Oregon is a running back school and has produced some of the greats in both the college and the NFL, including LaMichael James, Kenyon Barner, Jonathan Stewart, LeGarrette Blount and De’Anthony Thomas. The the list goes on.
We have to give credit to CJ Verdell and Travis Dye for their running ability and their strong on-field results when they have been hindered by a lackluster Oregon offense. But neither player has been a truly dominant force within the Pac-12 and, outside of an occasional great game, neither has much of a national presence. Both have played with grit and determination, and Dye has been the embodiment of these attributes this year as he has put the team on his shoulders on multiple occasions. This is Dye’s first thousand-yard rushing season at Oregon and this year he crossed the three thousand rushing barrier — a total that has only been accomplished by four other Oregon running backs.
For a run-first and run-heavy scheme that has been employed during the Mario Cristobal era at Oregon between 2018-2021, excluding 2020 due to a shortened season, Oregon only averaged 30 rushing touchdowns in those years. By comparison in the three year span of 2012-2014 Oregon averaged 40 touchdowns per season. Scheme obviously played a factor, but just watching how the running backs played between these two eras is completely different. While Verdell and Dye run up the middle and frequently seem to make contact with defenders, in some of the golden years of Oregon’s spread offense, running backs avoided contact and made plays in space.
Is all this going to change under Coach Carlos Locklyn? It is difficult to say. Locklyn doesn’t have a long coaching resume but he has already shown a willingness to embrace Oregon’s running back history and culture as seen in one of his recent tweets.
A great portion of this amazing running back legacy is due to former Oregon RB Coach Gary Campbell. With the arrival of Willie Taggart the entire Oregon coaching staff was fired to make room for Taggart’s new staff. In truth Campbell was incredibly close to retirement as it was, so the notion Campbell would still be Oregon’s running back coach is delusional if not for Taggart. It is undeniable though that the decline of Oregon running backs followed Campbell’s departure.
Just after Locklyn was announced he tweeted that James has put Locklyn in touch with Campbell. This is the most vocal embrace of Oregon’s past that we have seen from any Oregon coach in the last five years, which covers the entirely of the Taggart and Cristobal eras at Oregon. Locklyn doesn’t need to reach out to former players or coaches; no one expected him to do that — but he is taking an active role in trying to link the Dan Lanning era of Oregon football with Oregon’s legacy.
The timing of this is interesting, especially considering the letter from former players to Rob Mullens in their desire to have someone with Oregon connections — namely Justin Wilcox — to become the next head coach at Oregon. Obviously with the hiring of Lanning, Mullens did not opt to go with a coach with Oregon ties, but this may have been a turning point for former players in their desire to be more involved with the current state of affairs within the Oregon football program.
This does raise the question as to how close former Oregon players were allowed to get to the program during the Cristobal era. We would occasionally see former players on the sidelines, but this feels different. In an earlier tweet James even publicly stated he would be interested in becoming Lanning’s running back coach. That didn’t happen and was in truth rather unlikely to happen; however, James has responded by reaching out to Locklyn and Campbell to try and bridge the gap between the modern Ducks program and the one that vaulted the Ducks onto the national stage.
Campbell is not coming back to Oregon — at least not as an on-field coach. We could, however, start to see Campbell’s influence back on the field this upcoming season in Oregon’s running backs. That is, if Locklyn is truly genuine in his desire to learn from the best in Oregon’s history and if he embraces Oregon’s history and tradition of running backs and what truly made them special. If he does, this may be the beginning of the next great running back era at Oregon, and it will be a merging of the past with the present.
Top Photo By Amazing Moments Photography
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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