Over the next few weeks, before spring practice starts on March 30th, we'll be taking a look at each section of the team, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and looking at any battles that will be taking place. Today we start with the quarterbacks.
Oregon brings back only four offensive "starters" next year. However, there is much optimism for the offense, and most of us don't expect the production to slacken. The reason for this excitement is the QB position.
Jeremiah Masoli, who will be a junior going into next season, came into last season as an unknown JC transfer, and came out as the #1 QB (ATQ commenter butthol did a great writeup on Masoli's story, which can be read here). Masoli will most definitely be #1 going into fall camp, which is a luxury we have not had in some time. On top of this, Masoli may be the best QB I've seen at running the spread option. Starting with the UCLA game and continuing through the Holiday Bowl, it was run to near perfection over and over again, with few wrong decisions along the way. He also improved immeasurably in his passing throughout the season. Though blessed with good throwing strength, accuracy and decision making were issues for much of the season. He struggled with sticking in the pocket, instead scrambling frequently. Again though, as the season went on, he learned to go through his progressions, read defenses, and make the right throws.
For Masoli, I'll be looking for his accuracy to improve. This seems to be his only glaring weakness at this point. He has had some issues on long throws, as well as short. And the butter-hands that much of our receiving corps had last year certainly didn't help matters. If Masoli can significantly improve over the spring and offseason, look out Pac-10.
First Line Backups:
Backing up Masoli will most likely be juniors Justin Roper(t) and Nate Costa. At the very least, this should be a competent duo of backsup. Roper has plenty of game time under his belt and though he does not possess the straight line speed or arm strength to put the offense into that other gear, he is a solid backup. I feel better with him as the #2 than I did when Brady Leaf was our backup.
Nate Costa is a great unknown, however, after having severely injured his knee three times. It is impossible to count on him for production. When healthy, he had the tools to be the starter. However, that just hasn't happened. It could be fun to see what he can do, but he's unproven as of right now.
However, having both Costa and Roper on the sidelines is a great benefit to the program. Both are smart, team players and have put a lot of effort into helping those around them. These are the types of players you want in your program, and if the load gets put on them, production will drop, but we should hopefully get average to above average play from them.
The Future Star:
Darron Thomas blew us away (and also blew away any chance at a redshirt year) in the 4th quarter of last years Boise State game, shredding a prevent defense for over 200 yards and 3 TDs. He seems to have both the legs and the arm to keep the offense running full speed ahead.
My hope is that Thomas will not be needed this year (as he was last year). Instead, he should be kept off the field this year and redshirt, ensuring him 2 years as the starter. During that time, he can continue to learn the offense. This guy has the tools to be as great as Dennis Dixon. Giving him time will only help that.
Chris Harper is one of the top athletes on the team. He had a chance at QB earlier this year, and didn't show the ability to be a quarterback at Oregon. He'll most likely get another shot this spring, and could possibly compete for the #2 spot. However, he will have to drastically improve. Though he had limited throwing opportunities, those he had ended badly. He doesn't throw a great looking ball, and accuracy is an issue. He also played during the time when Chip Kelly seemingly forgot about the spread option, so it's tough to evaluate whether or not he can run our bread and butter.
Watching Harper will be very interesting this spring. He wants another chance at QB, and he'll probably get that. If he doesn't cut it, there are plenty of other places for him on the field, and he showed flashes of greatness at WR throughout the year.
Oregon quarterbacking is set for the immediate future. Barring injury disaster, this position is looking stable. There is room for improvement, especially regarding Masoli's passing accuracy, but there is reason for great optimism.
Beyond that, it will hopefully be a boring spring, at least until the spring game, when Chip Kelly unveils some new trick plays.