Looking for a leader
EUGENE — Even though heralded transfer Vernon Adams has yet to join the Ducks, Oregon opened spring practice with several candidates looking to succeed Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup last season, led the quarterback group that went through drills Tuesday for the first of 15 practices ahead of the annual spring game on May 2.
Coach Mark Helfrich allowed reporters to watch the opening 10 minutes of the workout, which later had to be moved inside because of the threat of lightning. Mariota was among those who watched the Ducks practice in helmets but no pads.
Other quarterback prospects include sophomores Taylor Alie and Ty Griffin, and redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak and freshman Travis Jonsen, who went by Travis Waller in high school and is already enrolled at Oregon.
Jonsen, a dual-threat quarterback who has been compared to Dennis Dixon, passed for 1,797 yards and 12 touchdowns while also running for 815 yards and 13 scores as a senior at Servite High School in Southern California.
Helfrich said the quarterback situation would shake out over the spring and fall, joking that he didn't see maintaining a "five-way" competition.
Mariota opted to declare for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining after a historic season with the Ducks. He won the school's first Heisman and set a Pac-12 record with 58 total touchdowns while guiding Oregon to the national championship game in college football's first playoffs.
Lockie is the only one in the group with experience, completing 21 of 27 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown last season.
Meanwhile, the Ducks are waiting on Adams, an FCS All-American at Eastern Washington, who announced he will come to Oregon for his final year of eligibility. NCAA rules allow players who have graduated to transfer to another school without having to sit out a season. Vernon is set to graduate in May.
"As a first day, our effort and our attitude were excellent — I think across the country you're gonna find 100 or however many guys that say that," Helfrich said. "We talk every single day about 'Better.' If we can continue to improve on all the things we talk about after practice and during practice, we'll be in good shape."
This spring, Oregon will see the return of receiver Bralon Addison, who missed all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during spring practice. Tyler Johnstone is also coming back after a torn ACL last fall.
Addison's return this season is key for the Ducks, who will be without receiver Devon Allen because of an ACL injury he sustained on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl, and Darren Carrington, who faces suspension because of a failed drug test that kept him out of the national championship game.
"Mentally I was a little nervous, running around for the first time, but after a couple of drills, in my head I was fine. Physically it was more about getting in shape and getting my breathing back," Addison said.
Charles Nelson, a special teams standout as a freshman last season who would turn into a key receiver with five touchdowns, is moving to defensive back following the graduation of corners Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and safety Erick Dargan.