With the departure of Bryan Bennett, Oregon's No. 2 quarterback in 2012, it begs the question: Who will win the competition to take over Bennett's position as starter Marcus Mariota's backup this year?
If this photo of Mariota on the ground during January's Fiesta Bowl gives you the heebie-jeebies, there is a good reason for that. Quarterbacks are always at risk in Oregon's spread option offense, especially a QB with the running skills of Mariota.
As Coach Mark Helfrich said in an interview with Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian:
"As we've seen here, almost without exception—knock on wood—you need more than one quarterback."
Let's discuss and compare the two scholarship quarterbacks who would step in if—knock on wood (you aren't superstitious, are you? No, it doesn't count if you always wear your lucky 'O' earrings to games; that's just being prudent)—Mariota were to go down at any point in the 2013 season.
There are similarities between the two contenders, Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, to be Marcus Mariota's backup.
Both QBs are redshirt freshmen. Both are from northern California—Lockie from Danville and Rodrigues from Rocklin. The two are even similar in size; Lockie is 6'2", 195 pounds, and Rodrigues is one inch taller and weighs 218 pounds.
According to Rivals.com, Lockie was a 3-star recruit and Rodrigues a 4-star coming out of high school. It's interesting to note that both Rodrigues and Lockie were recruited by—wait for it—Mark Helfrich.
Here are some highlights from Lockie's high school career.
Based on their recruiting information, Jake Rodrigues is thought to be the better athlete and has a stronger arm than Lockie.
However, Rodrigues suffered a brutal broken fibula his senior year of high school and has had a lengthy rehab process, which allowed Lockie to get in more practice time with the Ducks. Lockie was also on the traveling squad during the 2012 season.
Based on his high school stats, Rodrigues appears to be more of a dual-threat quarterback than Lockie, whose stats are more heavily weighted to the passing game than running. During his senior year, Rodrigues threw for 2,036 yards and 26 touchdowns, while rushing for 684 yards and 15 TDs.
By comparison, according to GoDucks.com, Lockie completed 234 passes for 3,278 passing yards with 31 touchdowns, while rushing for only 136 yards and seven TDs in his senior year. With the Ducks' current offensive scheme, Rodrigues seems to be a better fit.
What you don't know is how much each guy wants it and why. Motivation is crucial in kids at this age. One player might be going all out because his parents expect it of him, and his competitor might want it more than he wants to breathe—there is just no way to know what is motivating Lockie and Rodrigues.
If you know anything at all about Texas, you know that the quarterback who takes his high school team all the way to the Texas 5A state championship game must not be chopped liver.
Damion Hobbs is not chopped liver. With just under 3,000 total yards and almost 30 TDs, Hobbs is the real deal at QB. He appears to be more of a true dual-threat quarterback than Lockie is, and his passing vs. running stats are more in line with Rodrigues'. Hobbs was also recruited by Helfrich.
Hobbs is very athletic, and may be given a chance to see what he can do at other positions for the Ducks, a la Daryle Hawkins (recruited at quarterback, but now on the roster at wide receiver). But if neither Lockie or Rodrigues step up in 2013, don't be surprised to see Hobbs sticking at QB and burning his freshman redshirt.
According to reports, both Rodrigues and Lockie are nice kids and class acts.
Lockie's tweets are sparse and always good-natured, unlike some Ducks we could mention but won't go there today. Rodrigues does not appear to tweet (which might mean that he is very, very smart.)
Lockie clearly knows which side his bread is buttered on, as evidenced by this tweet on January 20:
Very proud and excited for Coach Helfrich! Could not think of a more well deserving and special coach to continue the tradition #GoDucks— Jeff Lockie (@jefflockie17) January 20, 2013
According to Helfrich in Fentress's article, both players have put in extra work both on their bodies and in the film room. Helfrich added that the competition is "wide open."
Honestly, this competition sounds like a carbon copy of Mariota vs. Bennett: two capable, smart, likeable guys who could probably both get the job done.
Let's go way out on a limb here and project that Marcus Mariota will be the starting quarterback for the Oregon Ducks.
Here's the rest of your projected 2013 depth chart at the QB position with their jersey numbers, for those of you who will attend the spring game:
2. Jake Rodrigues—No. 3
3. Jeff Lockie—No. 17
4. Damion Hobbs (redshirt)—NA
The competition is close, but Rodrigues is a better fit with the Ducks' offense and the No. 2 position is his to lose.
I reserve the right to change my mind after the spring game.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.