May 9, 2016
By Rob Moseley
Photo: Eric Evans
A look back at Oregon’s month of practices that culminated in the Spring Game on April 30.
Where things stood: The Ducks entered the offseason for the second straight year looking to replace the FBS leader in pass efficiency; first it was Marcus Mariota and then, following the 2015 season, Vernon Adams Jr. The graduate transfer known as “Big Play VA” lived up to his moniker, demonstrating a sublime ability to extend plays under pressure and unleash accurate deep balls to Oregon’s stable of receivers. Adams averaged 10.2 yards per attempt, nearly a yard more than any other FBS passer with enough attempts to qualify; his signature moment was the backpedaling bomb to Dwayne Stanford that forced overtime at Arizona State, a game the Ducks eventually won as part of a six-game winning streak to close the regular season. That streak followed a stretch of four games that Adams missed most of or completely, including losses at home to Utah and Washington State. Backups Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie were able to lead the Ducks to wins over Georgia State and Colorado with Adams sidelined, but they didn’t replicate his production against the Utes and Cougars, nor in the Alamo Bowl after Adams was knocked out of that game just prior to halftime.
What happened in April: In contrast to Adams, who arrived after fall camp had already begun last August, the Ducks this year added another graduate transfer in Dakota Prukop who enrolled in January. Prukop threw for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior last fall at Montana State, and also rushed for 11 touchdowns, suggesting he could give the Ducks the credible threat of a running quarterback again. Prukop spent this spring learning Oregon’s offense and building chemistry with his new teammates, a process that began in January but could really begin in-depth only once they hit the practice field. To use a boxing analogy, Prukop is Floyd Mayweather to Adams’ Manny Pacquiao. Like Pacquiao, Adams is a knockout puncher, usually looking to throw haymakers at the defense deep down the field. Prukop is a cerebral jabber; as he showed in the spring game, he’s content to read through his progressions and safely get the ball into the hands of Oregon’s playmakers, while looking to avoid turnovers. In the Spring Game, Prukop went 20-of-29 for 190 yards and two touchdowns – the two scores coming on about the riskiest throws he attempted all day. (Although based on the spring receiver Dillon Mitchell had, entrusting him to win battles for those balls wasn’t all that risky. Indeed he hauled in both, on catches of 32 and 31 yards.)
The other two quarterbacks who got the bulk of the reps in the spring showed exciting flashes of promise. On the first day of camp, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen arguably was the best of the bunch; while Prukop experienced a few first-day hiccups possibly owing to nerves, Jonsen was a revelation in his first practice since missing most of last season due to foot surgery. His throwing motion was refined by countless hours throwing into a net following surgery last season, and he’s a long-striding runner once he gets up to speed. The other player in the primary rotation, while Lockie and Alie took on mentor roles and got some reps at receiver, was true freshman Terry Wilson. Like Jonson, Wilson looked remarkably comfortable practicing with the Ducks the first week of camp, foretelling good things to come in his career. As the month wore on, though, and practice drills were conducted under increasingly more complex game-like conditions, the quarterbacks generally seemed to settle into order according to class: Prukop, Jonsen, Wilson. In the Spring Game, Jonsen was 15-of-24 for 188 yards with a touchdown each rushing and passing, but also was sacked six times and threw an interception (plus another potential pick that was dropped by a DB in the red zone). Wilson was 4-of-10 for 22 yards.
Who to watch in August: Play between Prukop and Jonsen was close enough throughout the month that coaches will hold off on naming a starter until sometime in preseason camp. Either way, they figure to be the top two on the depth chart. The question then becomes how the rest of the practice order shapes up. Typically in recent years, three quarterbacks have worked with the travel squad, and two have run the scout team. Given the makeup of the depth chart, it’s reasonable to think Lockie’s experience would make him an asset on the travel squad. Wilson, meanwhile, would benefit from the higher number of reps he’d get with the scout team. Thus, it’s conceivable to think Wilson and his classmate, incoming freshman Justin Herbert, could be on the scout squad come fall. That leaves Alie, who showed genuine promise as a receiver this spring, while also continuing as a holder for placekicks.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART