Smith, Leak Still Trying To Answer NFL Doubters

By Billy Turner
Updated: January 25, 2007

MOBILE, Ala. — He’s short for his position. He has a strong arm, quick feet and his leadership skills are off the board. He is a winner. But he’s short for his position. So he must fight and prove himself again.

Who is he?

He could be Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith of Ohio State. Smith completed 65 percent of his passes as a senior, passing for 2,542 yards.

He was selected the top college football player for his 35 touchdown passes and for leading Ohio State to an unbeaten regular season. Smith finished 10-1 as a starter against teams ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Or he could be former Florida quarterback Chris Leak, who passed for 2,942 yards as a senior, 11,213 yards for his career. More importantly, he was the quarterback of the Florida team that beat Smith’s Buckeyes in the BCS championship game.

But at the 2007 Under Armour Senior Bowl, National Football League scouts continue to measure them, scrutinize them, interview them.

Neither is surprised that after all this time there still is more to be proven.

“Nah. That’s the story of my life,” Smith said. “I’m used to it. I feel as if I don’t have that much to prove because where I’m from, success stories like this are not supposed to happen.”

The scouting report on Smith, from the 2007 NFL Draft Prospect Report, says that he is very athletic with “great speed for the position. Arm is more than adequate. Throws a nice ball. Moves well, can scramble, throw on the run and hurt the opponent with his feet.”

This week at Senior Bowl practice, he has shown a bit of all that. His throws on outs are strong. His throws down the middle are accurate.

He said he has worked hard for this moment.

“I was just excited and anxious to get here to be a part of this elite group of guys,” he said, “and to reunite with my good friends, Drew Stanton and Tyler Palko (fellow North squad quarterbacks).

“I need to work every day, but I’m ready and willing to learn every day from Coach (Jon) Gruden and his staff.”

The scouting report on Leak is similar. “A solid athlete who can make something happen with his feet. His arm is adequate. Has a lot of experience. Throws well on the run. Is the football equivalent of a gym rat. Very productive.”

Still, some doubt the strength of that arm. Some say that his time spent in Florida’s stretch-option offense has hurt his development.

His position coach this week, Norv Turner of the San Francisco 49ers, isn’t one of those who question the arm, though.

“Right now, he’s playing with great confidence,” Turner said. “I think he’s had two great days here. He’s got a strong arm and a quick release, that’s a nice combination. He’s thrown some nice balls, the intermediate and obviously the long ball.

“I was in Miami the past couple of years, and I know the back and forth (about Leak). Obviously he saved his best for last. He played great down the stretch this year.”

Leak, ever a team-oriented player, wouldn’t talk about what he thinks he needs to do to impress scouts, however.

“I’m real excited to be able to work with Coach Turner and the San Francisco staff,” he said. “We’re learning a lot. We’re getting various plays in. I’m just doing whatever I can to help my team to win the game”.

“Whatever else happens, happens. That’s really what I’m focusing on, getting better as a player. Everybody wants to have a good game, to play well against the best in the country would be very fortunate”.

“It’s a great feeling to start learning the pro system. It’s getting back to the basics and fundamentals of things and getting better as a player. It’s just going out and playing effectively. There is a lot of talent out there, and you don’t see that much talent together in your years as a player. I don’t have anything to prove.”

So if the arm strength is there, the legs are good, the playmaking ability known, what is the drawback on these two guys?

Smith measured 6 feet and weighed 222 pounds. Leak was measured at 5 feet 11 7/8 and weighed 203 pounds — about the size of Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Ohio State quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels pointed out that Smith had just seven passes knocked down this season, and five of those were on three-step drops. “Some teams will say, ‘No, he’s too short,’ and just end the conversation,” Daniels said.

“Troy Smith, to me, is Drew Brees,” senior analyst Gil Brandt has said.

Turner said of Leak, what could also be said of Smith: “We’re so early, and we’ve just ended our season. I don’t really know what the knock on him is. Obviously when you have a quarterback right at his height, that’s where the red light that goes on”.

“You have to compare players his height to ones who are playing, and there are players who are 6 feet tall. You have to ask what are the things they do that he doesn’t, and maybe there are things he does that they don’t.”

They can’t grow at this point, so both quarterbacks are simply going to work hard, they said.

“I was just talking to Troy,” Leak said. “We’re just trying to come out and perform well and do whatever it takes to make our teams successful. That’s all we can do.”