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Protecting Prukop is Oregon’s top priority in 2016

Oregon Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich on the sidelines during the second half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Az. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire)
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Supposedly, a debate was going to rage this fall in Eugene centered one one question: Would Oregon football be best served going with senior transfer Dakota Prukop in pursuit of a big 2016, or to throw redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen into game action early and see what the future might bring?

That debate never materialized. Prukop and Jonsen both showed, in their different ways, the importance of summer workouts. A job can be won and a career can move in an unexpected direction in workouts coaches don’t see.

As it turns out, there was no quarterback competition at Oregon and it was quite obvious to those who have seen Prukop practice these past four weeks the former Montana State Bobcat was more than ready for the big time.

Prukop ultimately taking the quarterback spot wasn’t that much of a surprise. Like Vernon Adams before him, Prukop didn’t come to Oregon for the scenery; he came to play at the highest level of college and get noticed by NFL scouts.

The surprise was that Jonsen, who played so well in the spring and spurred the aforementioned debate in the first place, regressed since then — so much so that not one, but two true freshmen were listed in front of Jonsen in the depth chart.

Eugene native Justin Herbert and Oklahoma product Terry Wilson, Jr. were both highly-touted recruits in their own right, but it’s hard to believe that on equal footing, they are that much better than Jonsen. After all, Jonsen spent more than a year in the Oregon system before them.

Since practices are off limits to the media, only Duck coaches know for sure what happened with Jonsen, but it’s apparent he regressed.

Come Saturday when the Ducks 2016 season officially kicks off, it’ll be Prukop and then a couple of true freshmen that have never even sniffed a college football game on the depth chart — not the best position for the Ducks to be in, should the veteran struggle or sustain injury, as happened to Adams a season ago.

Still, the current is a much better situation that they were faced with last season amid Adams’ finger injury. The Ducks couldn’t afford to lose Adams, who proved himself the only capable Pac-12 caliber quarterback on the roster at the time. The Ducks went from conference title contenders with Adams, to downright ugly when he was sidelined.

Oregon is going to have to protect Prukop at all costs, but should the moment come when Herbert and/or Wilson has to go in, the Ducks can feel somewhat comfortable knowing that those back-ups won’t embarrass themselves.

Still, head coach Mark Helfrich won’t want to see those freshmen take meaningful snaps against the likes of Stanford or USC come November. That means keeping Prukop healthy early against opponents like UC Davis, and getting the youngsters opportunities then.

Adams broke his finger in the first game of the season on a fluke play against Eastern Washington. Michigan State falling on the schedule the next week forced him into the lineup, worsening the injury. It would be just as bad if he broke his finger against a fellow Power Five team, but it just left a sour taste in Oregon fans’ mouths knowing Adams was hurt in a game the Ducks rolled by several scores.

Oregon’s second opponent is Virginia, and while the Cavaliers are not the caliber of a Michigan State, they still are not exactly the type of opponent the Ducks want to see Herbert/Wilson take meaningful snaps against. UC Davis should offer a glimpse of what Prukop has to offer, and just that — a glimpse.

For much of the opener, we should see firsthand why Herbert and Wilson passed Jonsen on the depth chart in just a three-week span — and what the future of the Oregon offense might hold after it goes all-in on 2016 with Prukop.

Protecting Prukop is Oregon’s top priority in 2016

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