These days, it isn't all that flattering to be likened to Johnny Manziel.
But if you ask the Oregon Ducks, or almost any college team for that matter, they'd be thrilled to have a replica of the college Manziel. And in quarterback Dakota Prukop, it looks like they might have one on their hands -- minus the shenanigans.
The graduate transfer from Montana State might not even earn the starting job for the Ducks, but he has the potential to do special things in Eugene.
Like Manziel, Prukop's improvisation and running skills brought him to the limelight. But before he became a Nick Saban darling, he didn't resemble the quarterback that now could lead Oregon.
Throughout his career, Prukop hasn't followed the beaten path that most elite college quarterbacks tread. Courting from the beginning of high school. Visits from household name coaches. Overstuffed, exploding mailboxes. Announcing your decision on national TV. Maybe a redshirt year, then taking the keys to the program.
Instead of living a public high school recruiting saga, Prukop quarterbacked just two years in high school, fielding offers for offense from powerhouses like Lamar, Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M-Kingsville. After pondering walking on at Texas Tech or SMU, he found a home in Bozeman.
When he arrived on campus, he wasn't very fundamentally sound. In terms of quarterbacking skills and his mechanics..., he was super raw," SkylineSportsMt.com football reporter Colter Nuanez said in an interview with the Oregonian. "He wasn't ready to play at all."
It might have taken him a little bit, but when he was ready, he didn't miss his chance. After two years of work and progression, Prukop took over as the starter in 2014 and didn't look back, throwing for 5,584 yards (46 TD/16 INT). Prukop matched his gaudy passing numbers on the ground, rushing for 24 scores on 5.3 yards per carry, becoming a true dual threat quarterback.
The tape backs up the numbers. Especially in the Ducks' system, Prukop appears ready to command a team with Pac-12 title aspirations. Remind you of anyone?
Prukop thrives on ad libbing with his considerable athleticism and speed, but his style also conjures up Manziel with his exceptional touch on throws off his back foot. Although he might not usually be the elusive ninja that Manziel was scurrying around the pocket (that's probably a good thing), his improvisational throws rival Manziel's. Who needs to set your feet anyway?
With a strong arm and impeccable awareness, he has a unique ability to turn disaster into touchdowns. Like here, where he looks down field and finds no receivers open.
He buys some time, and then is forced to make a decision: run, or find a target to hit? An incoming defender makes that choice pretty straightforward.
With no time to run and little room to make the pass, Prukop decides to make his own window. Off his back foot to give himself more time to throw, Prukop nails a strong man's twenty-yard strike to the end zone. Touchdown.
He also has a special knack for averting batted passes -- another indicator of his strong football instinct and composure. Here, when a defender forced a quick throw, he took a jump up and launched a one-legged dart over the defenders' hands, avoiding an incompletion (or worse).
Prukop has the intangible, uncoachable "it" -- instinct, and the weapons, namely arm strength and balance, to back it up. He does little things that others can't afford to and coaches probably wouldn't teach -- and they all add up. And that doesn't mean he's undisciplined either.
Instead of running 400 yards to gain 40 like Manziel, Prukop instinct is to look downfield and find someone to dump off to. If no one's around, he'll take it himself or throw it away.
Take this 2014 play against eventual FCS champion South Dakota State. Montana State lined up in its typical shotgun set, with trips right. Quickly, Prukop had a defender in his face.
With no receivers open, Prukop had to use his legs to wiggle his way out of trouble. Seemed to work okay.
Once he escapes, however, he's staring down another defender. Here, a less disciplined running quarterback would see one man and try to beat him. Instead, Prukop sees a receiver in front of him in double coverage, so he takes the safe play and throws it away five yards in front of his wideout, avoiding a flag and a turnover.
Although his lightning speed and strong running downhill style helped him tear apart Big Sky defenses, he doubles as a strong, confident pocket passer. That could fly in Alabama's pro-style system, or any in the country, for that matter. That certainly includes the Ducks'.
Oregon and Montana State run fairly similar spread offenses — quick passes, bubble screens, and read options, almost exclusively out of the shotgun. With his sound decision-making, vertical passing and running skills, he could fit in quickly.
Even if he doesn't open the season as the signal-caller, he could force his way into the lineup -- the talent and drive are there. Despite facing long odds after high school, Prukop has never taken no for an answer. Don't expect him to this year.
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