There’s no shortage of storylines to follow in Oregon spring football. Now halfway through 15 practices, fans are refreshing their feeds for updates on the quarterback battle, looking through Georgia film to learn about Dan Lanning’s defensive philosophy, and hoping an explosive offense will return to Eugene under the direction of Kenny Dillingham.
However, one competition that may not be getting enough attention is who will be taking handoffs from the new starting quarterback. The Ducks have had a ton of continuity in recent years at running back, with Royce Freeman having a firm grasp on the starting job in his years at Oregon. Then CJ Verdell and Travis Dye walked on campus and started making noise in 2018.
For the past four seasons, Verdell and Dye ate up a majority of the carries and we didn’t get to see many other players get involved out of the backfield. Now that talented duo is gone, and the starting job is up for grabs.
Despite the recent departures, Oregon still boasts a stable chock-full of talented running backs. Byron Cardwell returns with the most experience as a Duck after racking up 417 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 61 carries. His vision and patience out of the backfield as a true freshman wowed fans all season.
Plus, his six-foot, 210-pound frame only adds to his appeal as a bell-cow back.
Byron Cardwell vs. Cal
And then you have Sean Dollars, who’s ripping up the turf with a renewed energy after recovering from a serious injury last season.
Sean Dollars Spring Football
“Really Sean’s last two practices, I feel like Sean’s taking it up another notch and really competed at another level,” Head Coach Dan Lanning told reporters following Oregon spring practice on Saturday. “I think he’s really embracing the coaching and I’ve loved seeing that firsthand for him, his response.
What Dollars has done on the field has no doubt been impressive. One recent highlight that comes to mind is his long touchdown catch on a wheel route from Ty Thompson just last week. But Lanning and the coaching staff are also taking into account what’s going on between the ears.
“One thing we’re asking every one of our players right now is how do you respond to coaching? Sean’s done a good job of that in the last few practices.”
The Oregon head coach offered more on what goes in to evaluating how a player is taking to the coaching he receives, as both the offense and defense install new systems.
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“Just hey, so what, next play! Can I take that? And then do you make the same mistake twice?” Lanning said. “Because every one of us is gonna make mistakes. And I think I talked about the other day–fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. And our guys having a growth mindset, it’s okay to make mistakes. But do you make it again? Or can you learn from your mistake and take it to another level down the road?”
The hype around Dollars shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, he was ranked one of the top all-purpose backs in the country coming out of high school in 2019. Now he’s starting to put it all together and is once again learning a new offense.
But don’t forget about Noah Whittington. The Western Kentucky Transfer joins the Ducks in spring after spending the last two seasons in Bowling Green, one of which saw him working directly alongside Carlos Locklyn. Lanning has been impressed with what he’s seen so far.
Noah Whittington Spring Football
“Noah runs extremely hard. I think he’s a guy that has great vision at back,” Lanning said. “But he just plays with another level of effort, which to me, if you can play with effort, we can coach the rest.”
Cardwell and Dollars appear to be the favorites as it stands halfway through spring ball, and whoever gets tabbed RB1 will have the luxury of running behind an experienced offensive line.
Seven McGee opened spring practice at wide receiver, which could be indicative of the staff’s vision for the backfield from a personnel standpoint. Early on it appears that they prefer larger and heavier backs, which coincides with the “SEC of the West” frame of thinking that’s picked up steam.
The bottom line is this. Oregon’s running backs don’t boast much experience, but fans should be excited by the variety of skill in the backfield and the opportunity for many of these backs to finally see significant carries in 2022 as the rotation becomes more clear.
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