Past accolades do not matter to Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. He has never been afraid to find an upgrade at the quarterback position. Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, Michael Vick, and Nick Foles can attest to this.
Though Kelly acquired former Rams starter Sam Bradford and insisted he will not “mortgage our future,” reporters like Tony Pauline and Mike Florio said the Eagles are indeed exploring a trade to obtain the second overall pick from the Tennessee Titans to reunite Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota with Kelly. But even if he fails to get Mariota, perhaps Kelly will use a late round pick on another former pupil: Southeastern Louisiana transfer Bryan Bennett, the player who Mariota defeated to earn the starting job.
The Rise of Bryan Bennett
Bryan Bennett took the reins when Thomas injured his leg in the 2011 game against Arizona State. He then put on a show in the Ducks’ 45-2 victory over Colorado the following week.
On this play (above), Bennett executed a play-fake and rolled out to the left. David Paulson (green arrow) ran a 15-yard out route and was Bennett’s primary read.
Bennett showed excellent mechanics by setting his feet properly, but the amazing thing is how accurate the pass (shown above) was.
This kind of accuracy requires anticipation and speaks to Bennett’s potential in Kelly’s offense.
Bennett got a chance on this play (above) to use an eye fake to isolate the defensive back covering TAZR De’Anthony Thomas (red arrow, #3) on the fly route. He moved his eyes from one receiver (#1, blue arrow) to another (#2, green arrow) before delivering a deep ball to Thomas.
This pass (above) would likely have been complete if not for the pass interference by the defensive back. Bennett delivered a beautiful strike to Thomas 50 yards down the field, precisely when the Black Mamba expected the ball to come to him. Recognizing the defender was beat gave Bennett the opportunity to gain yardage even if the defender committed a penalty as he did here.
The following week, Kelly benched Thomas at half-time against Washington State, characterizing the decision as “performance-slash-injury based.” Bennett provided an immediate spark with two touchdown passes in his first two possessions, leading the Ducks to a 43-28 win.
Though Kelly let Thomas remain the starter for the rest of the 2011 season, it seemed all but inevitable that Bennett would replace him in 2012. That is, until a freshman named Marcus Mariota wowed the coaching staff the following offseason.
Marcus Mariota: A Pro-Ready Prospect
NFL Network commentator Mike Mayock said of Mariota, “The problem is he’s a projection coming to the next level because of the pocket awareness, the progressions and the reads.”
This is the biggest misconception of Mariota. Though the Oregon offense does not revolve around progressions, it incorporated them as part of the playbook and Mariota thrived with them. One reason Mariota defeated Bennett in the quarterback competition was his ability to move through progressions.
On this play (above), there were two receivers (labeled No. 1 and 2 respectively) running fly routes to divert one safety (red circle). Mariota then moved his eyes to the middle of the field looking for the receiver (labeled No. 3, red arrow) running a drag route. This kept the other safety (black circle) occupied and gave Colt Lyerla (labeled No. 4, yellow arrow) a chance to get open. With tight coverage over the middle, Mariota quickly moved to Lyerla and delivered an accurate throw.
This play (above) helped move the chains, but Mariota’s advanced skillset also produced big gains.
Mariota’s first read was Evan Baylis (labeled No. 1, yellow arrow). By drawing his eyes to Baylis, he diverted the attention of the Ohio State safety (black circle). He moved to the second read, Byron Marshall (labeled No. 2, red arrow), and threw downfield on a fly route. The cornerback (white circle) bit on the drag route (blue arrow) underneath and expected the safety to provide help. It was an easy throw, but that was because Mariota’s eyes did the work.
This play showed Mariota’s excellent instincts, as well as his ability to manipulate defenders. Along with the eye fake, Mariota has a wicked pump fake in his repertoire.
Mariota began this play (above) with play action, and shifted his eyes to Devon Allen (labeled No. 1, orange arrow). Allen, executing a screen route, forced the cornerback (black circle) to choose between him and Dwayne Stanford on the post route (labeled No. 2, green arrow). Mariota used the pump fake to bait the cornerback into sitting on the screen, which allowed Stanford to get open.
To borrow Kelly’s words, Mariota is fleet of mind. His mental abilities are the biggest reason to be excited about his NFL potential. Yet, Mariota does have some bad habits that need to be addressed.
In the 2015 Rose Bowl Game, Mariota made glaring errors on a four verticals play (above). He rolled out to the right to elude the Seminoles’ blitz, but threw off his back foot. Worse yet, he threw across his body. The attempt directed at Stanford (green arrow) nearly resulted in an interception, as a Seminole defender dropped the ball.
Mariota’s decision-making is not as sound when the defense exerts pressure on him. He will have to get used to faster pass rushers in the NFL. Though advanced as a quarterback prospect, Mariota must become more sound mechanically to avoid unnecessary turnovers or incomplete passes.
To his credit, he threw just 14 interceptions in 36 college games. Mariota might not be a finished product, but he is more polished than critics argue.
Bryan Bennett’s Second Chance
Bennett transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University in 2013, where he ran a relatively less complex offense. He did, however, flash some potential to manipulate defenders.
On this play, Bennett used his eyes to clear a linebacker out of the middle. This opened up a passing lane to complete the pass to an open receiver. Though Mariota got more chances to flash this skill, Bennett has untapped potential in this part of his game.
Bennett’s true prowess is arm strength, an area where he is superior to most quarterback prospects including Mariota.
On this play (above) in the Senior Bowl, Bennett took a five-step drop and looked for his primary read: Central Florida receiver Rannell Hall (red arrow). Bennett not only threw the ball 40 yards downfield, but did so with perfect timing. Hall’s head looked back precisely when Bennett’s pass arrived. It is impressive that, with minimal preparation, Bennett established this kind of rapport with his receiver.
The big concerns in Bennett’s game are low completion percentage (49.5% last season) and inconsistent mechanics. These problems will leave major holes in his game until they are addressed.
On this play, Bennett had the opportunity to throw the ball downfield to an open receiver (green arrow). The idea behind the fly route was to give Bennett a clear passing lane when the receiver got open.
Though the receiver won the battle, Bennett put too much air on the ball and allowed a defensive back to break up the pass. Pro defensive backs will usually take advantage of a duck like this and make the interception.
Bennett clearly is not the most polished prospect, but he has a base of skills to work with. The potential he flashed in his unusual college career merits a chance to compete for a spot in training camp.
It is simply wrong to argue quarterbacks are plug-and-play in Chip Kelly’s system or the Oregon offense under Mark Helfrich. Mariota has the skills to start for a pro team from day one and the potential to be elite. Though he is more raw, Bennett also has a solid skill set that could translate into success at the pro level. NFL coaches should value both of these players and consider taking them if they have the chance. If Kelly selects either of them, it would not be to conjure up sentiment of days past. They will be drafted because they are prospects with upside that also fit the Eagles offense.
I may be in Pennsylvania, but “Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Oregon Ducks and Philadelphia Eagles Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
State College, Pennsylvania
Top photo from Amazing Moments