A Weakness: Oregon Football’s ONE RECRUITING PROBLEM

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

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?

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.

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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