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Opportunity knocks: Quarterback

Oregon had a remarkable season in 2019 culminating in a 12-2 record, capped by a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl win. That team had quality players at every position but one of the best was quarterback Justin Herbert who became the overall No. 6 pick in the NFL draft by the LA Chargers.

Herbert won the start as a true freshman and never looked back. He was QB1 for 42 games with only an injury stopping him from starting every game of his career. In 2019 Herbert took over 97% of the offensive snaps for the Ducks.

Now Coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have the task of identifying his successor.

“We are extremely confident in our quarterback situation,” Cristobal told Duck Sports Authority as Oregon athletes trickled back to Eugene following the pandemic shutdown. “The reason I say that is because we have watched Tyler Shough develop over the course of the last couple of years. We have watched him do things in practice that if it were on gameday, it would be a big, positive story.

“He is smart, he is committed, he commands the respect of his teammates because of his work ethic and his ability. He is complemented by a lot of young guys.”

Tyler Shough has been learning from one of the best quarterbacks in Oregon history
Tyler Shough has been learning from one of the best quarterbacks in Oregon history (A.J. Jacobson)

Shough is talented. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound athlete was 12-15 for 144 yards and three touchdowns as Herbert’s backup last season following an excellent showing in the 2019 spring game. He was the No. 6-rated QB in the nation for the Class of 2018 after a stellar career with elite high school program Chandler.

And the lack of game experience is partially offset by the very reason snaps were so hard to come by for quarterbacks.

“I’m very excited because you are looking at a bunch of guys that have had the opportunity to sit behind one of the best ever to play here at Oregon,” said Cristobal. “Certainly, the best quarterback in the country last year. His regimen, his approach to the game, what a student of the game he was. The fact that a guy like Tyler Shough has been able to sit behind him and learn is huge.”

Last year Snoqualmie (Wash.) Mt. Si freshman Cale Millen was also on the roster, but the Ducks were able to redshirt him as he recovered from an injury.

So Shough got all the practice snaps at QB2.

“On Wednesdays we always have live two-minute drills offense and defense,” said Cristobal. “That is something that the public never gets to see but our team does, and our coaches do. Tyler Shough won the confidence of everybody throughout the course of the last two seasons. Especially towards the end of last season the way he performed against, let’s call it what it is, one of the best defenses in the country. In my opinion it is the best defense.

“Getting to work against that every single day, with a receiving corps that is continuing to improve, has some explosive playmakers, tight ends who played a more significant role in the offense as the year went on, complemented by a running game that likes to get downhill, the quarterback position is something we feel very confident in.”

The quarterback position, you cannot pamper it.
— Mario Cristobal

For 2020 reinforcements have arrived.

Brentwood (Calif.) Liberty gunslinger Jay Butterfield was an early enrollee and participated in the four Oregon spring practices before the shutdown and showed off his live arm. He was the No. 5-ranked QB prospect in the nation last season and the No. 91-overall prospect in the country.

Hoover (Ala.) standout Robby Ashford arrived on campus this month and brings his cannon arm to the QB unit, in addition to the Duck baseball team.

And Boston College transfer Anthony Brown brings a wealth of starting experience to the roster from the East Coast.

“When you combine a guy who has been here a couple years, a grad transfer coming in who has starting experience, some freshmen who have had to sit behind a guy like Justin, watched his process, watched the way we work, as the supporting cast continues to get better around them, you can’t help but be excited,” said Cristobal. “Then you have got Anthony Brown coming over, who is going to jump in and compete as well. He has played a lot of games.

“So, we have got really good talent, and that room always needs talent brought in to promote competition. I am a firm believer in that. The quarterback position, you cannot pamper it. You cannot allow it to get comfortable. You’ve got to keep it turned up in there. For that room to reach its maximum potential, we have to turn up the competition in there.”

With the arm talent those five scholarship quarterbacks represent with their array of experience, naming Herbert’s replacement is something that will not happen before fall camp. The coaches have to see what all five of them look like against each other.

Still, the odds are heavily with the player who has been in Eugene the longest.

“I am really proud of Tyler,” said Cristobal. “He entered spring as the starter, he leaves spring as the starter, but we are going to promote competition throughout camp.”