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Oregon close to announcing starting QB, but battle for No. 2 is heating up

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon coach Mark Helfrich had said early during fall camp that he wanted to announce a starting quarterback about 10 days before the Ducks’ opener against UC Davis, right as they went into game-week preparations.

“It’s crazy it’s coming up on us that soon,” Helfrich said. “[We’ll] have all those discussions at every position. I know one is very popular. … It’s a great situation there.”

Oregon will play its final fall camp scrimmage on Thursday and Helfrich said the staff would sit down following that scrimmage to construct their depth chart and announce a starting quarterback.

However, at this point, all indications are that graduate transfer Dakota Prukop will be named the starter. From the second week of camp, he was the quarterback that coaches and players said was the most consistent through practices.

That’s not surprising considering how prepared the Oregon staff was for a graduate transfer. Given the success the Ducks had with Vernon Adams Jr. last season (after he arrived a few days into fall camp) and the cushion Prukop gave himself by arriving in January, many had penciled him in as the starter long before the competition ever took to the field.

During spring ball, Oregon coaches wanted to paint the quarterback battle as a three-man race -- Prukop, redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and early enrollee Terry Wilson. However, realistically it was between Prukop and Jonsen.

In June, quarterback coach David Yost told ESPN.com that the competition between the two had been split in the spring because each player was ahead in an area in which the other player was not.

“There are certain things that Travis is ahead in because he has been here longer -- understanding the signals, communicating that,” Yost said. “There’s a point when you can kind of finish knowing the signals. … Dakota needs to constantly go through signal practice because it has to become second nature.”

But when it came to Prukop, he had the obvious advantage of having taken snaps in college games, which was something Jonsen lacked.

Going into the summer, Yost wanted to see Jonsen get more comfortable running the offense and for Prukop to get more comfortable with the signals. One of those two things was far easier to do this summer, so it wasn’t a surprise when Prukop entered fall camp a step ahead of his competition, garnering those early rave reviews from teammates.

But the surprise of spring hasn’t been Prukop advancing past Jonsen. It has been Eugene native Justin Herbert, who has seemingly been chipping away at the pecking order, possibly even at Jonsen’s assumed spot as Prukop’s back up.

Helfrich said that the freshman could “absolutely” be the backup this season, lauding his productivity this preseason.

“He has really exceeded my expectations and it has been much quicker than I think any of our staff would have thought, or players would have thought with a guy coming in,” Yost told The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif on Monday.

If Herbert truly is the second-best quarterback on the Oregon roster, Helfrich and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick are going to need to debate the pros and cons of putting him in that position. It’s a delicate balancing act for coaches to figure out whether a player’s long-term development is aided more by watching and learning, or by being thrown in the fire.

“You need to make a commitment to play a guy if you’re going to burn his redshirt,” Helfrich said. “It’s tough.”

With the starting job all but squared away, Jonsen, Wilson, and Herbert will have one final chance on Thursday to make their cases for the job as the No. 2 quarterback. And if last season taught the Ducks anything, it's that the No. 2 quarterback might be one of the most important spots on the team. Jonsen, Wilson, and Herbert certainly feel that way.