Last season, freshman Marcus Mariota started all 13 games for the Oregon Ducks, leading them to a 12-1 record and a second straight BCS bowl victory. It was also the first season of Oregon football since 2004 in which the same quarterback started every game.
Since the spread offense arrived in Eugene along with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton in 2005, Oregon quarterbacks have suffered a mass of injuries, which makes having a capable stable of backups a key component of the roster, something redshirt freshman Jeff Lockie knows all too well.
"I think the offense we run, obviously our quarterback is going to take more hits than some other offenses," Lockie said. I think me, Jake [Rodrigues], and Dustin [Haines] all have to be equally prepared to be ready to take some snaps because I think we've all seen it before – three or four years when Chip first got here as a quarterback coach, they had three or four injuries. Dennis went down, Nate went down, and all of a sudden you're down to that fourth guy in there."
Lockie and Rodrigues, both in their second season in Eugene, are the main competitors in the race to fill the void left by Bryan Bennett, who transferred to Southeastern Louisiana over the winter.
However, while Lockie was able to fully participate on the scout team last fall, Rodruigues was still recovering from a gruesome leg injury suffered in a 2011 high school playoff game.
After enrolling last spring, but being limited up through last season, Rodrigues has been enjoying every moment on the practice field.
"It's been great," Rodrigues said. "I've been able to play football again. I'm just having a lot of fun breaking it down. Last year I didn't really get to do that much and now that I get to do everything, I'm having fun out there and it feels great."
Even though he wasn't able to do much on the field last season, Rodrigues was able to put work in on the mental aspects of the game.
Having played in the spread offense of coach Mike Gimenez at Whitney High School in Whitney, California – one that Gimenez said employs some of the same schemes used by Oregon – gives him a leg up when working with offensive coordinator Scott Frost.
"There are a lot of similarities," Rodrigues said of the two offenses. "Of course there are things that are different, called differently, but it's all pretty much the same game. It was a little bit easier coming up here [to Oregon]."
Frost added that he feels Rodrigues did everything he could over the past year to prepare for competition on the field.
"I think he did everything he did to be caught up from an Xs and Os standpoint, from a mental standpoint, and he's back to being an athlete again now too," Frost said. "I think he didn't trust his foot for awhile, now he's starting to trust it again. You can see him starting to make some plays with his legs."
Unlike Rodrigues, Lockie played in a pro-style offense under coach Craig Bergman at Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley, California, playing in a conference known for producing high-level quarterbacks including California gunslinger Zach Kline.
Making the transition to playing in a spread offense requires many adjustments from a quarterback, including the increased opportunities as a ball carrier, and the hits that come with them, something Lockie says doesn't affect how he conducts himself on the field.
"I think it's not something you kind of think about," Lockie said. "You get out there and play and might take more hits than you're used to or less or more, and I think you just kind of play and the hits you take, the hits you take, and you go from there."
Regardless of experience in practice, both quarterbacks are sure to see extended time later this month when the Ducks take the field for their annual spring game at Autzen Stadium.
Both Lockie and Rodrigues said they can't wait to experience playing on the college football stage. For his part, Frost is excited to see them perform and has great confidence in both going forward.
"Both Jake and Jeff have gotten better this spring," Frost said. "I think it's obvious from the first day until now, I think they have have better control over what they're doing. I think they have a better understanding of what they're doing and making more and more plays every day. I've been impressed with both of them."