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Combine News And Notes: Quarterback

Posted Feb 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- The second day of media availability at the 2014 NFL Combine has come and gone, with the offensive skill players holding court to a host of national reporters before meeting with NFL teams. Needless to say, no position garners more buzz during the draft process than the quarterback spot, and on Friday the signal callers stepped to the podium to discuss what NFL teams are hoping to see them improve on before the start of the 2014 season.

To some quarterbacks, it was a simple answer.

“I think everything,” according to Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. “That’s what I’ve been doing these past two months is being able to really try and polish everything off, making sure everything looks consistent. When you have a proper pocket, everything’s consistent. You’re putting your own platform. You’re throwing the ball with the same mechanics and doing that whole thing and everything’s going the way you want it to go.”

While Bortles looked to improve on every facet of his game, other prospects knew they had to hone in one on particular aspect of their game.

“Release point,” Alabama’s A.J. McCarron deadpanned. “All the experts try to knock me on my deep ball. (They) try to say my arm’s not strong. My arm’s strong enough, I mean I can throw the ball 65 yards, but I had a bad habit of releasing the ball out wide. If you go back and watch my film, you can see the film doesn’t lie on that. The times I had to throw the ball deep and I stayed with a vertical release on it, the ball went far. So that was the biggest thing for me ... finishing my throws on the deep ball.”

It was no surprise that the biggest media draw on Friday belonged to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is anxious to prove his doubters wrong and show NFL talent evaluators that he will continue to improve his game.

“I’m looking forward to shoring up all the people that are saying that I’m just an improviser,” the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner said. “I feel like I worked extremely hard this year to all-around hone in on my game, so continuing to do that ... and getting better as a pocket passer and as a quarterback in general.”

Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas has all the physical tools one would want in a pro quarterback, boasting one of the strongest arms in the draft class. One of the biggest knocks against the former Hokie, however, is accuracy. On Friday, Thomas elaborated on how he can improve his ball placement.

“My biggest problem was, I was getting on my tippy-toes which was causing me to throw high or throw low. Now, I set my foot down flat on the ground, and it gives me the correct amount of energy I need to produce through my base up through my arm, which allows me to be more accurate,” Thomas said. “It’s been all offseason, I’ve been trying to work on getting better and better at it. Along with not standing up all the way, playing 6-foot-3 instead of 6-foot-6 ... there’s always something new to learn.”

“The quarterback is never done learning, no matter how many years you’ve been in the league,” according to Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo. “I’m just trying to progress smoothly ... no part of my game is perfect by any means. So, if I keep progressing the way I am day in and day out, then I’ll be in good hands.”

Some quarterbacks look for coaches who push you to improve and progress each and every day, relying on that support to become a better player. Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who is recovering from a torn ACL and isn’t working out in Indianapolis, echoed that sentiment.

“I want someone that’s going to drive me every single day to improve my footwork, improve my accuracy, to never be happy with where I’m at because I’m never happy with where I’m at,” the four-year starter said.

NUGGETS: NICK FOLES AN ADVISOR?

  • Bortles has been tabbed by many as the favorite to be taken first overall by the Houston Texans in May. The former UCF star had a dominant junior season that saw him take his team on the road in Happy Valley against Penn State and come away with a victory, no easy feat. The losing coach on that day? Bill O’Brien, now the head coach of the Texans. So would Bortles remind O’Brien of that fateful day in State College?

“I don’t know if I’ll bring that up, but it was a great game. Early in the year, faced some adversity in a hostile environment and really got kind of acclimated to playing in places like that," Bortles said. "We did it again a couple times early in the year, like at Louisville and stuff of that sort. But that was a huge game that kind of kept the momentum rolling for our team this season.”

  • In one of the quotes that resulted in the most laughter from reporters on Friday, McCarron talked about why he wasn’t worried about falling in the draft and, therefore, losing out on more money. “I don’t worry about money, I was raised without money. Being broke, I’m used to it.” McCarron was recently tabbed as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s No. 5 quarterback in the draft.
  • In one of the most touching stories from Friday’s media session, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr spoke with reporters about the issues surrounding his newborn son’s health. Born on August 5, Carr’s son, Dallas, was born with a very rare condition.

“He was born with intestinal malrotation, and so what that means is his intestines were all tangled up and nothing was passing through. And he was born eight days early, so the doctors told us that if he was born on time, we would have gave birth and he wouldn’t have lived. So when we found out, what would happen is he would throw up like six feet, so he was throwing up everywhere and they rushed him to surgery,” Carr said.

“He ended up having three surgeries and the Colorado game that got canceled for us, that was his last surgery and so all things happen for a reason, right? Games don’t get canceled in college football, but that one did. It happened to be that week, so that was his last surgery.”

Thankfully, Dallas is healthy now and shows no ill signs from the surgeries. His dad, emotional talking about the entire ordeal on Friday, starred in January’s Senior Bowl but will not be participating in throwing drills here in Indianapolis.

  • During his media session, Manziel discussed his relationship with a pair of successful NFL quarterbacks and how they have mentored him throughout the process, Tom Brady and Cam Newton.

“For (Brady) to reach back out to me after I extended a text message to him was extremely cool. Kind of a funny conversation at first, worked out way into a more serious conversation, but it was really nice,” the 5-foot-11 Manziel said. “He kind of gave me a little joke about teaching him to run like I can and he’ll do anything in the world for me. It was pretty funny.”

“Being another Heisman Trophy winner, I got a chance to really reach out to (Newton) in the spring ... I probably had a two-hour conversation, just getting to talk about everything, just about the people he has around him, what has made him so successful. I’m very eager to listen to him. He’s a very fun-loving, fun-natured guy. I’m really thankful to be able to pick up the phone and call him if I ever need anything.”

  • Manziel isn’t the only quarterback familiarizing himself with current NFL quarterbacks, as Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage talked about his relationship with Nick Foles.

Savage has one of the most roundabout journey’s you’ll see in a college career. A top recruit out of Philadelphia’s Cardinal O’Hara high school, Savage started his career at Rutgers where he was a freshman All-American.

After losing his starting job due to injury as a sophomore, Savage (regretfully) decided to transfer to Arizona. Unfortunately, a coaching change saw Rich Rodriguez take the job with the Wildcats, and at 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, Savage didn’t see himself as a fit in Rodriguez’ speed option system, and decided to once again pack his bags. After a failed attempt to transfer back to Rutgers, he walked on at Pitt, where after sitting out the 2012 season he was able to finally start as a senior in 2013. On Friday, Savage talked about Foles, his former teammate at Arizona, and the advice he’s given him throughout the process.

“I talk to (Foles) all the time. He’s a good buddy of mine,” the former Philadelphia prep star said. “He says to stay patient. Block out the noise ... have fun and enjoy it because it’s a lifetime opportunity.”

  • Foles isn’t alone as an Eagles quarterback advising an NFL Draft hopeful. After performing at both the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl in January, Garoppolo said he’s been training out in California and working with a former quarterback Eagles fans may remember: Ty Detmer. The former BYU star played for the Eagles for two years from 1996-97, and now works with young passers preparing for the NFL Draft. Garoppolo glowed when asked about his new mentor, saying Ty imparted a ton of knowledge on him in just over three days of work.

“He taught me things that I really had no clue about the game until he explained it. Then you’re like, ‘Oh, why didn’t I think about that a long time ago?’ Just how the fronts and the linebackers tie into the coverages, how different offensive formations dictate coverages. He worked with me in the pocket, getting me used to the three-, five- and seven-step drop and he’s gone a great job with me really,” Garoppolo said.

  • One of the knocks on Georgia’s Murray is his height (measuring in at just over 6-feet and 207 pounds). He explained why he thought height wasn’t going to be an issue in terms of his NFL success.

“I think it was two or three years ago we had, on paper, the biggest offensive line in the world. We had the biggest offensive line in college and pro. We averaged like 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, like 320 pounds, and I threw for 35 or 36 touchdowns that year” Murray said. “So, no problem at all ... as a quarterback you’re not really looking over offensive linemen, you’re looking through throwing lanes. You just have to be able to use your feet, maneuver in the pocket, be able to stay in the position and throw the ball accurately and deliver a strike.”

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