Why the Ducks’ backup quarterback battle is so important as it heads into final week
Oregon football head coach Willie Taggart has not made an official announcement on who the starting quarterback is. But honestly, he doesn’t need to.
Sophomore Justin Herbert will be the starter come September 2 against Southern Utah — there is no doubt about that. But it’s the two players behind him — freshman Braxton Burmeister and senior Taylor Alie — who are fighting for places on the depth chart.
“We’re all just competing and trying to get better,” Alie said. “We’re supportive of each other which is really good and healthy in a competition.”
Backup quarterbacks are important. The quarterback is arguably the most important position on the football field, so if the starter goes down with an injury, a competent quarterback needs to be ready to fill in.
It’s no different for the Ducks. If Herbert goes down with an injury, they’ll be relying on two inexperienced players. Oregon suffered a similar incident in 2015 when Vernon Adams Jr. got injured and Jeff Lockie took over.
So Will that stop the Ducks from running Herbert? To Taggart, it won’t.
“If we start thinking about that, that’s when we’re really going to handcuff ourselves,” he said. “If something happens then the next guy has got to be ready. All we think about now is developing guys at that position. “
The Ducks didn’t always lack quarterback depth. They began the spring with five quarterbacks on their roster, including Terry Wilson Jr. and Travis Jonsen, who some believed could replace Herbert as the starter. Both transferred to different schools.
In spring, Alie made the transition to wide receiver out of necessity. Oregon possessed enough quarterbacks but lacked depth at wideout. Alie even had a catch in the spring game. But once fall camp started, he switched back to the quarterbacks, once again, out of necessity. He doesn’t mind the switch.
“I definitely like being back at quarterback,” Alie said. “It was a fun trial period at receiver, just seeing it from a different angle.”
Alie learned from his experience at wide receiver, and he feels the new knowledge will help him at quarterback.
“Just the different ways that the coverage looks out there, certain routes and what we’re expecting at quarterback and certain timing,” Alie said.
Burmeister, the other quarterback pining for a spot on the depth chart, joined the program as a four-star recruit from California. His first taste of live college football came during the spring game in April. He looked overwhelmed at times — not entirely surprising for a true freshman — and finished the game 3-for-7 on passes for 63 yards with one interception and four sacks.
Since then, Burmeister used summer to grow physically and mentally, and to build on what he learned in the spring.
“I think that’s another part of having a kid who comes in early,” quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said. “You get a chance to go home, work out a little bit, be around [the program], mature as far as, ‘Ok, I know what to expect.’”
When it comes to how Taggart is judging the backup quarterback position, it’s doesn’t vary from how he would judge a starter.
“We need to see consistency and guys that can execute our offense, and guys that don’t make a lot of mental mistakes,” Taggart said. “You’ve got to take care of the football. That football is all of our dreams, goals and aspirations, and there’s a lot of people depending on them to take care of that football.”
The Ducks are depending on Herbert right now, but in a blink of an eye, they could be depending on Alie or Burmeister.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917