Badgers' Wilson Stands Tall
INDIANAPOLIS ? John Schneider laughed. The Seattle Seahawks general manager ? himself standing a towering 5-foot-8 ? had just been asked whether, when evaluating quarterbacks, height is an overrated quality.
?I?m with you on that,? the former Green Bay Packers director of football operations chuckled.
While presumptive No. 1 and No. 2 picks Andrew Luck (6-foot-4) and Robert Griffin III (6-foor-2 3/8) have been the most talked-about quarterbacks at his week?s NFL Scouting Combine, the University of Wisconsin?s Russell Wilson (5-foot-11) and Boise State?s Kellen Moore (6-feet) have been hot topics of discussion, too.
Not for what they are (productive, winning quarterbacks), but for what they are not (tall).
?I truly believe the height?s really not a factor,? Wilson said during a break in workouts and measurements at Lucas Oil Stadium. ?I believe the Lord put me on this earth to demonstrate that, to show tons and tons of kids across the world that anything?s possible. You know, I?m a 5-foot-11 quarterback, but I believe I can make every single throw on the football field.?
Last season, Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin and led the Badgers to their second consecutive Rose Bowl, throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns with just four interceptions to lead the nation in pass efficiency (191.78). Moore won 50 games during his Boise State career, the most ever by a college quarterback, and threw 142 touchdown passes, second-most all time.
But despite their impressive numbers and team success, NFL general managers and coaches aren?t entirely sure how to feel about them.
?I think 32 teams are battling that right now,? San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke said. ?You're always looking at the film. And you look at the stats and the production and the winning. What's the most important thing for a quarterback to do? It's to win games, to find a way to win, to lead their team to victory.
?So that has to mean something. What it means to me is going to be different than what it means to the next person. But you're certainly taking a look at what they've done in the past because that's usually a pretty good indicator of what they're going to do in the future.?
When Packers general manager Ted Thompson?s turn at the podium came Friday in the media room, he followed Denver Broncos president John Elway, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. Elway, now 51, was listed at 6-3 and 215 pounds during his playing career.
?At the end of the day, yeah, you?d like to have the prototypical (size). You?d like to have guys who are like John Elway, who was just up here. That doesn?t mean it?s an end-all, be-all,? Thompson said. ?There?s some really good players ? one certainly in New Orleans that?s probably not ideal height. It doesn?t seem to bother him at all.?
That player Thompson was referring to, of course, is Drew Brees, whom the San Diego Chargers took in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft out of Purdue and has since gone on to lead the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl title. In 2011, he broke Dan Marino?s NFL record for passing yards in a single season.
Brees is listed at 6-foot.
?They just have to do everything quicker,? Schneider explained. ?They have to have quicker feet, they have to have quicker eyes, they have to have quicker anticipation. They have to do everything faster. Drew Brees, everything he does is like way ahead ? ahead of ahead of time, you know what I mean? He?s dropping balls in when guys are coming out of their breaks. He can move in the pocket, and find passing lanes. Those (shorter) guys have to do everything much faster and quicker than other guys.?
Wilson appears to have that ability. He?s been studying film of Brees ? along with other undersized NFL quarterbacks going back to Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie ? to get a better feel for what he has to do to counteract his, ah, shortcomings.
?Drew Brees has unbelievable feet. I?ve watched tons and tons of film on him, and the things he does in the pocket are just remarkable,? Wilson said. ?You have to be able to understand the offense, know the whys of football, play with rhythm and timing and just be athletic. I definitely believe I?m one of the most athletic guys here, without a doubt in my mind, and so I think that gives me an advantage. I have great feet in the pocket. (And) I have a high, quick release, which when you play with rhythm and timing, it?s hard to stop.
On Sunday, Wilson ran the 40-yard dash in unofficial times of 4.50 seconds and 4.56 seconds, with only RGIII?s unofficial 4.38 clocking in faster. He went through the on-field quarterback-receiver drills, and although the workouts are done under less-than-ideal conditions ? throwing to unfamiliar receivers with scores of NFL eyes critiquing your every move ? by all accounts he threw the ball well. Of course, he also didn?t have defensive linemen blocking his throwing lanes, either.
?He may be 5-10, but he plays like he?s 6-6,? said Wisconsin offensive tackle Josh Oglesby, shorting his UW teammate and fellow Combine participant a valuable inch. ?He has the biggest heart of anyone. There were some games this year where if we didn?t have Russell, the outcome probably would have been different. If you want to see how gutsy and how much heart he has, flip on the Big Ten championship game. He kept us in that game and made big plays after big plays.
?For someone to come in and do what he did in the offense that we ran, in the amount of time he had, is just incredible. We ran a pretty complex offense as a college program, and for him to pick it up the way he did and have the command of it he did was just incredible. (NFL scouts) are going to find out right away that he?s a smart guy. And, he?s a great athlete ? just watch the film. He?d be in practice and it?d look like he was just flipping his wrist and the ball would be flying 70 yards in the air, on target. He?s got great speed, quickness, agility, awareness on the field.
?Just a great talent. And it was great blocking for him because, even if you were a little off, a little shaky on the edge, he?d be able to get you out of some bad situations.?
Added UW wide receiver Nick Toon, who?s also taking part in the Combine: ?Obviously I played with Russell, so I know what he can do. I think he?s not as under-the-radar as a lot of people think he is. But wherever he ends up, he?ll surprise a lot of people, and I think he?ll be a great asset to whatever team he ends up on. ? I knew from the first time I played catch with him that he was a special player.?
One NFL college scouting director at the Combine said he had Wilson with a fourth-round grade coming into the week, and that the grade was based not only on his production and athleticism but his intangibles ? especially his leadership and intelligence. For his part, Wilson clearly understands that those are his biggest assets when selling himself to his prospective employers.
?I think more than anything, (this week is about) just trying to show my leadership, the talent that I have running, throwing as well,? said Wilson, who also met with NFL coaches during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., and performed well. ?They?ve seen a lot of film already; they?ve done a lot of studying. They know that I can make all the throws. So I?m just trying to reassure that I?m one of the best players, and I definitely have all the confidence in the world in myself and my abilities. And I believe I?ve shown that over my career.
?In terms of knowledge of the game, in terms of knowing protections, in terms of the concepts and stepping into a brand new huddle like I did at the University of Wisconsin, teams really know that my leadership is there, my understanding of the game is there and obviously my ability as well.?
A former baseball player ? Wilson was a fourth-round draft pick (140th overall) of the Colorado Rockies, and he played on their Class A affiliate in Ashville last summer ? he?s still only 23 years old because his baseball career wasn?t as length a detour as, say, the one Oklahoma State?s Brandon Weeden took. Wilson believes his experience as a professional athlete, albeit in another sport, also helps him.
?Obviously you have so much failure in baseball. You have to realize that you have to focus on one thing at a time,? Wilson explained. ?When you?re playing second base or you?re hitting at the plate or whatever, you?re one pitch at a time, one play at a time, and it?s the exact same thing playing the quarterback position. You have to have amnesia, and that?s something I?m really good at, no matter how good I?m doing or how bad I?m doing. I have to focus on one play and put my team in the best situation possible and I try to show tremendous poise on the football field and on the sideline to my teammates so they feed off my leadership, and I think that?s a positive.?
Much was made of Wilson?s transfer to Wisconsin ? critics repeatedly called him a one-year rental player, or worse ? but having completed his undergraduate work (he has a degree in communication and broadcasting) he was able to play immediately and attend school as a graduate student, studying higher education. There was limited crossover between the Wolfpack?s West Coast scheme and the Badgers? play-action vertical passing game,
Now, he?s hoping to do his post-graduate work in the NFL.
?Hopefully I won?t be done for another 15 years or so. Hopefully I?ll be a Pro Bowler. Who knows? Hopefully a Super Bowl winner,? Wilson replied when asked if he wanted to go into broadcasting or teaching after football. ?But after I?m done playing, I?d love to be a head coach or GM.?
And as Schneider has shown, there is no height requirement for that.
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