By Rob Moseley
Analyzing where things appear to stand at each position group entering preseason camp, based on developments last season, in the spring and over the summer.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
QB: Marcus Mariota, Jr.; Jeff Lockie, So.; Morgan Mahalak, Fr.; Taylor Alie, RFr.; Ty Griffin, So. (RS)
The veterans: Perhaps the best player in the country leads Oregon into the start of preseason camp on Aug. 4. There's nobody in the nation the Ducks would trade Marcus Mariota for, after he passed up the chance to be the possible No. 1 overall NFL draft pick this past spring by returning to school. Mariota comes into the year after a sophomore season in which he set the UO record for all-purpose yardage (4,380). That was despite a knee injury that limited his rushing ability throughout November, derailing Oregon's perfect season and Mariota's shot at the Heisman Trophy. Soft-spoken by nature, Mariota made it a goal to become a more forceful leader, and this summer he seems to have taken steps toward that end. “I think he’s really becoming a great leader, not just for younger guys but for all of us," senior linebacker Tony Washington said. "He’s kind of becoming the leader of the leaders. … He just has a higher sense of urgency. He wants things done, and it’s got to be done the right way. He’s telling guys where to go, what to do, and showing us how to do it.”
Following the transfers of Jeff Lockie made nine appearances as Mariota's primary backup in 2013, completing 8-of-13 passes for 57 yards and an interception. He also ran five times for 22 yards and a touchdown. Aware that turnovers tend to be the most decisive statistic in football, Lockie could be conservative in his decision-making in the past, but during the spring game he took a couple of impressive shots down the field. Lockie completed 7-of-12 passes that day, for 121 yards and a touchdown, keeping himself in strong position to back up Mariota again in 2014. Taylor Alie often outplayed Hobbs while running the scout team last fall, and while he was disappointed with his spring game performance, it did include a 20-yard touchdown pass. and after spring practice, two other veterans return behind center for the Ducks.
The newcomers: Into the mix comes true freshman Morgan Mahalak, an UnderArmour All-American who led his high school team to a 12-1 record while scoring 46.8 points per game last fall. Mahalak completing 160-of-260 passes for 2,795 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior — his only season as the starting quarterback — while also rushing 82 times for 575 yards and seven scores. Also scheduled to be on hand next week is Ty Griffin, a transfer from Georgia Tech. Griffin redshirted while running the scout team there last fall, and presumably will do the same for the Ducks this season as he sits out under NCAA transfer rules. Griffin ran for 1,149 yards and 19 touchdowns while playing quarterback as a high school senior, a season in which he attempted but 39 passes.
What to watch: The most obvious question is, how does Mahalak's presence shake up the depth chart, if at all? Lockie remains relatively unproven in games, but he's got a couple big-time factors working in his favor as he tries to lock up the No. 2 job. For one, he's now had two years' of practice in Oregon's system. Also, he and Mariota are close friends, giving Lockie the chance to closely watch and pick the brain of probably the best QB in school history. Another question: Say Mahalak is No. 3 coming out of August; do the coaches consider getting him some playing time early in the season, or try to protect his redshirt? Even though Mariota helps provide Oregon what NFL.com said was the second-best QB situation in the entire country for 2014, there's still intrigue at the position as preseason camp approaches.
By Rob Moseley