Courtney: Who gains inside track at starting QB for Ducks?

The first in a series of the prevailing storylines at each position group for Oregon

Posted on April 3, 2021

Chris Courtney
  By Chris Courtney of WFOD for SportsPac12

Few things in recent memory were as protractedly loathsome across the board as 2020. And while the residuals of the past year linger to this day with COVID protocols remaining in place for most areas of the country, this spring offers a level of hope and optimism that simply did not exist at this time one year ago.

As it relates to the Oregon football program, the spring of 2021 represents an opportunity to build upon what was accomplished in 2020, as well as a chance to right some of what went wrong during a condensed season.

Yes, head coach Mario Cristobal and the Ducks celebrated (however controversially) their second straight Pac-12 Conference title, though they finished with a 4-3 record that was punctuated with a dud Fiesta Bowl performance against 10th-ranked Iowa State.

Similarly, the offseason offered its own mixed bag of emotions.

The Ducks bid farewell to accomplished defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, who left Eugene after two seasons to take the head coaching job at his alma mater Boise State, before welcoming former Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter as his replacement. Weeks later, Ducks starting quarterback Tyler Shough entered the transfer portal after an up and down 2020 season, providing even more uncertainty and intrigue around the quarterback position heading into the spring.

With spring practices now officially underway at Oregon, I’m taking the time to examine the prevailing storylines at each position group, while exploring how these questions could impact the Ducks entering the fall.

Today, our Spring Storylines series begins with a look at quarterback.

Who gains the inside track at starting quarterback for Oregon?
Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown | Oregon Football/Twitter)

Of all the questions facing Cristobal and the Ducks entering the spring, the question at quarterback casts a colossal shadow over all the rest. In fact, it’s not completely off base to suggest that whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job this offseason will effectively determine how gracefully Cristobal transitions from the honeymoon phase of his tenure at Oregon into the nitty gritty of his new, long-term contract inked during the offseason.

Dating all the way back to the mid-80’s, seldom have there been moments of great uncertainty at the quarterback position for the Ducks. Whether Oregon fans appreciate it or not, they have been blessed with brilliant play at quarterback, with 2020 serving as one of the rare instances in which there have been real questions as to what the future holds at the most demanding position in all of sports.

Gone is the aforementioned Tyler Shough, who hit the transfer portal in mid-February after a season in which a promising first half of the year gave way to a troubling and confidence-sapping second stanza. Shough’s struggles truly began in the second half of Oregon’s loss at Oregon State, and became only more pronounced in the weeks that followed, as turnovers and suspect decision-making quickly became a calling card.

Brown

Shough was all but benched in the aftermath of the Ducks’ loss at Cal. Though he started the Pac-12 Championship Game vs. USC and the Fiesta Bowl vs. Iowa State, the redshirt sophomore quickly found himself in a losing timeshare with backup Anthony Brown, as Brown, if nothing else, provided the Ducks with a spark on offense that had gone missing as the season drew to a close.

Brown opens the spring as the projected starter by default, as his multiple years of starting experience stemming from his time at Boston College gives him a significant leg up on the competition he faces in the Ducks’ quarterback room in 2021.

That pole position, however, is anything but set in stone.

While Brown energized the Oregon offense for brief stretches in 2020, he was far from the savior that many Duck fans willed him to be, as inconsistent and sloppy play also plagued him at times last season. Indeed, a fair argument can be made that Brown was thrust into a difficult position being forced to come off the bench cold in two of Oregon’s toughest games of the year to help reverse the team’s fortunes, though the fact remains that Brown has been underwhelming enough to create substantial doubt surrounding his grip on QB1 entering the 2021 season.

Oregon QB Ty Thompson (left) with Duck coach Mario Cristobal | Oregon Athletics

On hand to challenge Brown this spring are a trio of freshmen in Jay ButterfieldRobby Ashford, and Ty Thompson. Butterfield arrived on campus in January of 2020, and is perhaps the player that is best suited to unseat Brown due to his experience in the program and development over the past 16 months or so. A strong-armed talent from the Bay Area, Butterfield was one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects during the 2020 cycle, but has yet to see the field as a collegian.

Ashford

Similar things can be said of Ashford, who arrived in Eugene last summer, but has been more or less splitting his time between football and baseball since that time. An accomplished two-sport athlete, Ashford’s athleticism may make him an ideal and dynamic fit in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s RPO-heavy scheme, but it’s fair to question just how much Ashford has developed in less than a year’s time.

The player garnering perhaps the most attention this spring, however, is Thompson. Having stepped foot on campus for the first time as a student this past January, Thompson has rapidly emerged as the people’s choice for who should start at quarterback for the Ducks this fall.

Tabbed as the highest-rated quarterback prospect in program history, Thompson checks all the boxes in terms of size, arm talent, and accomplishments at the high school level, but is a player who has only logged two practices as a Duck. Smart money may ride on Thompson being Oregon’s quarterback of the future, but in terms of his QB1 chances in the here and now, those odds are decidedly suspect until proven otherwise.

This story also appears at wholeflockofducks.com and is syndicated with permission. Follow WFOD on Twitter @_WFOD and Chris Courtney @csquared02.




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