After throwing his name in the NCAA transfer portal, former Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister has found a landing spot at Virginia Tech. Burmeister’s fresh start with the Hokies means that the Ducks are down to just three scholarship quarterbacks for the 2019 season.
Burmeister’s transfer was anything but surprising after starting quarterback Justin Herbert decided to return to Oregon for his senior season. However, losing Burmeister’s experience raises the urgency to develop a backup behind Herbert with only two options; redshirt freshman Tyler Shough or true freshman Cale Millen.
It’s a predicament the Ducks have been in before. Remember when highly recruited quarterbacks Morgan Mahalak, Travis Jonsen, and Terry Wilson left the program during the Marcus Mariota era? After Mariota declared for the NFL Draft, Oregon was left with three inexperienced freshmen without a single collective college start.
Then-coach Mark Helfrich found Oregon’s answer in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr. and Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop the next season. Two transfer quarterbacks in back-to-back seasons undoubtedly damaged internal development and locker room leadership.
How can Oregon learn from history for the sake of the future of the program?
The answer of that question lies in the upcoming battle between Shough and Millen; one must emerge as the true backup to ensue a smooth transition for life after Herbert in 2020.
“Underwhelming” is the perfect word to describe Shough’s 2018 season. The four-star recruit played in three games but did not attempt a pass. The former top-ranked recruit from the state of Arizona, not attempting to test his arm in live game? That raises alarm bells. However, it’s not a reason to count him out.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Shough has all the tools to become a Pac-12 level starting quarterback. His big frame, sharp arm and football IQ have been compared as Herbert-like to those who watch him in practice. For the six weeks that Burmeister was rehabbing an injury, Shough received all second-team practice reps, something coach Mario Cristobal said the freshman greatly benefitted from.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said he was confident in Shough’s abilities and Oregon’s top returning receiver Jaylon Redd agreed.
“Tyler is smart and he has good reads, I like the way he throws the ball,” Redd said.
Oregon’s priority must be to turn that raw potential into a dependable and ready backup.
Then there is Cale Millen. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound incoming freshman led the state of Washington with 4,260 total yards as a senior. His size and arm should excite Duck fans. The son of former NFL and Washington Huskies quarterback Hugh Millen, Millen showed off this size and strength in the Elite-11, a quarterback-focused camp held by Nike.
“I felt that I was needed more at Oregon rather than just kind of being another guy filling a spot,” Millen told the Register Guard. "At other schools it was kind of, ‘Oh, we need a quarterback for the class, let’s take him.’ At Oregon, I felt like it wasn’t just filling a position. It was, ‘We need you here.’"
Will either one of these quarterback live up to their hype? It’s a question Oregon football need to answer sooner rather than later; Herbert is injury prone and will be gone in 10 months.