It usually took a group of defensive players to tackle Royce Freeman.

This season it may take a running back committee to replace Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.

After four years of rolling with Royce in the backfield, the Ducks will give fifth-year senior Tony Brooks-James and a list of young players a chance to carry the load in 2018.

Freeman, now a member of the Denver Broncos, finished his collegiate career with 947 carries for 5,521 yards and 60 rushing touchdowns (64 total touchdowns).

Oregon must also replace the team’s second-leading rusher from last season, Kani Benoit, who had 604 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.

Coach Mario Cristobal said the buy-in from the running backs with the strength and conditioning program gives him confidence that the Ducks will be able to continue to be a dominant rushing team without Freeman.

“I don’t want to underplay the fact that Royce was an excellent football player. Royce was different,” Cristobal said. “He’s like some of the backs I’ve been around, 230 pounds. These other guys might not be huge, but they’re pretty strong and they have all put on a significant amount of muscle and size. They’ve all increased their levels of power.”

Brooks-James, a classmate of Freeman’s who redshirted as a freshman, has 226 carries for 1,557 yards (6.9 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Redshirt freshman CJ Vedell rushed for 44 yards and two touchdowns during the spring game.

Sophomore Darrian Felix, who was limited during the spring due to injury, played in nine games last season, finishing with 246 yards (6.1 yards per attempt) and a touchdown.

“It’s going to take some getting used to, but I know the guys we have back there are going to do a good job,” quarterback Justin Herbert said of replacing Freeman. “CJ and Darrian and Tony, those guys are special. And we’ve got a great running backs coach that will coach them up.”

Cristobal hired Jim Mastro away from Washington State to be Oregon’s running backs coach after Donte Pimpleton followed Willie Taggart to Florida State.

Mastro implemented the pistol formation, which he coached at Nevada under Chris Ault, to Oregon’s playbook during spring practice.

“It reminds me of the 2014 year, getting back to the basics and doing things the right way,” Brooks-James said. “You start by doing the little things right. Coming to practice and doing what we’re supposed to, like wearing the right socks and the right gloves and everything like that, just being as a team and pretty much counting on the team to hold each other accountable.”

If Taj Griffin, who has been limited by knee injuries during his career, can stay healthy he adds some needed experience behind Brooks-James. The versatile senior has 848 yards rushing (6.4 yards per attempt) and 319 career receiving yards with nine total touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Redshirt freshman Cyrus Habibi-Likio and true freshman Travis Dye, the younger brother of junior linebacker Troy Dye who enrolled in time for spring practice, could also be in the rotation this fall.

“A lot of these guys are home run hitters,” Cristobal said. “They’re getting a lot more comfortable running within the tackles. We do not want to be a sideways operation. We want to be versatile — inside zone, outside zone, powers and counters, pin and pulls, sweeps.

”We want to be able to do it all. We feel our line is intelligent and versatile and communicates well.”

With a veteran offensive line and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate taking the snaps, the Ducks should have one of the nation’s most productive offenses.

Oregon was 12th nationally in rushing in 2017, averaging 251.0 yards per game. Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season and sat out of the Las Vegas Bowl to avoid the possibility of injury before the NFL draft.

Herbert was the team’s leading rusher with 17 net yards during the Ducks’ 38-28 loss to Boise State in the bowl game.

“Royce is a difference maker, but these guys are also and they’ve done a great job for us this year,” Cristobal said after the bitter loss to the Broncos in his debut as Oregon’s coach. “We certainly don’t want to put the blame of the running game not being what it has been on one person. That’s a collective effort.”

Spring rewind: Brooks-James and Felix were on top of the depth chart. Oregon’s offense averaged 3.8 yards per carry against Jim Leavitt’s improved defense in the spring game. In addition to Verdell’s two scores, Habibi-Likio had a 29-yard touchdown reception. True freshman Jamal Elliott, the 13th-ranked running back in the 2018 class by 247Sports, enrolled early but decided to transfer after participating in spring practice.

Fall outlook: The speedy Brooks-James will have a chance to be the featured back. With a favorable nonconference slate (Bowling Green, Portland State, San Jose State), the younger players should also have an opportunity to get in a productive rhythm and gain confidence before the Sept. 22 Pac-12 opener against Stanford.

Projected depth chart: Tony Brooks-James, Darrian Felix, Taj Griffin, CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, Cyrus Habibi-Likio

Wednesday’s position review: Quarterbacks