Replacing Marcus Mariota: Jeff Lockie Gets First Crack

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Heisman Trophy winner and three-year Oregon Ducks starting quarterback Marcus Mariota learned his NFL destiny Thursday, going to the Tennessee Titans second overall in the NFL draft. We won’t know the fate of Mariota’s vacant quarterback job until sometime before the season, but Jeff Lockie is off to a good start.

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said on Thursday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference the redshirt junior Jeff Lockie had separated himself from the other Duck quarterbacks in spring practices: Taylor Alie, Travis Jonsen and Morgan Mahalak.

“Jeff Lockie has certainly had the upper hand as the guy [who]’s the most experienced of the bunch,” Helfrich said. “He’s very confident in how he goes about his business, and the most important part in being a confident leader is that there’s response. The guys around him, both offensively and defensively, believe in him.”

Saturday is Jeff Lockie’s first opportunity to strut his stuff as the No. 1 Oregon quarterback publicly in the Ducks spring game, one of the last intrasquad scrimmages of the season. Whether it’s also his last time in 2015 as Oregon’s No. 1 won’t be determined until fall camp when the Ducks’ real competition begins.

The arrival of Eastern Washington Vernon Adams promises another quarterback competition for Lockie, and this one should prove more of a challenge than that which Lockie faced in the spring.

In one word, Helfrich summed up the overall state of the quarterback race: “Ongoing.”

Adams was dynamite in his three seasons at Eastern Washington, leading the Eagles to the FCS Playoffs each year.

Certainly chasing a berth in the College Football Playoff is a different beast than pursuing the FCS Playoffs, but in a limited sample size against Pac-12 competition, Vernon Adams did some of his best work. He passed for seven touchdowns against Washington last season, and scored six total in an upset of Oregon State in 2013.

The summer’s quarterback competition bears some similarities to when Oregon last replaced its starting quarterback in 2012. Mariota squared off with Bryan Bennett, who, like Lockie, had previous experience running Oregon’s offense as a back-up.

Of course, Mariota spent a season learning the Oregon system as a redshirt; Adams is coming in fresh with very little time to both learn the playbook and acclimate to the change in speed from the Big Sky to Pac-12. Conversely, Adams has three years of experience as a college starter.

“We’ll be in decision-making mode a long, long time from now,” Helfrich said.

Maintaining his spot atop the quarterback depth chart won’t be easy for Jeff Lockie, but so far, so good.