He came in last season with fellow class of 2007 running back recruit Jahvid Best. While Vereen sat out, Best became the primary backup last season averaging 7.6 yards per carry. However, Best missed the last three games of the season and sat out the subsequent spring. That gave Vereen an opportunity to shine.
Vereen got another chance this past Thursday night during Cal's first scrimmage of fall camp to show the coaches he is a worthy every down back. With Best sidelined once again, Vereen started with the first team offense and made the most of his opportunity.
"This was a big opportunity to get the adrenaline pumping a little bit more," said Vereen. "Get the focus, get the game situation going, you definitely bring more to the table when it's a scrimmage."
"It was good to get out here get some work. But I feel there are some things I need to work on – a couple reads I missed."
Vereen finished with 71 yards on 11 carries including opening the scrimmage with a 16-yard burst on the first play. He also doubled as a punt and kick returner, proving his versatility. Coach Jeff Tedford described Best and Vereen at the Bay Area College Football Media Day as two backs that could do it all.
"Any way I can help out, that is what I want to do," said Vereen. "Coaches gave me opportunities in different places, I was happy to take those opportunities."
However, one opportunity he was not expecting was to get his clocked cleaned in punt return by fellow back Covaughn DeBoskie.
"I was sitting back there," said Vereen. "I really didn't think he was going to hit me. I was going to slide inside and catch the ball, [because] they were going to run past me."
The hit looked brutal from atop as it came a good half second before the ball arrived. But Vereen popped up to his feet after laying face first on the turf for a few secods.
"It definitely woke me up," Vereen said of the hit. "If I was sleeping I would have woken up. I am not upset with him, it will be alright, I'm fine."
Best sat out as part of Coach Tedford's designed plan to allow him to rest his fall. Vereen is a little dinged up as well. He returned the practice from injury a few days before the scrimmage, but he says he felt better Thursday.
"I felt a little more comfortable than the first day [back from the injury]," said Vereen. "All and all, I felt good out there."
"I was close to [being 100%]. I still think there is a step and a half I'm missing. It makes it easy when your o-line and fullbacks are blocking well. The lack of speed that I'm having right now doesn't really show when they're opening up holes for you."
Every down backs need to prove they can do it all. Best was named first team Pac-10 last season as a special-teamer, but is still unproven as an every down back. Vereen is in the same boat, but does not have the all-conference tag next to his name as well. If he wants to become the primary back, each aspect of his game has to be performed well. The biggest aspect he says needs improvement is his blocking.
"I felt I picked up the right people," said Vereen. "I felt I could have held them a little longer on a couple of occasions. It is something I need to work on, something us backs need to work on."
Outside of blocking, what else needs improvement?
"I think my decision making," said Vereen. "Make decisions a little bit quicker, hit holes a little bit harder, let things come to me. [Running Back] Coach [Ron] G[ould] has prepared us to be the best we can be." "I feel there is a lot of things I need to do. A lot of situations I could have gotten better at. A lot of situations I could've taken advantage of."
Nonetheless, his performance Thursday night caught the attention of the few hundred in the stands and coaches on the sideline.
"I thought he did a nice job," said Coach Tedford. "I can still see he has a little bit extra. He's got another gear there that he can't get to right now. I thought he moved really well and ran really hard."
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