The Oregon Ducks’ success in recent years came at such a fast pace, that it hit Duck fans maybe too rapidly and just as hard. Their program went from zero to hero as fast as you can say, “We should have been in every National Championship since 2010 but let it slip in the most painful way to watch.” It all began with of course the mastermind Chip Kelly, and his troops Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. When Chip began to initially run the spread-option offense, this was a running back dominated team. Don’t get me wrong, Darron Thomas put up some of the greatest numbers as a quarterback in Duck history, but everyone knew this was LaMichael’s team, and that’s exactly what happened in the NFL draft as he got drafted and Thomas didn’t.
In a short period of time, the University of Oregon was THE school to go to if you were a short, fast and agile running back. The idea of having a Jonathan Stewart or LeGarrette Blount-type running back in this system was all the sparse history the program had before Chip. However, one recruiting class that Coach Kelly found was very different than any other that we had seen since his time here.
He brought something to the university that Duck fans hadn’t seen in a very, very, VERY long time. He brought us who we like to call now, Super Mariota. Marcus Mariota changed the vision that Chip had brought in initially. This school was a running back dominated program, and people were — and still are – lining up to be top running backs in this system. James, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and now Byron Marshal and Thomas Tyner. That’s a lot of star running backs that this team has seen and will continue to see as the program continues to grow.
But, with Mariota joining the mix, the entire dynamic of the team has shifted from depending on our running back’s success, to making sure Mariota is protected and surrounded by great athletes who can make it work. When Thomas was running the quarterback position, he put up great numbers but was still just an average quarterback in the grand scheme of things. The system truly put him in a position to succeed, as opposed to him putting himself in that position, because quite frankly, he didn’t have the best arm, nor the greatest accuracy. However, as soon as Mariota came onto the field for his first start, you knew he was someone special.
Just like that, the story of Marcus grew, as more people began to hear about him each and every game, and more people began to critique him as all great athletes are. With all of the distractions, Marcus has been able to maintain a level head and continue to inspire his teammates enough so they knew the team was about them, not him. Marcus’ success is undeniable, and the team’s reliance on him is unquestionable; so the question I have to ask is, what would the Ducks do without him?
He’s obviously their plan A, but what if the Heisman-potential quarterback goes down due to an injury? Who’s to take over for him and run the offense at the elite level that we’ve become so accustomed to watching? For some reason, Oregon, as successful as it has been in bringing in a plethora of running backs, hasn’t been able to do the same thing in the quarterback position.
Now, it’s understandable that running backs would continue to want to come here and play, as they’re substituted in and out throughout the entire game, so multiple backs can show off their abilities within one game. But, the quarterback position is a little bit trickier. We expect the quarterback to be able to play the entire game, that’s just how football works today. By having Marcus play every game, now entering his fourth season on campus, it gives quarterbacks behind him little opportunity to exhibit their abilities.
So it’s understandable that Bryan Bennett or Damion Hobbs would choose to transfer out of the system, because they see no future for themselves there. That leaves the Ducks with talent that simply couldn’t get the Ducks into the position that they’d like to be in if Mariota were to go down. The only backups at the moment are Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie, and with much respect to them, their abilities are no where nearly as refined as Mariota.
When top-level high school quarterbacks look at the University of Oregon as a possible destination, and they see Marcus running the show there, that makes them want to look elsewhere because they see they want their playing time. That has been the philosophy for the past couple of years, but now that Marcus is coming down to his final season with the Ducks, quarterbacks are taking notice and wouldn’t mind taking a redshirt year behind him to learn the system, especially from a veteran such as himself.
So as of right now, the Ducks don’t have anyone who could take over for Mariota and perform at that level in the system that exists. Essentially, if Marcus were to go down, the season would go down. But, in terms of future plans, the Ducks have already shown some interest in some of the top quarterback recruits in the nation for next year. One example is Blake Barnett, who unfortunately chose Alabama over the Ducks.
However, that shows that the future is still bright, as top quarterbacks in high school are beginning to peak their heads into the program to see if the place is right for them. With flashy jerseys, awesome perks, and an incredible new athletic facility, how could this not be for them? The Ducks at the moment are in a very interesting spot, but as long as we can keep Marcus healthy for the upcoming season, the flight should be smooth for these high-flying Ducks.
Top Photo By Kevin Cline.