By Rob Moseley
A look back at Oregon’s month of spring practices that culminated in the spring game on May 3.
Where things stood: The Ducks got season-changing news last December when Marcus Mariota announced he was staying in school. Projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, Mariota was coming off a season in which he threw for 3,665 yards – second all-time at Oregon – and was the Ducks’ second-leading rusher with 715 yards. That latter number, and Oregon’s win total last season, would have been bigger if not for a knee injury Mariota suffered in late October. Both of his young backups were back, too, with Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues poised to spend yet another spring battling it out for the No. 2 job. Scholarship recruit Damion Hobbs and walk-on Taylor Alie ran the scout team as redshirts in 2013, with the walk-on holding his own on a daily basis.
What happened in April: Having returned to health with his explosive Alamo Bowl performance – at least prior to being felled by cramps – Mariota was back at it this spring, with a couple of “wow” moments every day in practices. His timing with receivers wasn’t always great, not unexpected given the loss of regular targets Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins and De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL, and then Bralon Addison to injury. Lockie and Rodrigues both had their moments in practices, but Rodrigues seemed to have the edge in Oregon’s two scrimmages prior to the spring game, connecting on big plays and avoiding the turnovers that had been an issue earlier in his career. Alie also seemed to get some separation from Hobbs in their battle lower on the depth chart.
The spring game, though, didn’t provide the clarity anyone was hoping to see. Mariota was brilliant, completing 6-of-7 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing five times for 23 yards. Rodrigues was 4-of-7 for 51 yards plus a nine-yard rush in the first quarter, looking very much like he was going to make himself the favorite for the No. 2 job. But he went 3-of-11 with an interception the rest of the way, while Lockie finished 7-of-12 for 121 yards and a touchdown. Lockie also well overthrew a receiver on a deep route, demonstrating that concerns about his arm strength have perhaps been overstated. It was a similar story between Alie and Hobbs; Alie had a nice moment with a touchdown pass to Darren Carrington but was otherwise inconsistent, while Hobbs was steadily productive, with 5-of-9 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown.
Who to watch in August: The depth chart actually received its most significant shakeup after the conclusion of spring ball, when Rodrigues informed UO coach Mark Helfrich this week of his intent to transfer. That makes Lockie the man in the spotlight when preseason practices begin. He had an encouraging spring game, and now will look to parlay that into a strong month of August, to demonstrate he can capably replace Mariota whenever the time comes. There will also be much interest in the arrival of recruit Morgan Mahalak, who threw for 2,795 and 38 touchdowns as a high school senior, and rushed for 575 yards and seven scores.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART