Originally written on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 11/17/14

Special Guest article by Robert Ryan, author/publisher of the Duck Football and entertainment website "Searching for Akili Smith"

Everyone knows Darron Thomas has left the program to make some dough in the National Football League where he is projected to be a fifth round pick at best while most experts believing he will be drafted since on average 12-14 quarterbacks are drafted each year. The quarterbacks behind him are incredibly talented and should be able to fill his position. There will be a drop off next year. No one can assume 24 wins and two conference championships can be replaced immediately.

The schedule to start next year is incredibly forgiving with four straight home games against Arkansas State, Fresno State, Tennessee Tech, and Arizona, all of which lack strong defenses. The fifth game is at CenturyLink Field against Washington State, which also is without a strong defense. The new starting quarterback is going to have plenty of time to get comfortable. After a full offseason, fall camp, and three pushovers before a challenging home contest before an away game, the quarterback, whoever he may be, will be ready to take on the bulk of Oregon’s schedule.

Photo left: Bryan Bennett finds daylight against Arizona State last season, in a game he led a third-quarter comeback, engineering four scoring drives while running for 65 yards (Jim Rider, presswire.com photo).

Bryan Bennett comes in as the most likely starter on the depth chart. Last season he went 25/46 for 369 yards and 6 touchdowns with no picks. He only completed 54.3% of his passes but had a quarterback rating of 164.8. Also of note is that he rushed for 65 yards against Arizona State, 69 yards against Colorado, and 25 yards against Washington State (the ASU and WSU stats were accrued in a half).

Bennett differs from Thomas most noticeably in his eagerness to take off and run. Darron Thomas when running the zone read probably thought, “the defender can’t catch LMJ so I’m going to hand it off,” while Bennett probably thought, “he’s hedging too much to the running back, so I’m going to pull it and make a play.” That’s a huge contrast when running the zone read. Bennett is a little faster and quicker than Darron Thomas but didn’t get through his progression every play. It may have been because of coaching tell him to look at the first three receivers and run or knowing his strength is running and given the opportunity to break in to the open field he should take it.

In the relatively small sample size that we’ve seen of Bryan Bennett he appears to be very comfortable running the offense, perhaps not to the depth of Darron Thomas, but he could probably start and beat nine of the teams in the PAC-12 right now. He has shown the ability to make triple option reads, hit every pass except for deep out routes, and has sometimes exhibited good touch on deep passes. This is his third year in the program and sould start at the top of the depth chart but in a competition with Marcus Mariota.

Marcus Mariota redshirted this season so will have 4 years to play 4 at Oregon. He weighs in at 200 pounds and a height of 6’4” (Want to hear something that is going to start getting attention? Dennis Dixon was 6’4” and 205 pounds his senior year). These highlights are from his senior year in high school and since he’s been in college for a year I’m sure he’s gotten better.

What impresses me most about Mariota is how effortless he makes everything look. People who are really smooth while they play always seem to be on another level than others. He ran an offense that is Oregon-light and pulls away from defensive backs. Rolling out he can flick a ball forty yards downfield. Mariota shows really good touch on deep balls and a huge arm.

From practice reports and people I know close to the program Mariota has looked better than true freshmen should and was challenging Bryan Bennett for his spot on the depth chart. Going in to the season knowing that the starting job is somewhat up for grabs we’re going to be looking at a very interesting spring.

 

Jake Rodriguez is the biggest quarterback recruit coming in. However, he injured his ankle playing football and his recovery is still on going. Regardless, I wouldn’t expect a true freshman to challenge a third year player and a super athletic quarterback who has been in the program for a year already.

How the Offense Might Change

It’s almost impossible to guess how things are going to change on a year to year basis with Kelly as he is constantly tinkering and putting in new wrinkles. I think this next year though we’ll see a shift to more triple option looks and bubble screens paired with read options. With a new quarterback teams are going to believe further that a running a cover 0 with the defensive backs pressuring the receivers is going to slow the offense down. The receivers struggled this year so they are going to have to help out the quarterback, but I have a hard time believing that the talent that came in last year at the position isn’t going to show up this season. With Kenjon Barner, Tra Carson, and De’Anthony Thomas, we’ll probably see them used more depending on the situation with Kenjon Barner getting a majority of the carries. This is pure speculation and we’ll definitely have a better idea after the spring game.

What the Ducks lose in experience they get back in talent. Thomas was considered an athlete when he first came on campus (LSU wanted him to play wide receiver) but was recruited at Oregon to play quarterback. The guys on the depth chart now were recruited quarterbacks who can pass but can also run extremely well. What we are beginning to see is the offense becoming even finer tuned for Kelly’s spread offense. The receivers next year are going to mostly be guys recruited by Kelly to play in his spread, the running backs are all really fast, and the quarterbacks are as deadly running as they are throwing. While Darron Thomas’ departure creates a lot of uncertainty, it sure just did make next season more anticipated and exciting.

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