Photo by Scott Boldt
Oregon Football

Position Battles: Quarterback

June 23, 2020

Football season approaches. And while I know things can still change, it looks like we’re just a few weeks from Oregon starting practices.

For the first time in three years, Oregon has a real quarterback battle, a topic that has been debated all over Twitter and this fan site. So what better way to start this fall preview series than with the quarterback group.

Let's go player by player and see where things stand heading into fall camp.

Tyler Shough

Shough was the first quarterback Mario Cristobal signed as Oregon’s head coach. While he committed late in the Willie Taggart year, he chose to stick it out and become a Duck.

Shough doesn’t have a ton of college reps. In two years, the redshirt sophomore went 12 for 15 with 144 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s done well with the snaps he’s had, but it’s hard to get a real understanding of his in-game abilities from such a small sample size.

During last fall camp and in the limited amount of practices I attended this spring, I’ve watched Shough as much as any other player. And he’s always impressed.

Last Spring he beat out Kayvon Thibodeaux to the edge, and people really got excited about that. It's certainly important for those labeled as pro-style QBs to demonstrate their versatility.

Shough is a talented passer with surprisingly quick feet – a huge asset if he wants to start for new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Moorhead found success at Penn State with dual-threat quarterbacks, and I imagine he wants his guy here to have similar capabilities. The 6-5, 220-pounder may not be the fastest guy in the quarterback room, but he definitely has adequate speed to execute many of the things Moorhead will ask of him.

As for his passing, he’s proven more than capable of making all the throws. This spring, when Shough obviously was getting more reps with the first unit, he made numerous deep throws that were right on the money. He also hit guys in stride deep across the middle.

Perhaps Shough's strongest trait, though, is hitting receivers on timing routes. He nailed multiple 15- to 20-yard out routes -- and that required almost perfect timing. Unless a defensive back made an extraordinary play, it was an easy reception.

Obviously, Oregon's offense is going to be different this year. I believe Shough has the skill set to execute what Moorhead calls.

Consider it a prediction or just my guess, but I say this with confidence: Shough will be the Ducks' starting quarterback in September.

Anthony Brown

The grad transfer from Boston College has been pretty impressive in his career, amassing 4,738 yards to go along with 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He has a 54.9 percent completion percentage, his quarterback rating is 126.9, and he’s run the ball 129 times for 423 yards and 4 touchdowns.

There's a lot of chatter about Brown's abilities as a runner. And while he does have some awesome rushing highlights, I think people are blowing that aspect of his game out of proportion. He is quick and can turn some small openings into big gains, but he isn’t necessarily an elite runner.

That's not me trying to talk Brown down; his tape actually impressed me over and over. He’s capable of making some big-time throws and extending plays before finding an open receiver.

Brown brings a lot to the table. He’s experienced and has shown he can execute a Power 5 offense. But unlike with other recent grad transfer QBs, Oregon isn't handing him the reins. Shough reportedly signed off on the addition, and it's clear QB depth is not a strength of this team.

If called upon, Brown likely would be able to run Moorhead's offense and find plenty of success, but I think he’d limit the offense a bit with his relatively inaccurate passing. I know the Eagles' offensive scheme and its playmakers were not what he will have to work with in Eugene, but he can struggle at times placing the ball in tight windows.

If Brown wins the job, I’ll have no issues. It would mean Moorhead believes he can execute the offense better than Shough. And if Brown doesn’t start, Oregon fans can sleep easier knowing that if they have a proven backup.

It was absolutely a win-win bringing Brown in to push Shough.

Cale Millen

This is a tough one to properly evaluate.

During the practices I’ve attended, he's seldom thrown the football. Last year, the 6-3, 211-pound freshman was hurt. And this spring, he split time with the twos with walk-on Bradley Yaffe.

Millen certainly looks the part, but it’s tough to say where he’s at physically. It’s less than ideal to be hurt for so long, but it did give him ample time to learn the offense and get caught up to the speed of college football. However, understanding the offense on tape and actually executing it are two completely different things.

Millen seems like a fantastic person, and I wish him nothing but the best, but I doubt he's going to be a factor in the upcoming quarterback battle. I could wrong, but it sure looks to me like a two-man battle.

Millen's going to compete for the third quarterback spot and get into position for more playing time over the next two seasons. However, he’s going to have some strong competition to be QB3.

Jay Butterfield

Butterfield is one of my favorite players from last year's class, and he really impressed during spring camp. When you see certain quarterbacks throw the ball in person, it just looks right. And Butterfield is one of those quarterbacks.

The 6-6, 212-pounder has a solid release that could stand to get even quicker, but when he throws he does so with a purpose. The result is a nice, tight, clean spiral that has some real zip on it.

We haven’t seen him actually throw much yet, so I’m not telling you to order your Jay Butterfield jerseys now. But there’s is a chance he’ll compete for that third quarterback spot this year.

Millen has a year of experience on him, but it's clear Butterfield has the potential to be a multi-year starter.

Robby Ashford

Ashford, who has just arrived in Eugene, is without a doubt one of the most intriguing players on the roster. We might not see him throwing passes in games this season, but he’s a player I’m excited to watch in camp.

The 6-4, 220-pounder from Hoover (Ala.) is raw, but he possesses all of the tools to become a truly elite dual-threat quarterback. His speed and ability to make guys miss is awesome, but he hasn’t yet mastered the art of being a quarterback.

If film study and meetings really click, Ashford could move up the depth chart quickly. But clearly, he’s still got a long road ahead of him. Ashford has a chance to supplant Millen or Butterfield, but given his late arrival and unpolished tools, he’s more likely to be the fourth or fifth option.

Ashford has massive upside, and I’m really excited to see what the future has in store. But I’d temper any expectations of him contributing much early on.

Tags: Football, Oregon
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