As a football fan, watching a competitive quarterback battle can be exciting but can also be well. . .unsettling.
Now in the second year of its post-Mariota era, Oregon finds itself yet again in the middle of a quarterback battle heading into Fall Camp, set to begin August 8th.
With the departure of Vernon Adams Jr., Oregon followed last season’s footsteps and signed Dakota Prukop, a Montana State transfer who started for the Bobcats the previous two years, completing his career there with impressive states including, 7,347 yards of total offense, fourth in MSU history.
Though the Ducks had several quarterbacks on its roster, none were seemingly prepared to step into the leading role. Veteran, Jeff Lockie, and Redshirt Junior,Taylor Ali, missed several opportunities last season to prove themselves. Redshirt Freshman, Travis Jonsen, showed promise but was injured the entire 2015 season while Terry Wilson Jr. had just arrived on campus this Spring.
Given the big question marks at quarterback, the Prukop signing seemed a clear necessity and at the beginning of Spring Practice it seemed the job was his to lose.
Although Jonsen and Wilson were highly touted recruits, they desperately needed reps. To expect Wilson Jr. to be ready for the starting job would be unfair; but Jonsen? He was a wild card.
Jonsen, a 4 star recruit from Anaheim, California was ranked as the 3rd best duel threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com. The hype was warranted but after a foot injury sidelined him for a full season, all Jonsen could do was to watch and learn. Coaches were confident he knew the system, but could he translate it on the field? When asked at the start of Spring Practice about Jonsen, the message from coaches was a clear, “We just don’t know yet.”
As Spring Practice progressed, Prukop seemed to be taking the lead. He was poised and confident. Meanwhile, Jonsen, who was energetic with a bright smile, seemed to be sitting back, taking notes and humbly working on his game- a game that was still a mystery to Ducks’ fans chomping at the bit to finally see him play. They’d finally get that chance at the Spring Game scrimmage.
Not only did Jonsen hold his own in the scrimmage, he showed exactly why a starter had yet to be named. Though Prukop’s stats were a bit better and Jonsen threw an interception and logged some sacks, overall both quarterbacks were successful and neither was a clear standout- something Head Coach Mark Helfrich addressed at the Pac 12 Media Days this Summer. When asked about how he’d now go about selecting a starter, Helfrich said,
“You want it to be obvious and glaring and everybody kind of looks at each other and goes, yeah.”
It was clear that hadn’t yet happened and instead the Ducks again find themselves with a question mark at quarterback.
But did the coaches expect the race to be this close? One has to wonder.
While at the Pac 12 Media Days, I checked in with Coach Helfrich and simply asked if he and his staff had been surprised by how well Jonsen did this past Spring.
“I was. I was surprised at how well he did,” Helfrich said.
“He’s like a baby gazelle, there is such a huge ceiling for him.”
Helfrich also made it clear that he believes that both potential starting quarterbacks would enter Fall Camp as totally different quarterbacks, mainly because both are coming from two different paths. While Prukop is the most experienced on the field, Jonsen is much better versed in the Oregon system. Each had their work cut out for them this Summer, but if all went well, Oregon may just have two quarterbacks ready to take the keys.
Prukop may be the safer choice right now, but maybe, just maybe, those keys should be given to the underdog who can keep them for a while.
My prediction: So far, I seem to be alone in this one but I see Jonsen taking over by game 2 or 3, maybe even by game 1. Yes, Prukop has the experience and confidence but I don’t think coaches expected Jonsen to be as ready as he has shown he is. Jonsen lacked some mechanics and a bit of confidence this Spring but I believe he will be much improved this fall. I think his talent ceiling is much higher at this point. Prukop is obviously talented and will improve some but I think we are seeing essentially what he has to offer. Bottom line? Jonsen may have finished out the Spring slightly behind but as he becomes more confident, there is every reason to believe he could easily pull ahead. That said, I definitely see Oregon taking the competition into the first two games to see how both perform under pressure, before naming a clear starter as Oregon faces Nebraska, on the road, September 17th.
Follow Nichole on Twitter @UOgridirongirl
What do you think Ducks fans?