Oregon fans know all too well how special a football player Marcus Mariota can be when playing at full strength.
When he was healthy last season, the Ducks were barreling toward the national championship game and Mariota's name topped every Heisman poll. NFL scouts took notice, too, and there was talk of him being a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Mariota partially sprained his MCL midway through the season, however, and both the team and his draft stock took a bit of a hit.
As Oregon begins spring practice this week, though, Mariota looks healthy and focused on improving both his and the team's fortunes.
"I think the biggest takeaway from last season was we had a lot to learn," Mariota told oregonlive.com after practice on Tuesday. "I was trying to do too much with it. It kind of put our team in a bad spot. It's one of those deals where you look back at it and kind of replay your decision-making over and over again. You can't do much about it, it's in the past, but you can definitely learn from it."
Mariota threw for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns and was picked off just four times in 2013. He struggled after injuring his knee, and the team suffered tough losses to Stanford and Arizona that knocked the Ducks out of title contention. After some recovery time, Mariota wowed everyone with his skill set in a bowl win against Texas and popped back up on the NFL radar.
The redshirt junior will have another year of eligibility left in college after the 2014 season, but it would be a surprise if he didn't turn pro. With an eye toward making it through the season fully healthy -- and perhaps addressing a knock scouts have about him being a little on the lighter side -- the 6-foot-5 quarterback has bulked up to 218 pounds while still keeping his trademark speed.
"My mentality is still the same," Mariota said. "I have to continue to get better."
That could be a scary thought for some Pac-12 defensive coordinators but a welcome one for teams that have an eye on drafting a quarterback in 2015. On top of his physical stature, Mariota often draws comparisons to current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick thanks to his passing and ability to make plays with his feet.
The added weight he'll carry into this season should do nothing but help scouts check off another box when evaluating the impressive signal-caller.
Though Mariota is far from a polished product, an improved version in 2014 will only heat up talk that he'll be one of the top quarterbacks available for NFL teams next year.