CJ Verdell had a couple of reasons to bulk up for his sophomore season, but six extra pounds aren’t intended to change what he does with the ball in his hands.
“It’s not affecting how I run,” said Oregon’s 5-foot-9 running back who is now listed at 210 pounds. “It’s cool to know I have that, but I don’t see it making me change my running style.”
Verdell had 202 carries as a redshirt freshman that equaled 38.2% of the running plays for the Ducks while finishing with 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. He plans to be ready for a heavier workload if necessary during his second year on the field.
“The biggest thing I’m taking into this season is a focus on taking care of my body,” Verdell said following Wednesday's practice. “Coming in earlier, doing little things like stretching, just doing my best to make sure I can be durable for this whole season.”
Verdell was bothered by a hamstring injury at times last year and that also limited him in the spring. He said he was fully healthy for the start of fall camp as he switched to No. 7 this season.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I still get treatment, but it’s mainly maintenance. I’m trying to keep my body as healthy as possible for the season.”
Verdell also wanted to get bigger as part of an offseason emphasis on pass blocking.
“That is a big area I want to improve on,” he said. “Coach (Jim) Mastro puts an emphasis on pass blocking for a running back. There are two things you have to do to run the ball on this team, protect the ball and protect the quarterback at all times.”
Travis Dye, who missed practice Wednesday due to sickness, ran for 739 yards and four touchdowns last season as Verdell’s sidekick. Sophomores Darrian Felix and Cyrus Habibi-Likio are the other returning running backs. The Ducks don't have a scholarship upperclassman running back.
“I am more comfortable on the field, knowing what I’m doing when a play is called,” Verdell said. “Not thinking too much on the field, just reacting. … Same with the others. They tell me how comfortable they feel on the field so I think it will be a good year for this whole group.”
Freshmen Sean Dollars and Jayvaun Wilson are going through their first practices with the Ducks.
“They are great assets, picking up the playbook,” Verdell said of the newcomers. “They are trying to pick up on calls and different checks. They are getting into it and asking a lot of questions. … It is a competitive group with a lot of talent in the room. Coach Mastro does a good job getting us all in there to see what we can do and split up our reps evenly.”
Putting on the pads
The Ducks were in full pads for the first time during their fifth practice of the fall.
“Dudes were flying around, obviously the defense was hyped up,” UO junior receiver Johnny Johnson said. “It’s another day for us. We’ve always got intensity like that.”
Johnson remained with the No. 1 offense during the early portion of practice that was open to the media. He moved up to that spot when Brenden Schooler suffered a foot injury over the weekend that will keep him out for six to eight weeks.
Schooler returned to practice on crutches.
“It was good to see his face, see him smiling,” Johnson said. “He is a great guy and a great leader for this team. He is great on offense and special teams, he’s an impact player. It is a sad loss for us, but dudes have to step it up more. … Guys look up to him on the team. His voice is held to a high standard. He puts guys in check when they are not doing the right thing. He’s always positive, never negative, and always comes each day to work.”