Let's tackle this topic off the top: Vernon Adams is not going to be Marcus Mariota.
The record-breaking quarterback transfer from Eastern Washington is not going to be able to do what Mariota did. They are just different players. Both are talented, but both are very different. I hope most Ducks fans realize that off the hop and don't have unrealistic expectations for Adams.
With that said, it's not often that a program can pick up a transfer at the quarterback position with three years of experience starting games and three years of throwing for a ton of yards. It's also not often that a player makes the jump from an FCS program, albeit a very successful one, to an FBS program. It's even crazier that a player who has played his career in a lower division might be replacing a Heisman trophy winner on a team that went to the national championship game last season.
These are extraordinary circumstances and watching what happens with Adams is going to be one of the most interesting storylines of the 2015 college football season. Is Adams good enough to take a hold of that role and keep the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12? No one will know until we actually get to see him play this fall (after he wins the job in camp, of course).
What we do know about Adams is that he lead Eastern Washington to a win over Oregon State in 2013 and nearly did the same against Washington in 2014 by throwing for almost 500 yards and seven(!) touchdowns. Can he play quarterback in the Pac-12? After those two games, I would say the answer is an emphatic yes.
That's not the question most people have though. Everyone is wondering how good can Adams actually be in Oregon's offense. I went back and watched film of the Washington game as well as two of Eastern Washington's games in the FCS playoffs (vs Montana and Illinois State) to look at what Adams does well and what he doesn't do so well.
Let's start with some things Adams does really well:
There is no doubt that his mobility is a huge asset. He is a dual-threat that can hurt a defense with his feet as well as his arm. However, he is not the runner that Mariota is. That shouldn't be shocking because so few are. He can run the zone read and move the chains when scrambling, but he's not going to break too many long runs. He is quicker than he is fast.
The greatest thing he does with his mobility is extend plays. As most people who watched him against Washington's defense already know, he has the ability to get away from the rush and find receivers when the play is breaking down.
This kind of thing makes him a nightmare to defend on third down and I saw him convert numerous third and fourth down opportunities because his feet bought him time to make a play. Here's an example of it from the Illinois State game:
A play that could have resulted in a sack ends up being a 15 yard penalty on the defense and an automatic first down. This was almost routine for him. He delivered on so many situations where his team needed him to make a play.
He also showed that he can throw well on the move and was especially good when rolling to his right. Here's a play with a little half-roll to the right and Adams delivers a strike for a first down. (The video is supposed to embed with the proper time, but if it isn't working, fast forward to the 10:47 mark)
Mobility is crucial at the quarterback position for Oregon and they obviously have someone who is a fit as an athlete for their scheme in Adams.
He throws a great deep ball
Like a lot of programs that run the spread, Eastern Washington didn't ask its quarterback to make too many intermediate throws. For the most part, Adams was making high percentage short throws that were basically like running plays and taking the occasional deep shot. None of that is too different from what Oregon will ask him to do, most of the time.
He was inconsistent in the intermediate range during the games I watched him play, but he shined throwing the deep ball.
Against the Huskies, he was like an NBA Jam player that couldn't miss. Every bomb he threw was pretty much perfect. I honestly could have chosen more, but here's two examples of what I'm referring to: (fast forward to 2:06)
Adams looks off the safety and drops an absolute dime to his receiver.
(Fast forward to 2:55)
The next one he checked the play at the line and did the exact same thing. Those kind of throws can't be defended because they are just that perfect.
And just to show that he didn't only do it during that one game, here he is doing the same thing versus Illinois State:
His mechanics were outstanding on all of those throws and that was why his accuracy and touch were so remarkable as well. There might not be any other way to describe the way he throws a deep ball other than "pretty".
He shows patience in the pocket
There might not be anything more boring than watching a quarterback go through his progressions and hit a check down receiver so I didn't bother adding a clip for this one. Going through his progressions is something Adams does really well though.
I'm not saying he never forces passes he shouldn't or that he doesn't scramble during some plays where he is okay to stay at home. All young quarterbacks seem to suffer from that occasionally. But he continually hit the proper check down when the big play wasn't there during all three of the games I watched. Even though he throws a great deep ball, he didn't always swing for the fences and try to get six points. He put together drives. Even in the Ducks quick strike offense, sometimes that is needed.
The things that Adams excel at should translate nicely into what will be asked from him from Oregon.
Now, onto the things he doesn't do quite as well:
He struggles with decision making and accuracy on throws over the middle of the field
This is much less of an issue that has to do with Adams refusing to step up into the pocket. He will do so and isn't afraid of the rush in his face. This has a lot more to do with his size and him struggling to find throwing windows.
He is listed at 6'0", but it looks like that may be generous. Even if he is 6'0", his release is a little low and he still wouldn't have the height to see over a lot of the offensive line playing in front of him. It's a disadvantage for him and I saw it affect some throws.
This first one is from the Montana game:
The tight end comes open underneath and he should have been able to hit him with an easy throw for a nice gain, but doesn't see him and ends up taking a sack on the play.
This next one is from the Illinois State game. It's obvious he doesn't have a good window to throw the ball through:
Because he didn't have a good window, he adjust his arm angle and mechanics to compensate. He throws off his back foot and his accuracy is off. The ball almost ends up getting picked.
When Adams has a clean pocket and the windows to get the ball out, he is certainly fine throwing the ball over the middle. Considering the conditions are not always ideal though, this is something to think about with a quarterback like him that isn't the tallest guy on the field.
He has inconsistent mechanics
Another issue with a player his size is that his mechanics always have to be on point to deliver the ball with the type of velocity needed to make difficult throws. That's not always the case with Adams though and you can see it affect his arm strength and accuracy.
Even in the Washington game, where he was so brilliant for most of the game, he made way too many unnecessary throws off his back foot and almost got burned because of it. He threw three balls that should have been intercepted, but were ultimately dropped. The first was a play during the first half in the red zone: (fast forward to 4:54)
It's a ball that he should have never thrown and even if he did, he shouldn't have lofted it up off his back foot.
He did something similar with less pressure in his face during the Illinois State game:
He got bailed out by a pass interference call, but he really had no reason to fade away and throw the football like that. Of course, the next play in the game he threw a beautiful deep ball for a touchdown where his mechanics were on point. And of course, that play was called back because of a holding call.
There is nothing Adams can do about his height. He can be more consistent with his mechanics though, without taking the creativity away from his game. He doesn't throw the tightest ball as is, so the little things matter even more to him. When his mechanics are good, he's a much better quarterback.
When he finally gets to play for Oregon, the things he doesn't do well will intrigue me just as much as the things he does do well. I expect him to play a lot and I expect him to start for the Ducks and with the three games I watched, I didn't see anything that changed my mind to think that he isn't going to be a good player in the Pac-12.
I only was able to pick out some flaws to remind me that we shouldn't expect for him to immediately step in and play the role of Marcus Mariota. I did see more than enough good things from him thought to make me believe it's going to be exciting to see him try and play that role.