Jeff Lockie, Jake Rodrigues poised to occupy starting post

EUGENE — It was only last year that a battle raged between Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett over who would be the Oregon Ducks’ starting quarterback. Mariota won the role and, after a sparkling season, enters

the 2013 campaign with the possibility of a run at the Heisman Trophy.

But in football, everything can change on a dime. And if Mariota gets hurt, the Ducks will have to go with one of two redshirt freshmen, Jeff Lockie or Jake Rodrigues.

“God forbid, Marcus goes down,” Rodrigues says, “but football is a violent game.”

Lockie, a 6-2, 195-pounder out of Alamo, Calif., completed 234 passes for 3,278 yards and 31 TDs as a prep senior, and ran for 136 yards and seven TDs.

Lockie says he has learned a lot already from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost.

“And not just about the game itself, but the whys: ‘Why do you do this? Why do you do that?’ ” Lockie says.

As a quarterback, “I’m not going to be 6-5 and run a 4.2 (40-yard dash),” Lockie says. “My strength is making the right decision and putting the ball where it needs to be — distributing it to the guys you have.”

Rodrigues, a 6-3, 215-pounder out of Rocklin Calif., threw for 2,036 yards and 26 touchdowns as a high school senior, and rushed for 684 yards and 15 TDs.

Toward the end of that season, however, Rodrigues suffered a horrific injury on a broken play. He darted out of the pocket and tried to plant his foot to make a cut up the field. A diving defender’s helmet hit one of Rodrigues’ legs, breaking a bone. Rodrigues was flipped into the air. When he landed, he dislocated the leg.

It took Rodrigues all last year at Oregon and into spring ball this year before he felt 100 percent.

“I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was damn near close,” he says.

Rodrigues says he is mentally stronger.

“Working hard to get that back has made football mean more to me. I wasn’t able to play football, and that’s all I wanted to do. Now I’m playing again, and I’m fine,” he says.

For Rodrigues, learning the Ducks’ offense “wasn’t too hard, because I kind of ran the same thing in high school. But I’ve been learning the little things like reading the defense. Football is a lot more complex than I ever thought it was. I’m trying to be perfect and know everything.”

Rodrigues says he has “a big arm and can run (with) the ball. I can also bring the guys together and drive them down the field. I’m a vocal leader, and I hope to gain the respect of the team. That’s my goal. When you have respect as a quarterback, everything falls into place.”

Both Lockie and Rodrigues know that No. 2 can become No. 1 in a hurry.

“In high school, you’re the quarterback, you’re the man,” Lockie says. “Coming here, you have to accept a different role. And that’s appropriate coming to a big school. But you have to be ready for your time, and when you’re ready for your time, it will come.”

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