With Oregon’s football practices being closed to the media, it is often hard to really get a sense of the team dynamics and how a quarterback, for example, may be leading a team. With so much of a quarterback’s interaction with his teammates happening behind closed doors, how exactly is a reporter supposed to get a feel for how a team is responding to a quarterback’s leadership. . .or lack thereof?
Simply put, it’s tough and it takes some time. So, in my humble opinion, when the major national pundits come out with bold statements about a player (ie: Mariota being too boring/vanilla/nice), the coaches or the team in general, I just have to laugh. They simply aren’t around enough to really have a clue. You have to watch how they interact in the slightest of ways, on a regular basis, with each other and with those outside of the program- namely, fans and media. And, you have to watch them both in victory and in defeat. A lot can be revealed about their character in those moments.
Like at most top football programs around the country, Oregon’s coaches and players say very little when being interviewed. Though mostly polite, answers can almost be predicted and when the X’s and O’s narrative is broken down, there is often very little real substance. Big things are at stake and letting any cat out of the bag could give an upcoming opponent an advantage. I get it. As media and as fans, however, the chase to get a glimpse into what’s going on behind those closed doors, especially with a quarterback, is ever present. It’s those aforementioned subtle observations that may in fact provide that glimpse. This season, that chase has been even more intriguing given the arrival of Vernon Adams Jr. and the subsequent quarterback carousel following Adams Jr.’s injury.
With the Ducks’ lackluster season, it seemed something (or many things) was missing. It was as if the pieces were there but not clicking together- a pretty car with a flat tire, missing mirror and a nearly-empty tank of gas, if you will. Things were looking bleak. Where was the passion? Where was the brotherhood? Where was the leadership? If you were asking those questions, you weren’t alone.
Enter the return of Vernon Adams Jr.
It took just one drive against Washington for that Oregon Ferrari to shine again. One. Drive. A healthy enough Vernon Adams Jr. returned to the driver’s seat and stepped on the gas, ultimately winning the race. . .at least for that night. It wasn’t just the win that dried up the Oregon rain though, it was something more. It was Adams Jr.’s spark- an intangible that Oregon fans had all come to expect during the Mariota era.
But what is it about him that seemed to ignite a team that was sputtering, just hoping to make it to the next gas station? The simple answer might be his ability to throw that deep pass we all missed seeing for a few weeks. Or, maybe the gift he has to scramble out of the pocket and create plays most thought were doomed. Sure, those things are a big part of what Adams Jr. brings to the gridiron, but if you ask me, it’s a whole lot more than that.
In a team culture that seems to thrive on brotherhood and of course, a dynamic quarterback that can lead it’s typically fast offense, it’s critical that said quarterback be able to connect with the team. The team has to be able to trust the quarterback’s leadership on and off the field. They have to not only trust his work ethic and play-making ability, but they also have to know he is about the team- the brotherhood. Marcus Mariota played that role exceptionally well and although Adams Jr. doesn’t have to be Mariota, displaying some of the same characteristics will go a long way with this team and its fans.
And he does.
In just a brief exchange with Adams Jr., it’s clear to see why he was the standout in a sea of Oregon quarterbacks. Not to discredit the others (their time may come) but for now, Adams Jr. is clearly the right choice. He just has that X-factor. He’s articulate, passionate, charasmatic and humble- something that goes a long way at Oregon. When he shines, he credits the team. When he falls, he blames himself- even if it isn’t warranted.
But it isn’t just his humility that stands out. After all, many, if not most, other guys on the team are just as humble. It’s his ability to connect with those around him.
It may sound cliché, but its true. He doesn’t just say all the right things. He is genuine when he says them, looking you in the eye.
He makes you feel comfortable as he explains things with a smile.
It’s that ability to connect and to make others feel important that goes a long way in establishing that brotherhood players talked about so much during Mariota’s time at Oregon. Mariota had an amazing ability to lead with quiet confidence while at the same time putting others before himself. In a sense, not only loving the game, but caring for those in it.
It means showing up and working hard. It means being vocal when you need to be and leading by example. And for a guy showing up after the start of fall camp, it means genuinely showing you are about others, rather than yourself, even in the smallest of ways- something Adams Jr. showed last week in Husky Stadium.
Though I attended the game, it wasn’t until I watched the replay that I noticed a little something- a split-second moment that most probably thought nothing about but that spoke volumes. With about 7 minutes left to go in the 3rd quarter, Adams Jr. had successfully marched the offense down into the red zone. After the whistle signaled the end of another solid play, a Husky player lie face down on the field. While others collected themselves and readied for the next play, I was struck by the fact that no one seemed to notice the injured player who, by the way, didn’t seem to be moving. It took just a second, but sure enough #3 took notice and quickly checked on him, even helping up. A simple gesture, but important. Those gestures add up and show character. Those gestures show he cares. Call me crazy, but brotherhoods form because a team of guys care about each other and have a leader they can connect with an get behind. As we all have learned over the past few weeks, Oregon thrives on that brotherhood and having a guy like Adams Jr. leading the way makes all the difference.
As we watch the rest of the season unfold, there will be those that doubt what Oregon can do. There will be those that say that Oregon’s flashy car has perhaps already run out of gas. To those, I say, watch out. Oregon now has a pretty amazing driver that fits just perfectly in that car.