EUGENE — Patience is not always a virtue for big-time quarterback recruits.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich mentioned Morgan Mahalak in the same sentence as Jared Goff, his high school teammate, on national signing day in 2014.
After redshirting during Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy-winning season and not having his number called when Vernon Adams Jr. was injured last season, Mahalak decided to transfer to Towson University, where the 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore was named the starter on Friday.
The immediate speculation on social media after Helfrich revealed that 2015 four-star recruit Travis Jonsen is currently fourth on the depth chart, is that the redshirt freshman will be running through the transfer turnstile next.
Montana State graduate transfer Dakota Prukop won the job, and two true freshmen — Justin Herbert and Terry Wilson — are also slotted ahead of Jonsen entering the Ducks’ opener against UC Davis on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
“Particularly at quarterback, there’s more pressure from the outside of transfer,” Helfrich said when asked if he felt the need to talk to Jonsen about the situation. “People now, they give that pressure before a guy is even here. Yeah, you have to have a different conversation.
“He’s developing. He’s still a freshman in every way, just by how he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to practice last year and have those normal kind of ups and downs and growth.”
Jonsen enrolled early at Oregon and went through spring practice in 2015, but a turf toe injury sidelined him last fall. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound dual-threat prospect struggled during the scrimmages while the battle-tested Prukop separated himself from the pack.
“When he has experience like that, it’s definitely hard to make a bigger jump,” Jonsen said of Prukop, who passed for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 797 yards and 11 touchdowns at Montana State in 2015. “He has that experience, but you just have to prove to the coaches that you’re able to handle those situations on the field. …
“I just need to take it day by day, play by play and not worry about the outcome, really. That’s a mindset I need to set for myself.”
Jonsen and walk-on Taylor Alie ran the scout team during Saturday’s practice as Oregon began preparing for UC Davis.
Helfrich said if the situation merits Herbert playing, then the former Sheldon High three-sport star will burn his redshirt this season.
“That’s a guy that wasn’t here in spring ball,” offensive coordinator Matt Lubick marveled. “(Herbert) came out this fall camp and, as far as learning what we asked him to do and not paring it down, it’s been unbelievable. He has done a great job executing things, he’s done a great job of keeping poise, calmness and just picking things up.”
Although it’s unlikely Oregon would play both true freshmen, the team did use three quarterbacks last season, and Wilson is No. 3 in the pecking order.
That doesn’t mean the former Nebraska commitment will be on the travel squad when the Ducks head to Lincoln on Sept. 17. Alie is the holder, two-point conversion specialist and perhaps emergency quarterback.
“Depth charts are in dry-erase marker. They move all the time,” Helfrich said. “For those guys, it’s where we are today. We have to play a game, so we have an order of training and how we go about that. As we sit here today, (Jonsen’s) our fourth-best quarterback. That’s where it is. We have a plan, he has a plan.
“I know the natural thing now is that guy leaves and transfers, which is unfortunate. We still think a lot of him and Terry and expect a lot of those guys going forward.”
Herbert isn’t the only true freshman expected to have an immediate impact. Troy Dye is the starting strong-side linebacker, Brenden Schooler is listed as a backup cornerback and spring game star Dillon Mitchell should join the receiver rotation after recovering from a knee injury.
Helfrich said there is also a chance receiver Tristen Wallace, defensive lineman Bryson Young and linebackers La’Mar Winston, Darrian Franklin and Keith Simms could help the Ducks on special teams.
“Not a lot of surprises anywhere, in terms of how practice went, how training went,” Helfrich said of the two-deep. “Our guys handled those meetings well. I think linebacker and maybe one or two receiver spots are still extremely competitive and tight and tough. Those are good problems to have.”
When Oregon kicks off Helfrich’s fourth season as coach, Brady Hoke will be by his side. The first-year defensive coordinator will be on the field instead of in the press box.
“Yes, that was in the contract,” Helfrich joked when asked if Hoke, who was often roaming the sideline without a headset on as Michigan’s coach, would be plugged in with Oregon’s staff.
Longtime secondary coach John Neal, a former defensive coordinator at UAB, will be upstairs. Helfrich expects Lubick and quarterbacks coach David Yost to provide the bird’s eye view for the offensive staff.
Prukop, a lightly recruited quarterback coming out of high school, is ready to seize this opportunity to compete in the Pac-12 as a senior after patiently developing in the Big Sky.
“My mindset changes now in the sense that I put a little bit more focus and emphasis on getting my legs and arm back under me,” Prukop said after fall camp wrapped on Thursday. “We’re not grinding every day like we’ve been, so I can focus on recovery.
“And now I’m not playing guys in green anymore, just getting ready for the Aggies.”