EUGENE — As the quarterback competition intensifies, Oregon football coaches must decide between another graduate transfer who can play for just one season and a younger signal-caller who could possibly provide more continuity for the program.
Dakota Prukop, a senior graduate transfer from Montana State, and Travis Jonsen, a redshirt freshman from Anaheim, California, appear to be the two leaders at the position as preseason camp gets underway for the Ducks. True freshman Terry Wilson, of Del City, Oklahoma, is also taking reps with the first team at practices in Eugene.
“We’re repping Dakota, Travis and Terry,” said Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick. “Dakota and Travis are taking a little more reps than Terry. The neat thing about fall camp is we’ve got a lot of time to let it play out.”
In three years at Montana State, Prukop (6 feet 2, 205) ran for 1,763 yards and 24 touchdowns, offering a downfield running threat at quarterback that last year’s senior graduate transfer quarterback for Oregon, Vernon Adams Jr., did not really provide.
Prukop said he is confident he can win the starting spot, although Jonsen (6-3, 215) presented some stiff competition in spring practices. The two finished with similar statistics in the spring game in April.
“I’ve been in two or three quarterback battles already in my career,” Prukop said. “It’s another one, but the thing that I’m excited about is that I got to kind of take the lead in terms of setting the tone for the room. I was like, hey, this is the best way we can all get better, if we approach it like, hey, we’re here to push each other, we’re not here to take from each other. We have a great battle going, and you’re going to see a lot of improvement day by day because you always know there’s a guy to your left and right trying to win the job, too. That’s what you need in the quarterback room, is competition.”
Prukop, who played high school football in Austin, Texas, said it would be a “great honor” to be named the starting quarterback at Oregon, a program whose legends include the likes of Marcus Mariota, Joey Harrington, Bill Musgrave and Dan Fouts.
“The quarterback who wins the job here, that’s because the team wants them to be their quarterback,” Prukop said. “It’s not just because the coaches do, it’s because you won the team over by your performance. It’s the same thing as being a team captain — the team chose you. So, of course, that’s one of the highest honors you could receive. Of course I’m confident in my own ability, as are all the other quarterbacks. We’ve got a really talented room, and it’s a really good problem for coach Lubick and (head) coach (Mark) Helfrich to have.”
After Mariota won the Heisman Trophy and moved on to the NFL in 2015, the quarterback position at Oregon has been an uncertainty. When Adams went down with injuries several times last season, Jeff Lockie struggled in backup duty. Now a senior, Lockie has been serving as something of a player-coach who is taking reps at receiver, but he has been influential in teaching the playbook to the other quarterbacks.
“That’s been a huge positive for us,” Lubick said. “He’s a big reason those quarterbacks have progressed the way they’ve progressed, because he’s done a great job with those guys in the offseason teaching them the offense. That says a lot of about that guy, very selfless.”
Jonsen, meanwhile, is a tall, lean athlete who refined his throwing motion during his redshirt season. He said the fact that he could be at Oregon for three or four more seasons gives him an advantage to earn the starting position.
“I think that’s really good for the team if you have a quarterback in the system for that long … like Marcus, he was in the system for four years and look what he did,” Jonsen said. “Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and possibly make my own path. Having that experience makes the team that much better when you have a quarterback in the system for three or four years.
“I know the system pretty well. Obviously I can get a lot better, but I think I definitely have the edge with that.”
Helfrich, starting his fourth season as Ducks head coach, said he cannot “predetermine” when a starter will be named, as he will wait for somebody to emerge naturally during preseason camp.
“It has to be, a good Eugene term, organic,” Helfrich explained. “It has to happen right in front of everybody and for everybody’s best interests. Ideally, it would be about a week and a half out (from the first game Sept. 3).”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,