Oregon’s young backfield has big shoes to fill

For the third straight year, Oregon football will have a new running backs coach.

Former Washington State coach and new Oregon coach Jim Mastro will not get the same luxury that Donte Pimpleton got last year. Mastro has to replace Oregon’s all-time rushing leader Royce Freeman and powerback Kani Benoit; both of whom are entering the NFL draft.

“It’s gonna take some getting used to,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “But I know the guys we have back there are going to do a great job. … Those guys are special.”

Mastro has experience implementing a new backfield. In 2012, his first year at Washington State, the Cougars rushed for 349 yards. In 2016, the Cougars rushed for 1,560 yards. Last season, with an injured backfield, the team had over 800.

“We’ve got a great running backs coach who will teach them and get them ready,” Herbert said. “He’s a really smart guy. He came from a program where he did some really great things. He’s about as smart as they come so he is the right guy for the job.”

The starter will most likely be Tony Brooks-James, who has 1,557 career rushing yards and is the only back with extensive experience.

“It’s a good feeling,” Brook-James said on being at the top of the depth chart. “But the pressure’s on cause I gotta stay there now. I got guys behind me that want to take my spot.”

Those who seem to have distanced themselves the most are sophomore Darrian Felix and redshirt freshman CJ Verdell.

Felix came in at second on the depth chart thanks to his solid freshman season where he had 30 carries for 182 yards and a touchdown.

“[Felix] is a great guy,” Brooks-James said. “He’s a great young back. He has a lot of talent, great vision. As soon as he gets more comfortable with playing college ball, he’s going to be a guy to watch.”

Verdell will most likely be the power back this season after redshirting last season and working exclusively on scout team.

“Going up against the first defense every day, I think that’s what really prepared me to work at the next level,” Verdell said. “Coming out and competing every day with guys like Tony and Darrian Felix, you know we got a good running back room. It’s great to come out here and compete with those guys every day.”

Within the competition for playing time, the teammates have not lost sight of the common goal of being the best they can be.

“It’s a lot of young guys,” Verdell said. “We’re all trying to help each other out, show younger guys that just came in the ropes. We’re all helping each other; we all want to see each other succeed.”

The running backs have noticed the public attention to their “lack of power,” motivating them to get stronger in the offseason.

“A lot of people think there is going to be a drop-off because we don’t have Royce or Kani,” Verdell said. “But we are going to show people that’s not true at all.”

Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack

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Maverick Pallack

Maverick Pallack

Maverick is an associate sports editor and reporter covering football, baseball, softball, track and field, women's tennis and men's tennis. You can follow him on Twitter @mavpallack or contact him at [email protected]