Depth at QB
Entering the 2012 college football season, the Ducks made the bold move to start Marcus Mariota at quarterback over the more experienced Bryan Bennett. The move paid off in a big way, as Mariota became a Heisman hopeful in just one season under center.
Now, with Bennett having transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, the question has become: who will back up Mariota in 2013?
Mariota has the field vision and the ability to stay out of harm’s way, but the Ducks’ zone-read system doesn’t always allow it. A competent backup is going to be necessary, and there are two solid players ready to step up and claim the job.
The most-likely candidate to nab the No. 2 spot behind Mariota is Jake Rodrigues. The redshirt freshman out of Northern California has a lot going for him. He was a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com, and while he’s not necessarily a great runner, he can squeeze the ball into tight spots—a necessary skill when completing Oregon’s bubble routes.
One of the beautiful things about having Rodrigues as a backup is that he was recruited by now-head coach Mark Helfrich. The concern with Chip Kelly leaving to the NFL was that a lot of players would depart as a result, but with Rodrigues familiar with Helfrich’s approach, that concern should be all but eliminated.
The bad news for Rodrigues is that he’s technically still coming off of a brutal injury. He broke his left ankle—and fibular—in 2011, and while he claims that the injury is healed, you have to wonder what it’s going to be like when he sees real action for the first time.
That said, he has a quick release and a strong arm. He needs to work on getting rid of the deep ball without winding up, but he sets up plays quickly, which is a plus out of the shotgun.
Rodrigues may appear to have a slight edge in the competition, but “slight” has to be considered the key word, as he has a lot in common with Jeff Lockie.
Lockie, who is also a redshirt freshman, was also recruited by Helfrich. Rivals.com gave Lockie a three-star rating upon leaving high school, but it’s noteworthy that they also gave Mariota three stars as well.
While Oregon fans typically scoff at pro-style offenses, that’s what Lockie played in high school. However, the stigma with that style usually stems from slower, bulkier quarterbacks who can’t move. That doesn’t describe Lockie, as he’s shown mobility in the past that gives Oregon’s coaching staff confidence.
Mobility is important, but being able to make plays on the move is crucial. Lockie is good out of play-action sets—a must in Oregon’s offense—and he’s also good at completing passes in bootleg situations.
The competition is tight between these two players, and while the hope is that neither of them are needed right away, years past have proven that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
What About Dustin Haines and Damion Hobbs?
The Ducks do have other options behind Mariota, and their names are Dustin Haines and Damion Hobbs. Haines is a senior who likely understands the system better than the youngsters, but the truth is that he’s never shown starting-caliber potential, whereas Rodriguez and Lockie absolutely have.
Hobbs, on the other hand, has the potential to someday compete. At 6’3”, 220 pounds, he has good size and good athleticism. He is still developing his passing game, which makes him an easy choice for third or fourth string.
What Hobbs has going for him is his ability to execute the zone-read. His high school success indicates that he’s a traditional dual-threat option, as he can be used in both the running and passing games.
He’s certainly guilty of holding on to the ball for too long, but that’s to be expected of a true freshman.
What you’ll see in 2013 is that the team redshirts him to preserve an extra year. The likelihood that Oregon needs him is slim to none, and saving his eligibility—and testing him at other positions—makes sense.