal and his staff are killing it on the recruiting trail?

Yes, I am very aware, but it seems that the recruiting at Running Back has declined since the staffs of Rich BrooksMike BellottiChip KellyMark Helfrich left and were replaced by Taggart-Cristobal. In fact, we have the opposite problem at recruiting from what fans of Our Beloved Ducks are used to. In the past, Oregon recruited great skill players, such as running backs, but were unable to get the best in the trenches, hence the 3-Star offensive linemen who were either coached up or believed to have a high ceiling by Duck coaches. Now, is the reverse occurring?

It is really strange, as you would think that elite running backs would love to run behind the acclaimed and veteran offensive line we’ve had in recent years, or behind the highly touted offensive line recruits the Ducks have secured. Isn’t this a position when Oregon should be cleaning up with multiple 5-Star running back recruits?

But we’re not.

I acknowledge that Sean Dollars (2019 class) and Seven McGee (2021) are 4-Star running backs on Rivals, but new freshman Trey Benson is a 3-Star? No 5-Stars like Royce Freeman or Thomas Tyner, but players who were not pursued by the top programs. It is puzzling to me, and I am at a loss to explain it — either as a recruiting deficiency or a position coach issue?

Gary Breedlove

Kenjon Barner could read the blocks and then leave defenders in the dust …

Of course, I’ve had my grumblings about the Ducks’ running back coaching since Gary Campbell left, as he was supreme at teaching running backs the Inside Zone Read and the multiple choices a running back had to attack the line of scrimmage. LaMichael James (according to Campbell) had it learned by the end of his year redshirting on the scout team, and Kenjon Barner had it learned by the end of his freshman year (no redshirt) at Oregon.

Meanwhile, CJ Verdell did not master it until the end of last year, his sophomore year, a learning curve that was nearly twice as long as it was under Campbell. Of course, I have had other issues with the coaching of the running backs, such as the long time it took Verdell to see (or be allowed to run to) the cut-back lanes and his previous inability to run through arm tackles. These problems were solved by the end of last year, but again, it did not take so long in the past.

Tom Corno

CJ Verdell’s vision and ability to read blocks improved just in time to help at the end of the season!

Is Coach Cristobal so wedded to the Pistol formation that he is reluctant to make a change at running backs coach? He has not been reluctant at all with the other assistant coaches. It’s been produce or move on …

How does Oregon solve this challenge? The next step in building a dominant football team, (a team that is Playoff-Worthy) is to add a premier running back, just as Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama have done. Can Cristobal overcome this last recruiting hurdle?

“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.



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Jon Sousa

Very sorry Charles. Keep your chin up!
Two more weeks until football!!!!


So, a quick perusal of the “Dawg Pound” didn’t turn up much today. https://www.uwdawgpound.com/2020/10/22/21512165/30-day-countdown-day-16-biggest-trap-game-uw-washington-huskies-apple-cup-wsu-wazzu-cougars

This was the worst it got: “I think UW has best chance to be undefeated in (the) north.”

There is no explanation of this belief given, but it does make me want Cal to beat them in the opener even more now.

Jon Joseph

Pac-12 Bowl Games. In addition to the Redbox Bowl, remember the blow out W over Michigan State, the Holiday Bowl has been cancelled and the LA Bowl is in serious doubt.

The inaugural Fenway Bowl, ACC vs AAC in Fenway Park, has also been cancelled.


Yep, in a season when every team is eligible to play in a Bowl, there won’t be enough Bowls for every team to play in.

David Marsh

Benson sounds like a 3-star guy that the coaches were just super high on. So I am feeling pretty good about him.

However, it does seem pretty concerning that Oregon really hasn’t made much of a splash on the recruiting front for running-backs. Especially with a power-run game.

I’m not entirely convinced that its a failure of recruiting on Mastro’s part. Mostly because Mastro is seen as one of the better recruiters on Oregon’s loaded coaching staff. Though that does beg the question… why no high four or five star running-backs… also… why aren’t we making the lists for any of them in a very public way? Missing out is one thing… but not seeing Oregon “make the cut” is rather odd.


Not for anything, but last night Giants QB, David Jones took off on a run, nothing but green on his way to the end zone, the 50, the 40, he looked like Marcus!! the 30, then, down he goes! Tripped up by, the air. The Giants would eventually score on the drive, but ultimately lost 22-21 to the Eagles, who now, 1-4-1 move in to 2nd place in the NFC East behind the first place, 2-4, Dallas Cowboys.

Jon Joseph

Heck of a Division! The ACC Coastal comes to mind?


Obviously coaching has been a bit of an issue at the RB position but the west has had a good drain at the position in recent years as well. Rivals doesn’t have a single RB listed in the top 250 west of texas. 2020 recruiting had 1 in CA who went to Georgia. 2019 had 3 two of which stayed in the pac(Stan and Wash) but the highest rated 60th went to Michigan. 2018 had 0. the 2017 class was the last time the west had a 5* RB with Najee Harris. He was also the only RB in the west in the top 250 that year.

I as much as we to think we are recruiting power houses we still struggle in a lot of ways and all of our elite RB’s with the Exception of LaMike came from west coast states. If the west is down it is going to make for some incredibly difficult recruiting. As for Najee Harris I can’t entirely blame him for going elsewhere when he committed to bama, oregon was just coming off 4-8 losing record season and firing their head coach.

I want to point that I think Safety has by far been our weakest recruiting in the last few cycles. Including the 2018 recruiting class we have only signed/ earned commits from 3 4*s of which one has done extremely well(Holland) and one has barely seen the field(Stephens) the other is a current commit. With oregon running more nickel than anything we absolutely need to increase the level of recruiting at this position. I will say we have some really great coaching at this position which has made up for the lower recruiting level but to be nationally competitive this is one place Oregon needs to do better at.

And as a final point i want to include this link of Moorhead talking about play concept and getting players to understand the play call by having a understanding of said concept. I really like his scissor play he demonstrates in the video and how they break down and create easier reads for the quarterback.

Jon Sousa

Mastro is an interesting ponder point on several levels.

On the one hand, Mastro is credited for being a very good recruiter as he is mentioned on the successful recruitment of several top notch players that Oregon really wanted. On the other hand, how is it that his “recruiting chops” are AWOL so far in bringing in 4 and 5* running backs?

Granted, there is a finite number of elite running backs in the country, but when we are pulling in multiple 4* at virtually every other position, ONE four-star running back a year doesn’t seem out of line. Right now we would be happy with one elite running back every other year.

Other ponder points regarding Mastro relate to his coaching….


LMJ and Barner were great college backs and not highly recruited. CJ is every bit as good as them, if not better. Benson might be the breakthrough back we’ve been waiting for, at least from a raw talent perspective. He’s got size and speed. I think he’s going to be really good before his career is over.


Ptduck, in the grand tradition of sports talk, re, LMJ & Barner, I disagree vehemently that, “CJ is every bit as good as them, if not better”. However you come to that conclusion is yours to own and more power to you. I agree that Benson is loaded with potential.


CJ hasn’t played in a cutting edge, high tempo scheme that LMJ and Barner benefited from enormously. Not hard to imagine CJ posting similar stats in that offense during that era. I think we’ll agree the pistol hasn’t helped CJ because it works best with a dual threat QB like a Colin Kaepernick. Don’t be surprised if CJ has a better NFL career than either LMJ or Barner who really didn’t produce much at the next level. They owe a lot to Chip Kelly for their success in college.


It is very likely that many RB;s will have a better NFL career than did either LMJ or KB, I doubt that CJ will be drafted. LMJ & KB definitely had a great offense to run in compared to CJ, though I don’t see CJ putting up the numbers LMJ & KB compiled were he to have played when they did.


LMJ ran a 4.45 at the NFL combine but I don’t think that really matters. Alvin Kamara ran a 4.54. LMJ was undersized and ran in a offense that gassed defenses, especially the second half. He couldn’t cut it in the NFL. Barner has stuck around longer because he’s more versatile, but he’s undersized too. CJ is a good 10-15 lb heavier than both those guys and he runs behind his pads better IMO. If he can demonstrate that he can catch the ball this year then he’ll have a good shot to stick in the NFL .


Let’s hope I’m doing a Todd McShay when it comes to CJ.

David Marsh

LMJ was drafted by the wrong team out of college and never found a team that fit his skill set. He needed to be able to run in space and what he got was… Harbaugh and the NFL version of Stanford’s offense which was the opposite of what LMJ needed to be successful.

Also a big argument can be made that Running-backs in the NFL aren’t in demand… so much emphasis has been put on the QB the past few years that the running-back gets touches to ensure the defense stays honest.

Jon Joseph

Great point. I wonder how he could have done playing in today’s Chiefs O?


CJ was San Diego Section POY on offense his senior season in high school, but still only rated a 3 star. Similar to Barner putting up impressive rushing numbers in a lower level HS league, yet also a 3 star.

Great point about CJ not having a legit running threat @ QB. In the Pac12 conference championship game after Herbie’s couple of very successful early runs, Utah had to adjust and CJ went on to put up 208 yards rushing, w 3 TDs and was offensive MVP. Coincidence?


I think that recruiting suffered at running back due to the change in our offense and coaching staff. Cristobal is still in the midst of changing Oregon’s identity on offense and defense. We may not have 5 star recruits at running back, but the guys we have play hard.

It is obvious that we are starting to stack talent at many positions. While the running back room may not have a 5 star recruit. We have good depth and solid talent at that position. Regarding our change of identity on offense..I think the voice on the Field of Dreams movie said it best…Build it, and they will come. By the way, put Noah Sewell into our backfield…that would be fun to watch.

If recruiting stays on track, we will again lead the conference in rushing. The high rated running backs will come.


Having 3 Junior Class RBs return for this truncated season (with a new offense & new O-line) is a real luxury; and having 3 redshirt Freshmen and a talented true Freshman (Benson) to back them up seems to put that position in outstanding shape, with arguably more collective experience than any other offensive position group. The lead dog has put up consecutive 1,000+ rushing seasons for what have been deemed by most as ‘subpar’ offenses.

I just can’t help feeling a glass way more than half full on this topic.


I contend that Kani Benoit would be our top Running Back now if he had come into our program a few years later. The development of Running Backs is what is really troubling.

I suppose I should qualify that with, if he had the coaching he received while he was at Oregon. I always wondered how good Kani would have been as he blew up teams while he was at Oregon, 6.6 yards per carry.

Talent goes to teams where they can be successful and be coached up. We have the first part, but I am not sure about the second part.

I also agree Coach Campbell was a gem, we only now begin to fully appreciate.

Jon Joseph

Good question Charles?

It would be nice to keep guys like Najee Harris and other outstanding Left Coast RBs at home; away from Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, etc.

With the game evolving and the position evolving, the day of the 30 carry a game RB may be over? With a heavy dose of RPO plays, a RB has to be good receiver and runner both.

Perhaps Verdell is not that naturally gifted? I am not suggesting Campbell was anything other than a great RB coach, but he had some fine material with which to work. As I recall, Barner was recruited as a D back and converted to RB? That’s recruiting serendipity.

In how many systems back in the day would James have had the success he had at Oregon? Moving up a notch to where every guy is fast, LaMike did not have success.

Mario is ‘getting there’ but you have to put guys into the pros. And they have to have success at the NFL level. The RB position at Bama today sells itself.

Let’s see if Moorhead’s O and an influx of WR talent makes a difference? One reason Harris is able to put up all those yards for Bama is the Tide’s awesome downfield passing game.

Royce Freeman/Thomas Tyner – that’s a 50% ‘hit rate.’ I believe LaMike was a 3 star? Other than QB, coming out of HS, RB is a very tough position to gauge? There are lots of recruiting hits and misses at RB.

Great ponder point, thanks.

YTD – 4-1 ATS – This week’s best guesses.

Tonight, Illinois at Wisconsin. BTN – 5 PM. Badgers QB Jack Coan, who we saw in the Rose Bowl, is out with a broken foot. Jonathan Taylor is in the pros as is Cephus, who was the man at WR for Wisconsin in 2019. Wisconsin did have its ASU moment (sorry) at Illinois last season, the revenge factor is in play. And Os in other conferences have generally been dominating Ds. But this is the B1G.

I like Under 56.

18 – Michigan (-3) at 21 -Minnesota – Let’s see? 2nd team 2019, all Big 10 returning QB, Tanner Morgan, – Gophers. Top receiver, Bateman, opted back in – Gophers. Top WR Collins, opted out – Michigan. All 5 guys on the OL return – Gophers. 1st road game for talented but untested QB, Milton – Michigan

When last seen in bowl games – Alabama blew out Michigan and Minnesota took down Aubur.

I’m taking the home team Gophers and the points.

Saturday – ABC – 5 PM.

Air Force Academy (-7) at San Jose State. Not only is the B1G back but the Mountain West also returns. (A week before the Pac-12, why? Please note that this game is being played in California.) Somewhat counterintuitively, AFA has the leading rushing attack in the country. I know, it was but 1 game versus Navy, but that 1 game is $ in a truncated season against a team yet to tee it up.

I’m taking AFA and fading the 7. Hopefully, AFA rises in fame and does not go down in flames.

Saturday – FS1 – 7:30 PM

Other Top 25 vs Top 25 –

6 – Oklahoma State (-6) versus 17 – Iowa State – Saturday – ABC – 9 AM

9 – Cincinnati (+1.5) at 16 SMU – Saturday – ESPN2 – 6 PM

14 – UNC (-14.5) versus 23 – NC ST – Saturday – ESPN – 9 AM

All times Pacific.


You are welcome. So good to have the B1G back. I like grits but I am tired of all this southern cookin’.

No sweat on The Forum. This is supposed to be a labor of love and not simply, labor.

David Marsh

On Verdell… there was an interview with Cambell a while ago (though I haven’t been able to find it) that he recruited Verdell as a role player not a featured back. He said he is thrilled that Verdell has become a featured back but that wasn’t the role or vision Campbell had for Verdell.

Jon Joseph

Good point. I actually think the young man has been coached up above what he brought with him to Eugene?


This is what I see with Verdell, a serviceable RB, but a featured back only when the bar is set very low, and not a Freudian slip when you mentioned, “that wasn’t the role or vision” Campbell had for Verdell.

David Marsh

This was an interview after Campbell had retried… so he was talking very freely. Verdell was in the Helfrich to Taggart recruiting class… Recruited by the Helfrich staff but held onto by the Taggart staff.


Oh yeah, the timeline is as you say, I just couldn’t resist the “vision” mention.


The B1G is pretty much theeOSU & Penn St The Nittany’s have Indiana for a snack & Frosty and the Huskers are the sacrificial offering to the Buckeyes Saturday morning. “This is the year” has been the rallying cry at Michigan since Harbaugh showed up, and it will probably be next year too. Clemson & Syracuse, give me Syracuse +78.

Jon Joseph

Good thoughts 30, thanks.

Indiana with a good QB coming back, is going to give PSU, now down its top RB as well as best guy on D, all it can handle. If I had to wager on this game, I’d go with the Hoosiers +6.5.

Minnesota did go 11-2 last season and did defeat both Penn State and Auburn. Wisconsin gave the Ducks all it could handle and Iowa blew out USC. tOSU’s roster is far and above the others in the B1G, but it is still a deep conference when compared to the Pac-12, ACC and B12.

I hear you on Michigan but a division with tOSU, MI, MI ST, PSU and a competitive Indiana is not a cake walk.

Clemson. is – 46.5. I just cannot pull the trigger on a spread like this. But you are likely correct, at home and playing for the playoff #1 seed, these Tigers could cover that big #.

I agree that Frosty is about to get toasted. For tOSU in 2020, its the Natty or bust.


I’m looking for the UNLV v San Diego State game as well. Pulling for Arroyo to do well. Has a sleeper QB transfer from TCU who may surprise.

Plus, SDSU lost not only Rocky Long from their defensive coaching staff, but his #2 was hired by the Pirate @ MSU; so is Hoke going to have a hand in their defense…..?

Jon Joseph

UNLV with the growth of Las Vegas would be a good conference expansion candidate but for the academics.

All the best to Coach Arroyo.


I think some of the guys out there see how full the stable is at the O.

I think in a year or two, west coast 5 star boys will be steering away from Sabanator’s program and staying out West at the O.



I believe you are on the mark here. Give it some time and Bama and Satan will lose the free lunch that is the current state of the left coast 5 * players he has wooed his way.
The running back stable is pretty packed with talent, but it would be great to see a Tyner/Freeman recruit again.

Jon Joseph

However, as Utah noted above, the west coast is not producing many stud RBs.

Jon Joseph

‘Satan.’ Now 93-0 against unranked teams since The Tide lost to LA Monroe in Nick’s 1st season. An amazing stat, His guys rarely show up flat even against where Bama is a huge favorite,


You are so right on this one Charles. Yes, Oregon does not have that franchise running back that most elite programs have. IMO I don’t even feel that La Michael James was “great”, only “very good”. Oregon’s running back coaching is just not living up to the recruiting standards that Cristobal has set for the other coaches. The reason for it I do not understand but he must not feel it necessary.

After all if you have an OL that creates big holes why do you need a RB that can create his own lanes ?? What can possible be wrong with that thinking ?? Right


Yep, good, great, however you want to rate, LMJ, Barner, Tyner, they’re wasn’t a hole they didn’t like. Contrast that to CJ, who takes the, “North-South” description of a running back as seriously as I’ve ever seen. His adherence to up the middle, whether it be lack of, “vision” or or imagination, a lot of yards were left untaken.

CJ has gained yards. But he is not the shoe string tackle away from 6, that we were used to. Clemson has Etienne, Alabama has Harris, who for a time could have been a Duck, and he has looked out of the world great so far this season. The Ducks need that guy! CJ has stepped up each season over the previous one, maybe Morehead’s plan is just what he needs to make the strep up this season profound.


Totally agree about CJ. I’m not sure he will be any better under Morehead’s plan but for now he’s the best we got. Unfortunately.

Jon Joseph

Based on the style of O played at Oregon in 2019, do you think Najee Harris would have put up much better numbers than CJ?

Henry finally looked like a Heisman winner last season when the Titans OL significantly improved and TN emphasized the run game. This is the quality of O line he was running behind at Bama. I believe the Bama OL deserved the Heisman as much as did Henry.

Of course, I also believe that McCaffery was hosed over by voters in the south region.



Jon Joseph

Good call on Harris. But man it helps when you absolutely cannot stack the box without giving up a long gain or a TD.

Harris is helped mightily by Sark’s play calling and the quality of the WRs. Hope with JM and an influx of quality WRs we will see the same at Oregon?

The Bama wide outs are certainly making Mac Jones look good. Kind of like the LSU switch to a more aggressive passing game and a collection of stud WRs helped out Joe Burrow.

Now that he has the starting gig, I’m fascinated to see how Tua, without a significant roster advantage, will fare at Miami. Those 50/50 balls that went 90/10 in favor of Bama, will not be there in the NFL. Meanwhile ‘our guy’ JH has a significant physical advantage over Tua and is shining playing in a better system and with far better wide outs.


It’s all easy when everything works the way you draw it up.

Jon Joseph

Just ONCE, I’d like to see this out of me on the golf course!


And in golf you only have one person to control, in football you have 11.

Jon Joseph

What about the millions of gigabytes between my ears?


I check mine often and keep finding bits dropping out.

Jon Joseph

LOL and Amen!

But if you believe in Hugh Everett the 3rd’s math, somewhere in the multiverse I am. or once was, giving Tiger a battle?

With all respect due Hugh, I was never that good at math and do not see THIS happening anywhere in the universe.

(Neither does my current instructor.)



David Marsh

I think the first part of Cristobal’s evaluation here is seeing what the offense will look like without Arroyo. We will be getting an idea of what the Oregon offense looks like under Moorhead in *looks at watch… looks at the calendar…* TWO WEEKS! (that is both excitment and an exclamation of shock and annoyance).

If the run game is just as stagnant I think Cristobal drops Mastro at the end of the year… If it sees significant improvement and is generating consistent results I think we have our answer as to where the major problem with the run game was.

Also… it will be really really interesting to see what this new offensive line can do… yes they lack expierence… but this is an Offensive line more in the mold of the SEC and B1G than the Pac-12. Oregon’s new line are as big or bigger than the Wisconsin line in the Rosebowl.. and those guys were big though perhaps not as athletic.


I agree with this, on the TWO WEEKS and Cristobal’s evaluation plan. It’s too bad that Sewell is gone for this year, but the good side of his not being there, is, it gives time for the guys to all work together now, and we know that nothing helps an O Line more than familiarity.

Jon Joseph

In a way it’s all good. Get the experience without losing any eligibility and get ready for the 2021 game in Columbus without Fields at QB.

Jon Joseph

David, in your opinion is Mastro junior to JM in all things? Or does he still have an influence on the O?

And I guess, the same question goes for Mario, vis a vis Moorhead?

Coach O at LSU got out of the way last season. Is Mario prepared to do the same?