Not so fast, my friend! My most excellent colleague, Joe Penkala, wrote a fine article earlier this week about why Bryan Bennett will be the starting quarterback for the Oregon Ducks in the fall.
I almost always agree with Joe—the guy is one smart Ducks fan—but in this case I think he has it wrong. I believe the starting QB job for the Ducks is going to redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. Here is my argument.
When you listen to Marcus Mariota talk about spring practices at Oregon, you just feel the confidence emanating from him. It's not a noisy, rah-rah kind of confidence, but more of a quiet certainty.
One gets the feeling that Mariota truly believes that the competition between him and Bryan Bennett is even. He also understands that self-confidence is part of the position. If you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect your team to believe in you?
Mr. Penkala said, "It is Bennett's job to lose." I don't believe that's accurate, and I don't think Marcus Mariota believes it, either.
Speed is important in an Oregon quarterback.
Mr. Penkala notes Bryan Bennett's speed as a reason he will win the job. I would argue that Mariota is just as fast as Bennett, if not faster.
But don't take my word for it; senior wide receiver Justin Hoffman said about Mariota: "He's pretty quick."
On his Oregon Ducks football roster bio, it says that Mariota won the camp's "Fastest Man" award at the 2010 National Underclassman Combine. He was clocked 4.48 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NUC camp.
I think the dude can move.
Mr. Penkala cites Bryan Bennett's experience as a reason for starting. However, Chip Kelly has said that Marcus Mariota is a quick learner. Many of Mariota's teammates have said that he has picked up the offense quickly.
Mariota himself says that it took him one week in last year's fall camp to learn the offense. He played in an offense similar to Oregon’s while in high school. Mariota says that his grasp of the quarterback’s responsibilities, “from the zone read to the pass concepts, it’s all been pretty good."
I would also argue that experience didn't do Nate Costa much good when along came gangly, inexperienced Darron Thomas.
Don't bet for a minute that both Bennett and Mariota don't understand that when Chip Kelly says every position is open, he means every position is open.
Of course, we can't know the answer to this question without getting inside the heads of his teammates, but there have been some clues in after-practice player interviews.
The receivers, for the most part, have been generous in their praise of both quarterbacks. But several WRs have said that Bennett throws the ball hard, while Mariota has more finesse. Devon Blackmon in a video interview with Eugene's Register-Guard said that Mariota's ball "is easier to catch."
Several teammates have mentioned Mariota's athletic abilities. It feels as if there is more warmth heaped on him than on Bennett.
When you watch Mariota on video, you are struck by what a calm, easygoing manner he has. When I compare the two side by side, I would trust Mariota more in the heat of battle, and I think his teammates might do the same.
Without being in the locker room and seeing which of the two QBs commands more respect, however, this is all speculation on my part. And, while it's not a popularity contest, leadership is a quality that is very hard to define, but absolutely crucial in the QB role.
OK, this is probably where I lose all credibility, but Mariota just looks like an Oregon quarterback to me (that's Mariota on the right, working out with Darron Thomas.)
When you watch him on film, he has both great speed and great touch, and it looks as if it all comes very naturally to him. Nothing in his movement looks forced. His footwork is good, and his posture is correct.
He also has a dignity about him, and you somehow know that there isn't any panic in this kid.
Mr. Penkala said that Bryan Bennett "has his team behind him." Maybe that's true—I would have no way of knowing that for certain. But I do know that if Mariota turns out to by the guy, he will have his team behind him in a heartbeat.
Will he pull off Darron Thomas' youth-over-experience ploy and win the coveted starting QB job? I'm guessing that we will know the answer to this question about 12:30pm on Saturday, Sept. 1.