Even though Marcus Mariota returned to Oregon, the quarterbacks meeting room inside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex has lost a significant amount of institutional knowledge.
After looking healthy and potentially dangerous as a dual-threat option during the spring game, Jake Rodrigues decided to take his talents to San Diego State.
Freshman Damion Hobbs also transferred to a Mountain West school, leaving the Ducks for Utah State.
Walk-on Dustin Haines, Mariota’s longtime study partner, was a redshirt senior.
That leaves redshirt sophomore Jeff Lockie, a co-No. 2 with Rodrigues last season and throughout spring practice, as Mariota’s most experienced backup for the 2014 season.
“I think it was different the first couple meetings. We lost Jake, we lost Damion and Dustin graduated,” Lockie said when asked about the departure of Rodrigues, his friend, recruiting classmate and practice rival. “So we were three spaces short, and then we added two new guys. It was weird at first. We still stay in touch. I think we’re getting used to it now.”
Mark Helfrich was lukewarm about the performances of the reserve quarterbacks following the spring game, stating that neither Rodrigues nor Lockie had done enough over the 15 practices to gain separation from the other on the depth chart. In other words: Not much had changed since last season.
That doesn’t mean the coach questions Lockie’s ability to lead the offense when his number is called off the bench or perhaps as a starter in 2015.
“That’s one thing that got a ton of play that I never understood. We have a ton of confidence in our backup guys,” Helfrich said. “There was just never any separation between those two guys, and that’s something you can’t fake. Because every single person on your team sees that guy play, and if there’s not any definitive separation, that’s when it can become an issue in your offense and your locker room, if there’s not a total difference. …
“We’ll continue to develop those guys. Jeff had a great spring.”
Helfrich added that the next step in Lockie’s development is to trust himself.
“I think that’s definitely true,” Lockie said. “I think of myself as a perfectionist, and if everything’s not right I’m upset because I want to be perfect. That’s good, but maybe at times it creates a block in your mind that you maybe are doing better than you think.
“I think I definitely need to work on eliminating that part of my mentality.”
Lockie, now in his third fall camp, has a significant head start in the competition to back up the Ducks’ Heisman Trophy candidate.
The other signal-callers on the roster are talented but wide-eyed true freshman Morgan Mahalak, Georgia Tech transfer Ty Grffin (must sit 2014 season) and walk-on Taylor Alie.
“We know that Marcus Mariota better execute better than Morgan Mahalak, but we’re not holding (the other quarterbacks) to any different standard,” Helfrich said. “We’re just pushing the heck out of them and keeping their confidence. Right now, they don’t know when they’re right and when they’re wrong.”
If Mariota stays healthy, something he was unable to do last season, Oregon will be in the mix for a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
And if the unthinkable were to happen?
Lockie will be more prepared to take over after learning from his somewhat shaky 2013 relief appearances, in which he completed only eight passes in nine games for 11 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. During the spring he was 7-for-12 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s similar to last year, but at the same time it’s definitely different,” Lockie said of his role on the team. “Marcus is here for the reasons he stated, and our job is to make our team the best and reach those goals. I think the stakes are set, the goal is clear and we’re one year removed from all that stuff and ready to go.”