How Safe Is CJ Verdell’s Starting Spot?

David Marsh Editorials

Last week I wrote that no starter was safe on Oregon’s offense. One of the positions not mentioned in that article were the running backs. In the Spring Game, there were only three active running backs: the two starters in C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye, as well as walk-on Aaron Smith.

Dye looks as dynamic as ever and will absolutely see the field. As to whether or not he starts games, that completely depends on the opening plays Joe Moorhead wants to run and whether those plays fit Dye’s skill set. Dye is a smaller back who has excelled at being a passing threat out of the backfield in Moorhead’s offense, not being utilized as a big every-down back.

The bigger question surrounds Verdell. Verdell has been a solid running back for Oregon, but during the past three years he has felt like a step down from previous Oregon greats like La’Michael James and Royce Freeman. Verdell has a tendency to seek-out contact when running the ball. He likes to get his head down and hit defensive linemen and linebackers. What is remarkable is that he also tends to fall forward to at the very least gain a few extra yards. However, Verdell doesn’t seem to find open space and get easy chunk-yardage.

Gary Breedlove

Royce Freeman was the perfect running back for a power run game using the spread offense.

For awhile it has been speculated that this is just how Jim Mastro is coaching his running backs. Yet after watching Smith, a walk-on, play in the Spring Game and make jump cuts into open space, this doesn’t feel like a coaching issue, but Verdell continuing to show a lack of vision. In the Spring Game Verdell ran only a few times, but all his runs seemed to be lack-luster up-the-gut runs into linemen and frankly Smith looked like the more dynamic back between the two.

Running back was a position that relied heavily on walk-ons during the spring when Trey Benson and Sean Dollar were both injured, and Seven McGee and Byron Cardwell are both expected to join the team over the summer. McGee looks more in the mold of a De’Anthony Thomas, do-everything back. Whereas, Cardwell looks like a big back who could very well be Oregon’s future feature back.

Is Verdell’s starting spot at Oregon safe or will someone else challenge him and take it from him in the 2021 season?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline

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