The Oregon Duck football team comes into the spring with a bonafide controversy on their hands. After Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for the whole year by Chip Kelly, the Ducks were left with a veteran-laden team, but no proven signal-caller.
Senior Nate Costa has the most experience, but three knee surgeries has many questioning his ability to run Kelly’s high-paced attack which requires a mobile quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Darron Thomas has the makings to be a Terrelle Pryor, but except for what some might call a fluke quarter against Boise State in 2008, Thomas has virtually no game experience.
Kelly has kept an open-mind coming into the spring, but from everything we have gathered in his time here, he is not a two-quarterback guy.
Before the 2008 season, Kelly was in love with Costa’s skills and he seemed to be the air-apparent to take over for Dennis Dixon.
After another knee injury in fall ball, former Duck now Montana Grizzly Justin Roper took over, but Kelly never really connected with Roper. He didn’t recruit Roper and then when Roper went down with a knee injury early in 2008, Kelly turned to Masoli.
Masoli got progressively better throughout 2008 and looked great in the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State. But Masoli struggled early in 2009 and many fans were calling for Costa to start after a 4-16 performance by Masoli against Utah. (a game Oregon still won, ending the nation’s longest winning streak at the time).
Many of you may ask, “Why not Thomas last season?” and that was less than viable because Kelly was intent on red-shirting Thomas so that he could still have three years to play starting in 2010.
The point here is that Kelly stuck by his man through good times and bad. Once Kelly sticks with a quarterback this season, don’t be surprised to not see the other quarterback until garbage time.
With either quarterback, I would argue that the Ducks aren’t that much worse off than last season, because Masoli at times lacked focus and hurt the Ducks as much as he helped them.
Now, who will Kelly end up going with?
My guess is Thomas, but not until late in fall camp. Kelly is a cerebral coach and won’t make a decision until the time is right. Halfway through spring practice, neither has blown Kelly away, though it has been mentioned that Thomas’ progress has been more noticeable.
Costa has been in the system longer, which gives him a leg up on the ability to see things and read things more quickly, but last spring, Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said Thomas was “Our smartest quarterback in a lot of ways.”
Thomas has the things you can’t teach, size and speed. He stands at 6’3” and hovers around 200 lbs. while running a 4.5 second 40-yard dash.
Costa would probably bring the ability to win more right off of the bat next season, but Thomas could have the effect Masoli did in 2008 when he got progressively better all season. Thomas also has a much larger upside, but some of that is taken away right now because he is so raw.
Helfrich said that with young, inexperienced quarterbacks, “Being in the right place at the right time with your eyes is such a big thing.” With Oregon’s spread rushing attack and the necessity of reading the right player(s) on each play eyes become even more crucial in determining whether the play will be successful or not.
That’s why you give Thomas the reigns at the beginning of the season against New Mexico and let him start to figure things out.
Lets look at things this way though, we know Masoli is suspended for the season, but what if Costa steps up and leads the Ducks to the 2010 Pac-10 championship after having his job taken away by injury in 2008, when Masoli eventually took over?
If you're looking for a storyline, there it is. A great story trumping an unfortunate one. But, unfortunately football isn’t about storylines, it's about winning and Thomas gives the Ducks a better chance to do that.
Costa is one of those guys you respect for everything he has been through, but it is hard to believe he has the ability to run the offense with the trickery and firepower that Kelly would want in the long run.
Photo courtesy Kevin Clark/Register-Guard