INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The discussion rages on about the 2015 quarterback class. Can QB's make the transition to the NFL without ever getting in a huddle during their college careers? Can they understand a play call, relay it to their teammates and analyze a defense well enough to make checks at the line of scrimmage?
Marcus Mariota is the poster boy for NFL scouts and GMs trying to answer those questions in 2015. It's an uphill climb, as history doesn't show that transition to be a smooth one. Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians went as far as to say that running an offense based on poster boards and hand signals doesn't illustrate the leadership needed from an NFL signal caller.
Mariota said Wednesday that he hears the noise, but it's still just noise.
"It doesn't affect me at all," he said. "That's going to be their opinion and that's going to be their decision. All I can control is how I prepare and get ready for whatever team picks me."
The former Oregon Duck is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. In fact, he is the most decorated Duck in the history of Ducks. Mariota threw for 4,454 yards, 42 touchdowns and just four interceptions to earn his Heisman Trophy. He reached the end zone 134 times in all during his career, while his 12,661 career all-purpose yards set a Pac-12 record.
None of that matters anymore. Can his college success translate to a pro-style offense? That's what reporters wanted to know from Mariota on Wednesday.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota addresses reporters on Day 2 of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. (Photos: AP, Gary Glenn)
Mariota is in the running to be the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, along with Florida State's Jameis Winston, with a sizable gap projected between whoever is taken third. He's spent the last month since losing the National Championship game to Ohio State training in San Diego working with Kevin O'Connell, the man who recently became the Cleveland Browns new quarterbacks coach.
Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt made his best pitch to get Mariota down to Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl to play on his North Team. Mariota said he declined the invitation for a mixture of football and health reasons. He'd been dealing with a shoulder injury since season's end and decided he was better off skipping the Senior Bowl in order to begin training in San Diego.
Mariota weighed in Wednesday at 222 pounds, standing over 6-feet-3 inches tall. He also reiterated that he will throw on Saturday with the rest of the quarterbacks at the combine, continuing his quiet pursuit to be the top pick in the draft.
"Any player will stand here and tell you that they're confident in their abilities and I'm no different," he said confidently without singing his own praises. "I feel like what I've been able to do at the University of Oregon and what I've been able to learn has prepared me for this."
O'Connell has given Mariota a play sheet and instructed the quarterback to read it out loud every night before he goes to bed. It's a small task, but part of the process in becoming comfortable as a professional quarterback.
It's no surprise that being in a huddle would be Mariota's biggest adjustment to the NFL, something he hasn't done since his high school days. Still, when asked about how difficult his transition will be, Mariota wouldn't let himself be singled out amongst his quarterback peers.
"I think for any rookie quarterback it's going to be an adjustment stepping to this new level," he said. "For me, I'm going to continue to absorb as much as I can and learn from all the people that I can."
San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has also been spending time with Mariota this winter during his combine prep. Rivers is no stranger to critics, all of whom said his three-quarter arm delivery wouldn't translate to the NFL.
Mariota said he doesn't emulate any other quarterback, but he surely wouldn't argue with Rivers' success as a pro that includes five trips to the Pro Bowl.
The questions went on for nearly 15 minutes – different words essentially asking the same thing. Mariota's answers remained steady.
He's ready. He's going to do it his way. He's going to be himself. And he's not going to let anyone's opinion change that.