The Ducks will kick off practice for the 2013 season on Monday, Aug. 5. Over the next two weeks I'll preview each position group, offering my own analysis and projected depth chart, keeping in mind that the team doesn't actually have an official depth chart at this point.
Projected depth chart
QB: Marcus Mariota, So.; Jake Rodrigues, RFr.; Jeff Lockie, RFr.; Dustin Haines, Sr.; Damion Hobbs, Fr.; Taylor Alie, Fr.
KNOWN QUANTITIES: The Ducks are blessed with one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Marcus Mariota, a threat with both his arm and legs who worked this offseason to cement himself as the true leader of the team. Mariota is coming off a freshman season in which he was named first-team all-Pac-12, accounted for a UO-record 38 touchdowns and set another school record with his completion rate of 68.5 percent. He had a remarkable debut against Arkansas State — going 18-of-22 and leading Oregon to seven straight touchdowns to open the game — and was at his best in a two-game November stretch at USC and California, combining to go 47-of-57 (82.5 percent) for 681 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. Mariota was also Oregon's second-leading rusher during his redshirt freshman season, with 690 yards and four touchdowns.
In the spring, Mariota mentioned wanting to improve in two specific areas: vocal leadership and patience in the pocket. He demonstrated excellent patience in the spring game, waiting for a route to develop on a touchdown to Josh Huff to cite just one example, and teammates spoke highly this summer of Mariota's more vocal style (his raspy voice after April practices also, ironically, spoke volumes). As far as things to watch this season, there are reasons to think the Ducks may end up throwing more often in 2013, putting more on the shoulders — and more specifically the right shoulder — of Mariota. And when the time comes, Mariota will join the rest of the Ducks in trying to avenge their 2012 loss to Stanford; he was 21-of-37 against the Cardinal last fall, his lowest completion percentage of the regular season, and also threw his only interception of the season's final seven games. Of course, the more Mariota improves this year, the louder the hype will be for his 2014 draft prospects. As a third-year sophomore he'll be eligible to leave after this fall. Mariota said last week he wants to focus on his season with the Ducks and so is leaving any of those considerations to his family for the time being.
NEW FACES: Along with mainstay Dustin Haines, newly anointed with a scholarship in recognition of his value over the years, the roster also includes freshman signee Damion Hobbs and walk-on Taylor Alie from Eugene's Sheldon High. Hobbs is an intriguing athlete, but there's every reason to think the Ducks will be afforded the luxury of redshirting him.
TO BE DETERMINED: The big question this preseason will be, who emerges as Mariota's backup? Redshirt freshmen Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie each performed publicly for the first time in the spring game, with Rodrigues getting the first set of reps. Neither managed much when Oregon's top defenders were on the field but each showed some flashes after that. True to their reputations, Rodrigues looked a bit more explosive as a runner and a passer, while Lockie was more efficient throwing the ball and didn't take any sacks. But UO coaches maintained all last year that the two are more similar than the generalizations about their respective skill sets would suggest. This will be one of the most important, and perhaps unsung, position battles to watch in August, because as difficult as it is to imagine, the Ducks are just a play away from asking an untested redshirt freshman to lead a projected top-five team in the country.
ESPN's Pac-12 blog says: The Ducks are in great shape at quarterback.
Coming up tomorrow: Running backs