Travis Jonsen

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 4 - QB Braxton Burmeister

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 4 - QB Braxton Burmeister

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister.

Burmeister hadn't been scheduled to make this list before redshirt sophomore quarterback Travis Jonsen elected to transfer last week. In the blink of an eye, Brumeister went from a likely redshirt to No. 2 on the depth chart behind sophomore starter Justin Herbert. 

The backup quarterback typically receives zero attention during the season from fans and the media unless the starting quarterback goes down (or is benched). So, there is a strong chance that Burmeister will be largely out of sight and out of mind all season long. 

On the other hand, strange things happen within the sport of football making it a strong possibility that at some point Burmeister's services could be needed. 

Oregon had to rely on a backup quarterback because of injury in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2015. Marcus Mariota made every start from 2012 through 2014 but did experience a knee injury in 2013. 

Jonsen, according to coach Willie Taggart, had earned his confidence as a starting-caliber quarterback who at the very least could push Herbert for the starting job. With Jonsen competing with Herbert, the feeling at Oregon was that the top of the depth chart was loaded. Now, there will be some uncertainty about the backup spot entering fall camp.

Burmeister, a four-star recruit, looked like an inexperienced true freshman during the spring game, but he did display a strong arm to go along with excellent quickness and speed as a runner. How he develops over the summer and during fall camp will shape the level of confidence the coaching staff has in him as someone who could run the offense if needed. 

The Ducks certainly have many areas in need of new faces to deliver, and Burmeister could go the entire season without taking a meaningful snap. But because of the importance of the quarterback position, and that there is probably a 50/50 chance Herbert goes down for at least a series, a quarter, maybe a game, or two, Burmeister just became one of the most important young players on the team. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

QB Travis Jonsen's decision to transfer best for him, not for Oregon

QB Travis Jonsen's decision to transfer best for him, not for Oregon

The news that quarterback Travis Jonsen, who came to Oregon to become the next Marcus Mariota, will transfer only becomes an issue for the Ducks if starter Justin Herbert, who looks like the next Mariota, goes down and UO must turn to freshman Braxton Burmeister.

Unless, of course, Burmeister is the next Herbert.

Jonsen's decision, revealed yesterday, came as no big surprise. In fact, the most surprising aspect is that it took so long for the redshirt sophomore to pack up his locker and move on ten months after falling behind Herbert, and others, on the depth chart. 

Players want and expect to play. Especially quarterbacks, like Jonsen, once rated as the No. 3-dual threat prospect in the nation coming out of high school in 2015. He didn't go to Oregon to hold a clipboard and wear a headset. He went there to be the starter. 

Redshirt as a freshman? Fine.

Play the backup role for a year? Okay. 

Spend the next three seasons sitting behind a potential superstar like Herbert? No thanks!

The moment last fall when Herbert raced up the depth chart to become the backup to graduate transfer Dakota Prukop, Jonsen should have packed his bags. Adding insult to injury, Jonsen also fell behind true freshman Terry Wilson Jr., whom the Ducks planned to redshirt and did. 

The fact that Jonsen stayed, gutted it out and returned for spring drills is a testament to his commitment to try and make things work for the Ducks. Those criticizing him for running are being unfair. The window in life to play college football is brief and nobody remembers the faithful backup who wasted his talent on the sideline for the betterment of the team. 

New coach Willie Taggart, who took over for Mark Helfrich last December, offered a fresh start for all on the roster by stating that nobody had a guaranteed starting job. That opened the door for Jonsen to maybe seize the starting job away from Herbert. But Taggart had watched game video. He had seen Herbert throw for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions over seven starts. Taggart watched Herbert throw for 489 yards against Arizona State and the six touchdowns thrown against California. 

Jonsen had, as well. Live. So had Wilson. Each had to have known that beating out Herbert was a long shot. Wilson got the hint sooner than Jonsen and left Oregon during spring drills. Jonsen held on two months longer before deciding that his best path to see the field would be to play a season at Riverside City College and then wait for offers from FBS programs looking for a transfer starter in 2018.

Jonsen could have picked the program last fall, transferred, sat out a year and now be eligible to play. However, now he can put together a body of work on the field at a level higher than high school and maybe entice more programs to seek his services.

Jonsen is leaving not because he couldn't cut it. Taggart has said he loves Jonsen's talent and believes he is a starting-caliber quarterback. But Herbert is simply more gifted and more proven. 

So where does this leave the Ducks? Well, let's say the situation is not dire but certainly not optimal. 

Oregon has been in this position before. 

In 2004, freshman quarterback Dennis Dixon beat out redshirt freshman Johnny DuRocher to earn the backup job behind junior Kellen Clemens. DuRocher transferred to Washington leaving the Ducks thin at quarterback. Oregon went 5-6 but Clemens never missed a start. 

In 2012, Mariota, then a redshirt freshman, beat out redshirt sophomore Bryan Bennett, who immediately considered transferring. Had he done so, the Ducks would have had to rely on true freshmen, Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues to backup Mariota. Oregon avoided that potential hazard when then-coach Chip Kelly convinced Bennett to remain at UO for a season before he ultimately transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, where he proved dominant. 

Taggart couldn't work that same magic on Wilson or Jonsen and now finds himself with just two scholarship quarterbacks. Three if you count redshirt senior Taylor Alie, who saw action at quarterback in 2015 before being moved to wide receiver last fall.

Burmeister is the wild card in all of this. A 4-star recruit Taggart calls a football version of a "gym rat," Burmeister has put in countless hours of extra work on the field and in the film room.

If he is ahead of where Jonsen and Wilson were as true freshmen, the Ducks could be just fine if Herbert were to go down for a game or two.  

While Burmeister didn't shot much during the spring game in terms of throwing the ball accurately, he did display a live arm and very capable running skills that would serve him well in a spot start or two. 

Where things could become dicey is if Herbert went down for a lengthy period of time. In that situation, Jonsen could have stepped in and given the Ducks starting-caliber play, at least based on Taggart's view of his potential. 

Burmeister might be able to provide the same level of performance. He is just more of a mystery given that he has just 15 practices under his belt at the college level.

A downside to playing Burmeister at all is that Oregon would have to burn his redshirt. Ideally, Oregon could have sat him this season and created a two-year gap in eligibility status between him and Herbert. 

Another possibility at No. 3 behind Alie could be in-coming freshman athlete Bruce Judson, a four-star recruit out Cocoa High School in Cocoa, Fla.  He figures to play receiver at Oregon but did play quarterback in high school. 

But let's be real. Should Oregon be forced to dig that deep into the quarterback depth chart, figure that the Ducks at best would be headed to the Las Vegas Bowl. 

Things certainly have become more interesting at quarterback for the Ducks. But when you have a starter good enough to scare off two players as gifted as Jonsen and Wilson, that can't be considered a bad thing. 

BREAKING: Oregon quarterback Travis Jonsen to transfer

BREAKING: Oregon quarterback Travis Jonsen to transfer

Oregon quarterback Travis Jonsen has decided to transfer, according to a program source, leaving the Ducks with just one veteran quarterback on the roster. 

Jonsen plans to transfer to Riverside City College where he could play this season then be eligible to transfer and play at a FBS program in 2018.

His move affirms that sophomore Justin Herbert was winning the competition with Jonsen to be the starter in 2017.

Jonsen follows redshirst freshman Terry Wilson Jr., who elected to transfer during spring drills. 

The loss of Jonsen makes true freshman Braxton Burmeister the backup to Herbert, and could thrust senior Taylor Alie back into the quarterback mix after he was moved to receiver in 2016. 

Jonsen came to Oregon as a four-star recruit in 2015 and No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation. He redshirted as a freshman under coach Mark Helfrich and saw his development slowed by a turf toe injury. 

The following spring, Oregon brought in graduate transfer Dakota Prukop to compete with Jonsen for the starting job after moving Taylor Alie and Jeff Lockie to receiver.

Jonsen showed well and impressed coaches enough for them to believe that even if Jonsen lost the starting job the Ducks would be set at quarterback for the near future. 

However, during fall camp Jonsen regressed and fell all the way to fourth string behind Prukop, Herbert and Wilson, who was redshirting. 

Herbert eventually became the starter and ended up passing for 19 touchdowns while very much looking like a potential future superstar. 

Jonsen, however, elected to stay at Oregon and make a fresh start under new coach Willie Taggart, hired shortly after Helfrich and his staff were let go.

Taggart stated numerous times upon his arrival and throughout spring drills that Herbert would not be handed the starting and job and would have to compete with Jonsen and Wilson. 

Early into spring drills, however, Wilson bowed out of the competition and left. According to a source, Jonsen sought to leave UO before spring drills before electing to stay. 

Oregon's spring game, however, made it clear publicly that Herbert remained the best quarterback on the roster. 

Herbert completed 16 of 26 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Jonsen completed 5 of 15 passes for 86 yards with an interception. 

 

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

Justin Herbert must improve temperament, leadership skills to reach potential

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert on Saturday dealt what appeared to be a virtual knockout blow to end the quarterback competition between him, Travis Jonsen and Braxton Burmeister.

Herbert, while passing for 327 yards and three touchdowns to lead Team Free to a 34-11 victory over Team Brave, displayed what most already knew - that he is by far the best quarterback on the Ducks' roster. 

Redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. knew it. That's why last year's No. 3 quarterback decided two weeks into spring drills that he would be better off transferring. Jonsen, the No. 4 quarterback last year, has to know it by now after completing 5 of 15 passes for 86 yards and an interception while starting for Team Brave during in his third spring game at Oregon. If Burmeister, a true freshman, doesn't already know it then the talented four-star recruit will next fall when the "redshirt" label is slapped on him a week before the Southern Utah game. 

The hunch here is that Oregon coach Willie Taggart knows it, as well. He just isn't ready to state as much publicly. That's because something is gnawing at him, something he can't easily let go despite Herbert's clear superiority to the competition.  

Taggart is looking for a leader at quarterback and he doesn't see one just yet. 

When asked Saturday about Herbert's spring game performance having maybe ended the competition, the first-year Oregon coach first downplayed the performance by stating that it was just one of many outings during 15 days of spring drills.

"He had a hell of a scrimmage today but he had some bad practices, too," Taggart said. "And they all have throughout spring ball...They've all had some up and downs."

Then Taggart attacked the true crux of the situation. 

"For me, personally," Taggart said. "I'm looking for more than just throwing touchdowns. I'm looking for a guy that can lead this football team. A guy that's going to rally everybody on this team, not just the offensive guys but defense and everyone. When we can find that guy, that's when we are going to name a starter."

Translation: Herbert's leadership skills are lacking and holding him back.  

It's a concern for Taggart, a former college quarterback. Unfortunately for UO, this could be a concern that lingers well beyond next season unless Herbert makes a dramatic transformation in his overall demeanor. Taggart wants a vocal leader. Herbert is quiet. Taggart wants someone to motivate the entire roster. Herbert isn't quite fully comfortable getting after his receivers or linemen, let alone everyone in a helmet. Taggart wants a quarterback who rolls through adversity. Herbert sometimes struggles when things go badly. 

The rub here is that Jonsen and Burmeister haven't distinguished themselves as leaders, either. So while Taggart is clearly looking for that alpha dog quarterback, he might have to settle for a beta at the helm of his offense next fall. 

That doesn't have to be all bad, especially if that beta is as talented as Herbert, who last year threw for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts.  

Taggart talked yesterday about how the Ducks used to rally around former quarterback Marcus Mariota. Taggart wants to see the same dynamic develop under his first starting quarterback at Oregon. 

The irony here is that Taggart might have had some of the same reservations about Mariota at the same age as Herbert is now.

Let's jump into the wayback machine for a minute. 

Mariota had the benefit of redshirting as a freshman behind Darron Thomas before becoming the starter his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Mariota was hardly a leader of men at that time. In fact, there were still major questions about his leadership abilities following the 2013 season, his third year in the program.

One of the reasons Mariota elected to make the NFL wait and return to UO in 2014 was because he and his family didn't believe that he was ready to lead an NFL locker room full of grown men. Mariota stayed and improved his leadership skills during his final season at Oregon while also winning the Heisman Trophy. Still, he never blossomed into a classic vocal, alpha male quarterback. NFL scouts even questioned his leadership abilities heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Those questions persist even today, albeit they have lessened annually as he continues to grow as a leader and develop as a quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. 

Then there's Herbert, who grew up idolizing Mariota and has the ability to one day contend for a Heisman and become a high draft pick. Not simply for his abilities, but for his demeanor. When Herbert took the program by storm, some called him "Mariota 2.0" and "Herbiota" because he mirrored Mariota's innate ability to process information, remain cool under pressure and make the right play, as well as make the spectacular seem routine. 

But they also share another trait that isn't a positive for the quarterback position. Like Mariota as a redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore, Herbert is more of an introvert on the field. Being a leader does not come naturally for him, as it didn't for Mariota. 

Herbert also is a mirror image of Mariota during interviews. Trying to squeeze a good quote out of either of them is like attempting to extract the milk from a coconut with a can opener. 

Herbert said Saturday that he is gradually becoming more comfortable with his role and that Taggart has been instrumental in his development. 

"Having a guy like coach T, it definitely helps," Herbert said. "He's very personable. And having guys around me that I'm comfortable with is also a huge bonus because I can be myself around them."

It cannot be understated just how much Herbert is still a kid. At this point last year he was playing high school baseball and getting ready for the Sheldon High School prom. Now he is viewed as the potential savior of a program that just underwent an emotional and difficult separation from it's former staff of long-time coaches following a disastrous 4-8 season and handed the reigns to a young coach easing into his first Power Five Conference job.

Herbert is learning his second college offense in nine months, so one would expect him to have "ups and downs" during a 15-practice spring stretch. Herbert had bad days last fall, as well, which is why he didn't beat out senior Dakota Prukop during fall camp. But once he settled into the offense, it became clear to former coach Mark Helfrich and his staff that they had to get Herbert onto the field.

If not for UO's pitiful defense (41.4 points allowed per game), and a down season for injury-plagued running back Royce Freeman, Herbert's impressive play might have saved the jobs of the former coaching staff. His numbers per game were on par with Mariota's in 2012 when the team went 12-1, and and in 2013, when the Ducks were 11-2. 

But while Herbert played his position well, he wasn't nearly ready to carry a team on his back, physically or emotionally.  Anyone who believes a young Mariota could have won more with last year's team would be mistaken. The 2012 Oregon defense allowed 21.6 points allowed per game. Running back Kenjon Barner flirted with being a Heisman Trophy candidate while assisting Mariota with 1,717 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

All of that said, one major difference exists when comparing the two at the same age. Mariota better handled adversity. Herbert, according to a source on last year's team, could at times become fragile emotionally when things went badly. That trait popped up again here and there during spring, according to a current team source. Mariota, on the other hand, led by example with his demeanor despite not being vocal, and inspired his teammates with his steely presence. 

Again, we're talking about a young man who just turned 19 in March and has yet to have completed his first year of college. So, it's not a knock on Herbert that he is still maturing. It's just a fact, and one that Taggart is allowing to be a factor as he evaluates the quarterback position. 

That all said, Oregon's best chance for a quick turnaround in 2017 is for Herbert to be at the helm, not Jonsen or Burmeister. But Taggart believes that if Herbert can improve his temperament and leadership skills, the Ducks could win more games than it would otherwise. 

Taggart has seen quarterbacks with strong personalities turn teams around before. 

While a running backs coach at Stanford in 2009, Taggart watched Andrew Luck blossom into a leader and change the overall culture and mentality of the team as a redshirt freshman. As the head coach at South Florida, Taggart didn't start tasting success until quarterback Quinton Flowers grew into a leader that his teammates rallied around as a sophomore in 2015.

Herbert will be entering year two of his college career next fall. He has accomplished more than Luck, Flowers and Mariota had entering their second years on a college campus, but Herbert lags behind in just that one area of concern.  

Another point must also be made here. Taggart might be looking for a leader but he needs a baller at quarterback, first and foremost. 

In the days leading up to the spring game, Taggart said he wanted to see which players would "show up and show out." Strange things, as he put it, happen to players when they enter a game situation and must perform under the spotlight.

To that end, Herbert delivered, as he did most of last season, while Jonsen and Burmeister faltered. 

Whatever temperament issues Herbert might have, this is still a guy who played better as the game went on against eventual Pac-12 champion Washington during a 71-20 loss at Autzen Stadium. He brought Oregon back at California with six touchdown passes only to fall short in overtime. And, Herbert led the Ducks on a game-winning drive in the final minute at Utah. The game-winner, with seconds remaining, went to Darren Carrington II in the corner of the end zone on a throw that NFL superstars, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady could not exceed.  

So, Herbert has indeed proven he can bounce back from adversity. His talent is undeniable. The question entering the summer will be, can he take is overall mental makeup to the next level sooner, rather than later. 

Taggart said he is looking for team leadership across the board over the summer on a team that last season suffered from a severe lack of leaders. 

"I think the offseason is going to be big," Taggart said. "When I talk about who can lead this team, who can get their teammates out there to work on their craft when the coaches can't be there."

Taggart said he didn't see enough of self-starter mentality in January from anyone, even the quarterbacks. He hopes to see it more this summer. 

"It starts with the quarterback," Taggart said. "Who can get his teammates to go out there and work when the NCAA doesn't allow us to be out there with them. That's what's going to make us a better football team."

Herbert's physical play will give the Ducks a chance to win most games on their schedule next season. But UO likely won't contend for a Pac-12 title until Herbert's leadership skills and temperament catch up with his elite-level physical gifts. 

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

Oregon Spring game: Herbert and Team Free win 34-11

Team Free 34, Team Brave 11

How Team Free won: For starters, Team Free had quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for touchdown passes to lead his team to the win Saturay at Autzen Stadium. 

While it's unfair to judge a quarterback competition based on a spring game, the fact is that the sophomore, who started seven games last season, appeared to be vastly superior to Team Brave's quarterbacks, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister

Herbert threw two touchdowns in the first half. The first went for 13 yards on a throw to senior receiver Darren Carrington II that ended a 75-yard opening drive for Team Free. 

In the second quarter, Herbert found Carrington for a 30-yard touchdown to make the score 14-3. 

On the other side, Jonsen had a couple of highlight plays in the first half. He escaped pressure and then flipped a pass into the left flat to redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James for a gain of 19 to the Team Brave 47. Later, Jonsen threw deep down the left sideline to sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell for 44 yards to the Team Free 30. That set up 36-yard field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Zach Emerson.

But other than that, Jonsen wasn't very impressive. He misfired on a couple of passes and had a deep ball intercepted when Team Free senior cornerback Arrion Springs snatched the ball out of the sky and fell to the ground at the 16. 

Burmeister flashed some serious running skills and certainly has a quality arm, but he also looked like a freshman. In the first half, he threw too early on a pass to senior receiver Charles Nelson, the pass was tipped and intercepted by freshman defensive back Billy Gibson.  

Herbert went 16 of 26 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Jonsen was 5 of 15 for 86 yards with one interception. Burmeister was 3 of 7 for 63 yards and was sacked four times. He did rush for 57 yards on 

The game was limited to 24 minutes of running clock in the second half. 

Top performers: Brook-James gained 71 yards on 18 carries in the first half but was banged up on a pass play when Burmeister hung him out do dry on a deep ball and Springs hit him as the ball arrived. 

Brooks-James returned to action and in the fourth quarter scored on a one-yard run. He finished with 84 yards rushing and caught three passes for 43 yards. 

Freshman wide receiver Darrian McNeal caught four passes for 54 yards for Team Free.

Punter Blake Maimonte averaged 45.2 yards on four punts with a long of 49. 

Mitchell had three receptions for 75 yards for Team Brave. 

Carrington had three touchdown on four receptions for 116 yards. 

Royce Freeman rushed for 43 yards on 12 carries and a 1-yard touchdown for Team Free.

Plays of the game: Senior running back Kani Benoit, who finished with 105 yards on five carries,  took a hand off in the third quarter, cut left to open field then turned it up before crossing at an angle to the right side of the field to finish off a 95-yard socring run for Team Free to make the score 28-3. 

In the fourth quarter, Herbert heaved a deep pass down the right sideline toward a well-covered Carrington. But he leaped over the defender to haul in the pass for a 44-yard gain to the 17-yard line. 

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Five Ducks' spring game storylines: No. 1 - QB Travis Jonsen

Oregon's spring game kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday.  Here is the start of five reasons why you should care. 

No. 1: This is quarterback Travis Jonsen's chance to show what he's really about. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart has insisted that a quarterback competition exists. 

Redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen insists he is a different player than the one who fell from No. 2 to No. 4 last fall. 

If both opinions are true, let's see some fireworks on Saturday, Mr. Jonsen. 

In all fairness, this is about the time when he should be coming into his own. Seeking instant success often leads to unnecessary disappointment for players such as Jonsen, who went to Oregon in 2015 as the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

Jonsen, who will start Saturday at quarterback for Team "Brave," redshirted in 2015 and didn't play at all last year. No shame in any of that.

Now, finishing up his third spring at Oregon with two falls behind him, Jonsen is older, wiser and more mature. He also remains quite talented. 

The problem for Jonsen is that while he was maturing, the Ducks seemingly landed another quarterback savant just two seasons after watching Marcus Mariota, the greatest player in program history, ride off into the sunset with a Heisman Trophy. Sophomore Justin Herbert rose from unheralded recruit to starter last year as a true freshman and then passed for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions over seven starts. 

Herbert is a big obstacle between Jonsen and becoming Oregon's starter. So much so that Terry Wilson Jr., last year's No. 3 quarterback as a true freshman, decided to transfer this spring. 

Jonsen is in a very awkward position. He could end up becoming a really good quarterback but never become UO's starter unless Herbert goes to the NFL after his junior season leaving Jonsen as the starter in 2020 as a redshirt senior.

Or, Jonsen must beat out Herbert now and take over the offense.

That scenario remains a possibility, according to Taggart, who ultimately has the only opinion that matters. 

But for public consumption, it would be nice to see Jonsen on Saturday play like a quarterback capable of pushing Herbert.

On a side note, we will also get to see freshman Braxton Burmeister in action. The 2017 4-star recruit who enrolled early, is the backup to Jonsen on Team "Brave," and will surely see some action. 

Herbert is quarterbacking Team Fire. 

Play of Herbert, Jonsen and Burmeister too much for Wilson to overcome

Play of Herbert, Jonsen and Burmeister too much for Wilson to overcome

Oregon's quarterback competition became 25 percent lighter this morning when redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. informed new Ducks coach Willie Taggart Thursday night that he would seek a transfer. 

That meant more quarterback reps on Friday for sophomore Justin Herbert, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and freshman Braxton Burmeister, who enrolled early enough to participate in spring drills. 

So where does Wilson's decision leave the Ducks entering the team's 2:30 p.m. scrimmage Saturday at Jesuit High School?

First and foremost, Wilson bailing after five spring practices is an indication of how much of an uphill battle he viewed beating out Herbert, who started seven games last season and looked like a future NFL Draft pick in the process. 

Something had to give. Oregon had four quarterbacks all within a year of eligibility of one another. That dynamic rarely ever holds for long because players play college football to play, not hold a clipboard, and there simply isn't much room for a backup quarterback to see the field unless the starter gets injured. 

Consequently, the odds of Herbert, Wilson, and Jonsen all remaining at Oregon heading into next fall appeared to be a long shot at best, and as it turns out, the trio didn't last together beyond the fifth practice of spring drills. 

Oregon is more than fine without Wilson and won't miss him much unless he goes on to win the Heisman Trophy elsewhere and Herbert dramatically regresses. 

What should be encouraging to UO fans is that Jonsen is back to being Jonsen, according to a team source. Fans should remember that Jonsen had a good spring session last year and entered the summer as a close No. 2 to senior starter Dakota Prukop, a transfer from Montana State. However, in the fall, Jonsen got banged up a bit, his performance went south and his confidence waned. He ended up falling all the way back to No. 4 behind Prukop, Herbert and Wilson, who ultimately redshirted. 

Had Jonsen maintained the high level of play he had displayed during spring, he might have been the next man up after Prukop faltered. Instead it was Herbert, who had a fantastic season after replacing Herbert as the starter in sixth game of the season and threw for 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. 

A new coaching staff means new beginnings for everyone on the roster, including the quarterbacks. Taggart has insisted that the starting job is up for grabs, regardless of what Herbert did last season. Jonsen has taken that to heart and is starting to regain the form that made him the No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came to Oregon as a four-star recruit in 2015. 

According to a source, Jonsen is playing with a higher degree of confidence, which has allowed his talent to shine. While Herbert is the more polished passer of the two, Jonsen is the better runner. What makes the competition so fierce is that Herbert run wells and Jonsen certainly can sling it. 

Then there is Burmeister. Taggart said last week that the freshman recruit has been seen working on his own in the film room in order to learn the system and it's showing on the field. 

Sources say that Burmeister has performed very well and could be in the race when it's all said and done. 

Ideally, however, Herbert improves to the point where he is an undeniable superstar, and Brumeister redshirts in order to create two years of eligibility separation between him and Herbert. 

Having Herbert as a junior in 2018 and Brumeister as the redshirt freshman backup would be the perfect set up. 

But what of Jonsen? If he is beaten out by Herbert it would be best for him to transfer in search of a place to play, just like Wilson has done. 

These situations are never easy to navigate, not for the players or the coaches. But it's a good problem to have if you're Oregon when a quarterback as talented as Wilson bails because he sees that there is simply too much talent around him to feel comfortable he can win the job. 

 

Oregon quarterback "competition" in full swing to find Taggart's next Quinton Flowers

Oregon quarterback "competition" in full swing to find Taggart's next Quinton Flowers

New Oregon coach Willie Taggart has never had this much quarterback talent on one team. But he's waiting to see if one of the four highly-touted youngsters on the Ducks' roster can show signs of being able to match what Quinton Flowers did for him at South Florida. 

"Number 9," Taggart says with reverence when referring to the Bulls' star. "Number 9."

Yep, that is the number worn by Flowers, who had a huge hand in turning around South Florida's fortunes under Taggart in year three of his rebuilding process, which began in 2013. You might say, with great accuracy, that if not for the development of Flowers, Taggart wouldn't have become the coach of the Oregon Ducks. 

That development had as much to do with Flowers as a leader as it did with him as a player. Taggart said he is looking for that same type of ability to lead from UO's group of young quarterbacks: redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen, sophomore Justin Herbert, redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. and freshman Braxton Burmeister. 

"I think that's very important, being the quarterback - who's going to lead this football team," Taggart said. "This football team needs a leader. This football team wants a leader. We want to see which one of those guys wants to do that. That's not just from a throwing the football standpoint, but overall just being a leader and getting guys to follow behind them."

Taggart went 2-10 his first year at USF and then 4-8. The Bulls began the 2015 season with a 1-3 record before Flowers caught fire. The key, Taggart said recently, was that Flowers convinced his coach to allow him to be himself. Taggart, a former college quarterback, listened, and withdrew some of the restraints he had placed on his young quarterback, then a sophomore. 

"He told me to let him go, 'don't hold back anything,'" Taggart recalled. 

Flowers responded by going ballistic on opposing defenses. After throwing four interceptions over the first four games, he threw just four the rest of the season and finished with 2,226 yards passing and 22 touchdowns with six interceptions while also rushing for 991 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Bulls finished 8-5. In 2016, Flowers threw for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also produced a dizzying 1,530 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns. USF finished 11-2. 

All told, Taggart went 18-7 with Flowers as his starter before leaving for Oregon last December prior to Flowers putting up five total touchdowns during a 46-39 overtime victory over Cincinnati in the Birmingham Bowl.

Without Flowers, Taggart went 6-18 at USF, albeit while undergoing an intense rebuilding project. 

Taggart, who previously rebuilt Western Kentucky, is on his third reclamation project, but this time has more overall talent at quarterback to work with plus he has a proven commodity in Herbert, who in seven starts last season put up 1,936 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with four interceptions. 

"They are all athletic, for sure," Taggart said. "Each and every one of those guys is pretty athletic. They can get things done with their feet and with their arm. I think after two days I like the way they are competing. All of them have been up and down. All of them have done some good things for us."

Taggart has repeatedly stated that the competition is open, but it is going to take a lot for anyone to beat out Herbert, who appeared to be a budding superstar last season. 

That said, Jonsen, a four-star recruit in 2015, and Wilson, a three-star recruit last year, are more in the mold of Flowers in terms of being elite runners with passing skills. Herbert, however, runs very well despite his 6-foot-6 frame. Burmeister, a four-star recruit, put up amazing numbers in high school and is doing all he can to make an impact after enrolling in time to participate in spring drills. 

"I tell ya what, the kid is in here everyday studying," Taggart said of the quarterback he signed in February. "He's trying to catch up. He knows he's behind. I walked through the hallway the other day and saw him in the quarterbacks' meeting room by himself, trying to learn the system.  That's what you want. You want film junkies, guys that just love being in there. And to be honest with you, that's the first time I've seen one of our quarterbacks in there by himself."

No matter who wins the starting job next fall (Herbert), the Ducks appear to have a lot of options for Taggart to choose from (Herbert). That player (Herbert) will have to live up to Taggart's memories of Flowers, whose standard if leadership and performance helped get Taggart where he is today.

 

Oregon QB Justin Herbert welcomes competition

Oregon QB Justin Herbert welcomes competition

Don't miss: Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five burning questions

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Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert did all he could to save the Ducks last season. 

He threw for six touchdowns in a loss at California. He tied a passing record with 489 yards during a win against Arizona State. He threw the winning touchdown at Utah in the final seconds. 

All told, Herbert passed for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions in seven starts as a freshman, and he looked quite amazing while doing so. 

Nevertheless, his performance came under UO's former coaching staff during a 4-8 season in which he won just two games. Herbert hasn't done anything under new coach Willie Taggart. For those reasons, Herbert must compete for his job, and he's fine with that. 

“Competition is great for everyone," Herbert said Wednesday morning prior to the start of spring drills. "It pushes everyone and I think it’s great. I’m going to do my best and if it’s me, great, but if it’s not, I’ll be supportive of whoever it is. I just have to do my best and let things take care of themselves.”

The "whoever" in that quote refers to redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr., the No. 3 quarterback last season, and redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen, last season's No. 4. 

Taggart likes the talent he sees in both challengers. He says he wants to give them a fair chance to earn the starting job. If one comes remotely close to challenging Herbert, that would signal that the Ducks are would be set at this position for years to come. 

Herbert certainly is an interesting position. Former coach Mark Helfrich, former offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and quarterback coach David Yost believed in Herbert enough to start him after senior transfer Dakota Prukop struggled. Now Herbert must adjust to a new system and new coaches, including co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.

“It was definitely tough saying goodbye to the past coaches," Herbert said. "We built a great relationship with them…But this new staff has come in and they’ve made a great relationship with us, and so they’ve actually made the process quite a bit easier.”

Taggart will spend more time evaluating quarterback than any other position. It's the spot he played at Western Kentucky. Leadership at that position, he said, is paramount. 

"He says he has to earn our trust," Herbert said, "like we have to earn his."

At least it appears that the new system shouldn't be tough for Herbert to grasp. 

“I would say it’s really similar (to the former system)," Herbert said. "The plays just have different names. But a lot of the concepts and formations are very similar."

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

Taggart and Ducks enter spring with five glaring questions

The Willie Taggart-era at Oregon on the practice field began this morning when the Ducks opened spring drills, which will include 14 sessions before the Spring Game on April 29. 

Oregon enters spring with a new staff but most of the same players who were largely responsible for a 4-8 season in 2016, a year that led to the firing of former coach Mark Helfrich and a staff that featured some assistants who had been in Eugene for as many as 20-plus years.

In order to win right away, Taggart must do so with the players recruited by the former staff. That's not impossible. In fact, it's highly likely. Oregon played mostly a young and battered group in 2016. It's a core that should be considerably better in 2017 after taking their collective lumps during the program's first losing season since 2004 (5-6). 

That development process began during the winter and continues this spring. Many questions linger for this staff to sort out, but here are five that must be addressed this spring: 

1. Will a quarterback controversy develop or will Justin Herbert re-establish himself as the guy for this new staff? The only quarterback in Oregon history who at the same age could have beaten out what we saw from Herbert as a freshman would be Marcus Mariota. Maybe. That's how good Herbert is. So, when Taggart says that the position is open, he is essentially hoping that either redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. or redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen demonstrates some Mariota-level skills.

We shall see. 

Herbert took over as the starter in week 6 and in seven starts completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Project those numbers out over 13 games (with a bowl) and you get 3,688-35-6. Those numbers are almost identical to what Mariota put up in 2013 (3,665-31-4) as a redshirt sophomore while playing on a much better team.  No doubt Taggart witnessed all of Herbert's skills while reviewing game video from last season. 

Still, Taggart points out that UO won just four games, so whatever Herbert did last season wasn't good enough. Truth be told, Herbert won just two of those four (Arizona State and Utah), but Mariota wouldn't have won much more with the defense Oregon put on the field. 

Taggart does liked the physical abilities he saw from Wilson and Jonsen during winter workouts, but added that Herbert has also looked great, so far. 

“Really impressed with winter conditioning watching him run around and change directions, and doing those things," Taggart said. 

Now, Taggart wants to see Herbert, or another quarterback, become an established leader. 

“At the end of the day, I want to see who can lead this football team," Taggart said. "Who can get this team to rally around him.”

Let the QB games begin. 

2. Are there any young playmakers at linebacker not named Troy Dye? Dye made a name for himself last season as pretty much the only playmaker on defense. The Ducks will return to the 3-4, defense, which means UO needs three other linebackers to emerge. Seniors A.J. Hotchkins and Jimmie Swain must improve. Also, Oregon could use someone among the young group of sophomores La'Mar Winston Jr. and Keith Simms, and redshirt freshman Eric Briscoe, to breakthrough. 

"We have to get more athletic at that spot," Taggart said.

Translation: "We lack ballers."

Oregon will be looking for more of those this spring. 

3. Are there any playmakers along the defensive line at all? We must continue on with the defense because that side of the ball was so bad last season. So bad that there really weren't any bright spot along the defensive line to be found. 

Taggart, however, said he believes that some playmakers exist upfront. Mass confusion on defense last year, he added, led to a lot of young defensive linemen not being able to flourish. 

"Usually when you don't know what you're doing, you'll get your butt whooped," Taggart said. "But there's some potential."

Jalen Jelks, Henry Mondeaux, Gary Baker, Rex Manu, Drayton Carlberg, and others, all must develop this spring or opposing offenses will once again trample the Ducks. 

4.  Can Dillon Mitchell and Alex Ofodile ease concerns about depth at wide receiver? Oregon returns two wide receivers of consequence: seniors Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson. Taggart needs about four more receivers for him to be comfortable about the depth at this position. 

Sophomore Dillon Mitchell and redshirt sophomore Alex Ofodile are both former four-star recruits and the next men up. But the jury is out on both. They could either emerge this spring or open the door for one of seven freshmen receivers to take their jobs. 

One such freshman already on campus is three-star recruit, Darrian McNeal, a quick elusive receiver in the mold of Nelson and former UO star, De'Anthony Thomas, but not quite as fast, according to Taggart.

Taggart said McNeal's love for the game shows in his play, play that could get him on the game field right away. 

But for this position to take off, Mitchell and/or Ofodile must take major strides in their development this spring. 

5. How will a new coaching staff mesh? Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark worked together in Colorado. Taggart brought two South Florida assistants, special teams coordinator Raymond Woodie and running backs coach Donte Pimpleton, to UO from his former team. Other than that, no other coaching connections exist on this staff. 

So, stands to reason that there could be some growing pains as the staff learns to work together. 

"Not everybody has been around me," Taggart said. "A lot of things I might not like and I'll continue to coach those guys up and get it the way that we want it."

So far, Taggart said, the staff has worked together very well. Camaraderie and enthusiasm have been high. Taggart said it helps that Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal are former head coaches who get the process. 

We will see if harmony continues or if some feathers get ruffled along the way. Especially if the previous four questions go unanswered and the team is left floundering in a sea of mediocrity during year one of the Taggart era.