Grooming QBs not an issue for Ducks
EUGENE — Why can’t Oregon develop its own quarterbacks?
It’s a question Mark Helfrich responded to after a recent practice for the Alamo Bowl. The program has turned to graduate transfers Vernon Adams Jr. and Dakota Prukop at the sport’s most important position.
The Ducks’ third-year coach did help develop some guy named Marcus Mariota, who redshirted as a freshman and won the Heisman Trophy last season.
Recruiting Adams proved to be a savvy move this season. After recovering from a broken index finger, the dynamic former Eastern Washington star carved up Pac-12 defenses while leading the team to six consecutive wins to end the regular season.
The Ducks are hoping to soar to even greater heights next season if Prukop, Montana State’s skillful dual-threat signal-caller, can also make the jump from the FCS to a Power Five program as seamlessly as Adams.
“Speaking very generally, events of the day, it doesn’t really speak to the development of anything,” Helfrich said. “It just speaks to the importance of talent, certainly at that position. It’s funny that all the teams that have recruited guys over the last year can’t develop people. That’s a little odd.
“Nobody said one thing about not being able to develop centers when we brought in (Notre Dame transfer) Matt Hegarty or (junior college transfer) Kyle Long. If a guy fits our criteria on the field and fits our criteria off the field and it fits, we’re going to see if we can make it happen.”
Oregon has been ahead of the curve in scouting the Big Sky for big-time quarterbacks who fell through the recruiting cracks coming out of high school.
Alabama’s Nick Saban also went after Prukop, despite having a couple highly touted young quarterbacks, Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman, waiting in the wings when senior Jake Coker’s career concludes with the College Football Playoff.
“It would have been a competition either way when you look at it, whatever school you went to,” Prukop told a group of reporters after choosing Oregon. “(Alabama is) confident in their guys. But competition breeds success on a team, and any school that has a chance to create competition is going to elevate their program.
“I think that’s something Alabama (believes in) and something you’re seeing at Oregon now.”
Prukop recently completed his economics degree at Montana State and plans to enroll at UO for the winter term after taking the GRE.
If the other quarterbacks on the roster remain in the program, the senior-to-be will compete against scholarship players Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and Travis Jonsen, as well as walk-on Taylor Alie.
Lockie and Alie had opportunities to lead the offense in important Pac-12 games because of Adams’ injury, but they didn’t play well enough to keep the job.
Mahalak isn’t as up to speed with Oregon’s schemes as the coaching staff would like, but he’s only a redshirt freshman and has spent two seasons on the scout team. Jonsen, a freshman currently redshirting, has been unable to practice most of the season with a foot injury.
Helfrich says adversity can help quarterbacks grow into better team leaders if they stick with it.
“Quarterback play is becoming more like a club sport. Growing up, these guys are so individualized that they’re not playing basketball and leading, they’re not playing baseball and leading, they’re not failing,” Helfrich said. “Failing is good for these guys at a young age. Then they’re supposed to lead a program, and sometimes that’s hard. I’m not saying that about anyone in particular.”
Helfrich said nothing has been promised to any of Oregon’s quarterbacks in terms of playing time, including Prukop.He wants all of the candidates to compete throughout winter strength and conditioning, spring practice and fall camp.
The best man will develop into the 2016 starter.
“There’s certainly the easy path of comparing depth charts and comparing this and that. That’s why we’re going to continue to recruit the way we’ve recruited,” Helfrich said. “We’re very honest with guys about competing forever, let alone on the front end of guaranteeing a guy a spot. That comes back to haunt you.”