EUGENE Oregon coach Mark Helfrich wanted to clear the air about backup quarterback Jeff Lockie.
You see, when the Ducks chose to play Marcus Mariota through his knee injury late last season, starting at Stanford, it sent out one message: Yes, Mariota was probably still the team's best option at QB even with an injury, but in an era of "next man up" at Oregon, which Chip Kelly emphasized, Lockie wasn't good enough to play?
"That got a lot of play," Helfrich says, of such talk and speculation. "We have a ton of confidence in our backup guys."
Lockie had been locked in a battle with Jake Rodrigues the past two years, including last season to be Mariota's backup. Neither played significant plays, as Lockie went 8 of 13 passing for 57 yards and Rodrigues was 3 of 6 for 67 yards. Both threw interceptions. Speculation started to trickle out of Oregon which practices behind closed doors that the Ducks didn't have confidence in their backup QBs and didn't like their abilities.
Since last season, both Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs have left the program, leaving Lockie and true freshman Morgan Mahalak as the scholarship backup quarterbacks. So, Lockie, from Alamo, Calif., retains his backup status, unless Mahalak, from Kentfield, Calif., challenges him. In another curious move, which might further the questions about Lockie, Ty Griffin transferred from Georgia Tech, although he won't be eligible this season.
So, has Lockie improved?
"Jeff had a great spring," Helfrich says. "He's really smart. It has to do with confidence he needs to trust himself more."
Says Lockie: "A lot of things have improved. My overall feel for the game, where I stand (in program). I've had hundreds more reps, a little game time to work off. Hopefully that shows."
He knows that training camp will be important to prove some things, such as decision-making, not making mistakes and moving the offense.
"Number one, I'd say, mentally and with decision-making needs to be on par," he says. "You have to have the physical tools to create or know you can make every throw on the field."
Helfrich compares Lockie to former Duck Nate Costa. Lockie played in a pro-style offense at Monte Vista High, but he can run well to go with throwing ability.
Lockie has decided to stay at Oregon, because he likes the team and teammates and the school and environment. We'll see what the future brings in competition with Mahalek and Griffin; he knows Mariota remains the main man this season. Mariota is one of 10 returning starters at quarterback in the Pac-12; Washington and Arizona are looking for new starting QBs. Lockie plays behind a pretty good player.
"He's our guy," Lockie says of Mariota. "He knows that, Coach Helf knows that, I know that."