EUGENE, Ore. -- The backup quarterback position is likely the best and worst position in football all at once.
They are the default answer that’s found whenever the starting quarterback struggles or misses an open receiver or an “obvious” read. The fans will say that the backup would’ve made that pass or play if he were in the game. But at the same time, especially when he’s behind a player such as Marcus Mariota, the chances that the backup will ever get into the game when it is in doubt are few and far between and likely will only happen upon an injury, which no one wants to see. In Oregon's case last season, that wasn't even enough to get the backups in.
“The backup quarterback is always the kind of hero who never has to prove himself,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
For the Oregon Ducks, redshirt sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues currently occupy that best/worst position. But what makes it even more difficult is that they are completely different players.
Nearly three quarters of the way through the spring season, there’s still no clear separation between the two signal-callers.
“I think ideally that plays itself out; there’s separation,” Helfrich said. “But sometimes it doesn’t happen. And you can’t fake that. That’s not something you want to try to create or have it happen in an artificial way ... That’s not the end of the world, either.”
This spring’s no-clear-backup situation isn’t new for Oregon -- last season was the same for Lockie and Rodrigues. Both saw the field in 2013, combining for 124 yards on 11 of 19 passing, two interceptions and one touchdown (thrown by Rodrigues).
But none of those statistics came in the pivotal game of 2013, when the Ducks lost to Stanford 26-20 with Mariota, and his sprained MCL, running the offense. Helfrich said on Friday that if that were to occur again, he’d be confident putting either Lockie or Rodrigues in the game. Helfrich said that people misunderstood that situation last season, as it wasn't a case of him not having confidence in either backup.
“Both of those guys want to be that [backup] guy, but there was never enough separation to have that happen last year,” Helfrich said. “I think, again, in some ways it’s a good thing because they were both kind of banged up at different times last year. ... At the same time, we didn’t just throw someone down to the scout team and keep someone up and force the issue.”
With Lockie and Rodrigues occupying the No. 2 spot behind Mariota, the No. 3 or No. 4 spots (or No. 4 and No. 5 spots) are filled by the other two QBs on the Ducks roster, redshirt freshmen Taylor Alie and Damion Hobbs. Four-star signal caller Morgan Mahalak signed with the Ducks in February but won’t enroll until this fall.
Helfrich said that the current quarterbacks “have a ton of reps on him, but you recruit guys for a reason.” So, there’s no reason to rule Mahalak out of any kind of position race, though it seems far more likely for his battle to come against Alie and Hobbs on the scout team.
An abundance of options is one "problem" that coaches want to have. At some point, Helfrich might need to make the decision of which player will be the definitive No. 2 behind Mariota. In the perfect world, it’ll be because the Ducks have a big lead and not a Mariota injury. But even then, Helfrich will have to make that decision and give one of his unproven heroes the chance to finally prove himself.