Oregon coach Chip Kelly has no use for depth charts before preseason camp is over. He sees 22 practice before earnest game preparation begins for the Sept. 1 opener against Arkansas State. A lot can happen in 22 practices.
"Everything is open," he said.
Sure, there's a little bit of coach-speak there. With 14 starters back from the 2011 Pac-12 champions, as well as plenty of key backups, it's actually not terribly difficult to project most of the Ducks' starting positions. There are plenty of the usual suspects, from Kenjon Barner, to Dion Jordan, to John Boyett, to Michael Clay to De'Anthony Thomas to Jackson Rice.
But Kelly isn't one to obsess about crowning starters on a depth chart even when games begin. To him, a strong two-deep is the thing to remain the Pac-12 king.
"I think we've really developed depth here the last couple of years," he said. "Everybody understands that. It's not about being the No. 1 guy. It's about being in the rotation."
Ah, but there is one special spot that will keep Ducks fans agog and, really, is one of the major preseason questions in all of college football: Who's going to replace Darron Thomas at quarterback? Marcus Mariota, who had the standout spring game? Or Bryan Bennett, who stepped in admirably for an injured Thomas a year ago?
“I’ve got a lot of faith -- after seeing Bryan for a couple years now, and Marcus for a full year now -- in both those guys’ abilities to play,” Kelly said.
A top-five preseason ranking in just about every poll, including the recently released coaches poll, suggests many share Kelly's faith that QB won't be a big issue. But faith isn't certainty. Competing for the starting job is one thing. Leading a top-five team is another. Just because Dennis Dixon blossomed and Jeremiah Masoli and Thomas had success as first-year starters under Kelly doesn't mean that will always be the case, and Kelly admitted as much.
"Their first snap is going to be really our first look at how they handle it," he said. "I anticipate them being very successful, but we’ll see. That’s obviously a big question for all of us.”
Kelly also said he's not opposed to playing two guys, though he said his experience in such competitions is there's typically a clear winner.
As far as what Kelly is looking for out of his starter, it's a mixture of measurable performance -- efficiency, protecting the football, running the plays correctly -- and less tangible things -- leadership, instincts, moxie, etc.
"I can't give you a concrete thing -- A 'Hey, I need to see this,'" he said.
Of course, fans and media won't see much of anything as practices and scrimmages are closed. While scuttlebutt will certainly get out, it will be difficult to know how reliable it is. Here's a guess there will be conflicting reports from players who enjoy toying with media, students and other fans trying to pry out tidbits of information. It's unlikely anything will be official before Aug. 24, and Kelly may even wait until the Monday before the season-opener.
Everyone in the know, however, knows it's going to be Mariota. No, Bennett. No, Mariota. Bennett!
Let the speculation begin.