Alie has seen it all as quarterback for Ducks
EUGENE — Life as a backup quarterback has treated Taylor Alie pretty well.
Since the former Sheldon High standout walked on at Oregon four years ago, Alie has:
• Played meaningful snaps as the holder and completed two-point conversion passes in a top-10 showdown with Michigan State and in the Rose Bowl victory over Florida State en route to the national championship game.
• Helped deliver a Pac-12 road win at Colorado after Vernon Adams Jr. was unable to make the trip due to injury.
• Been awarded a scholarship from former coach Mark Helfrich and earned an undergraduate degree from UO.
• Married his longtime girlfriend on Saturday.
But the football honeymoon is not over.
Alie is a veteran among a nascent quarterback group headlined by sophomore Justin Herbert.
Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, is the only other player on the roster recruited to play quarterback at Oregon. True freshman “athlete” Demitri Burch and walk-on Mike Irwin also took reps during the first week of fall camp.
Two of Helfrich’s touted recruits, Travis Jonsen and Terry Wilson, transferred after Herbert reestablished himself as the starter during Willie Taggart’s first spring practice.
“It’s a shame,” Alie said of the attrition. “I had some really great relationships with both of them. Obviously I wish them nothing but the best. It’s just the dynamics of being a quarterback.
“Only one dude is playing, especially when you’ve got a returning dude like Justin.”
The Ducks turned the most important position in football over to senior graduate transfers from the Big Sky the past two seasons, but Herbert is the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in 2017.
After supplanting Dakota Prukop in the midst of Oregon’s worst season in 25 years, Herbert finished his freshman campaign with 19 touchdowns passes and four interceptions.
Alie witnessed Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy season up close and personal. He says there are striking resemblances between the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Herbert and the Tennessee Titans’ 6-4, 222-pound franchise quarterback.
Herbert grew up watching Mariota and emulated the local hero pretty well at Sheldon High.
“As soon as Justin got here, that was one of the first things that I noticed is just how similar his mannerisms were to Marcus’,” Alie said. “They kind of even have the same demeanor, the way they carry themselves, especially when Marcus was younger. …
“It’s eerie how similar they are, but also so exciting because we watched the greatness of Marcus unfold. I have a very strong feeling we’re going to watch the same thing for Justin.”
Backup quarterbacks must also prepare for worst-case injury scenarios.
Mariota’s torn MCL was a factor in Oregon’s derailed BCS title run in 2013. Adams’ broken thumb in the 2015 opener and head injury in the Alamo Bowl exposed the Ducks’ weaknesses before last year’s 4-8 finish.
Burmeister will likely be No. 2 on the depth chart entering the season. The 6-1, 205-pound dual-threat quarterback was verbally committed to Arizona until being flipped by Taggart and Oregon’s new staff.
“Braxton is still learning,” Taggart said when asked about the depth issues behind Herbert. “He’s highly competitive and he knows how to play the game of football, so we’re excited about him. The same with Alie. Those guys are going to compete and get better. It’s our job as coaches to keep developing those guys and make sure they’re ready.
“We don’t sit around and think about injuries.”
It’s unclear how often Herbert will carry the ball with Royce Freeman and three other seasoned running backs returning, but South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers finished 15th in the FBS in rushing (117.7 yards per game) for Taggart in 2016.
Alie, who mostly practiced at wide receiver during the 2016 fall camp, understands that he will need to be ready in case of emergency. As the No. 3 quarterback behind Adams and Jeff Lockie, he salted away a 41-24 victory over Colorado on Oct. 3, 2015, at Folsom Field with a 43-yard touchdown pass.
“It’s critical to our season,” Alie said of the backups preparing to play meaningful snaps this fall. “We wish that nothing happens to Justin and he plays every snap, but it’s something I’ve gone through, so I know how to prepare for it.
“I’ve been in a game and I’m not afraid of stepping in there, even if I haven’t practiced that whole week or whatever it may be.”
Alie is the only Oregon quarterback other than Herbert who has thrown a pass in college. For his career, the fifth-year senior has completed 6 of 14 attempts for 96 yards and one touchdown and also rushed 10 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns.
After getting the weekend off for his wedding and a brief honeymoon, life as a backup quarterback will go on when the Ducks return to practice on Tuesday night.
“I think my role is to really help Braxton understand that it can be one snap or two snaps and you’ve got to be in there,” Alie said. “The biggest thing for us is to lead our team so everyone will trust us if we get in there. Then if we get a crack at it, take our shot.”