After recovering from an ankle injury suffered last month against Stanford, Tony Brooks-James has returned to his role as Oregon’s kick returner, but the senior running back has not gotten a touch on offense during the past two games.
Brooks-James began the season as Oregon’s starter and had 21 carries for 107 yards in a 62-14 win over Portland State on Sept. 8. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder had 42 carries for 200 yards and three scores to go with three receptions for 73 yards in his first four games before he left a 38-31 overtime loss to the Cardinal on Sept. 22 with an injury.
The following week, Brooks-James had two kickoff returns for 47 yards in a 42-24 win over California, but coach Mario Cristobal said the ankle injury would have limited him on offense.
Following a bye week, Brooks-James again went without a carry in Saturday’s 30-27 overtime win over Washington. He returned two kicks, losing a fumble on a 34-yard return in the first quarter before getting a 56-yard return that set up a touchdown later in the period.
Redshirt freshman CJ Verdell had 29 carries for 111 yards against UW to earn Pac-12 offensive player of the week honors while true freshman Travis Dye had the other 15 carries by a running back for 67 yards.
“Verdell played really well, we felt he deserved it,” Cristobal said. “Watching TBJ, especially on that second kickoff return, he was explosive, ran hard, and ran physical. We are going to get him move involved and make sure he touches the ball more.”
Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo echoed that plan as the 12th-ranked Ducks (5-1, 2-1) prepared to visit No. 25 Washington State (5-1, 2-1) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Tony has done some good things for us throughout our time here so I think he is going to be called on and asked to do everything he’s been doing,” Arroyo said.
During Oregon’s past two victories, Verdell has 38 rushes for 217 yards with back-to-back 100-yard performances.
“CJ has done a real nice job progressing as a redshirt freshman,” Arroyo said. “He showed that and you saw those flashes early on last year when he was here redshirting. He’s continued to evolve and do the things we’ve asked of him.”
Dye has 35 carries for 182 yards in the past two games while the only other running back to carry the ball is Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who had six carries for 12 yards against Cal. Sophomore running back Darrian Felix has missed the past four games with an injury.
Verdell and Brooks-James declined interview requests this week, but Brooks-James applauded his backfield partners in a tweet following Saturday’s win.
“Seriously couldn’t ask or a better team win,” he posted. “I’ve always said I’ll take my guys OVER ANYBODY, now you know why (Verdell), (Dye), (Felix), and (Habibi-Likio), nothing but love my lil brothers for life.”