INDIANAPOLIS — Confidence is big here in Indy.
Ask a draft prospect a series of questions about his abilities, and you’ll likely get the same type of responses.
Q: Are you a pass-rush specialist?
A: No. I feel I can do a great job against the run.
Q: Are you best as an in-the-box safety?
A: Not really. I have the ability to cover.
Q: Is your best asset making plays downfield?
A: Nope. I can be effective over the middle.
That’s just typically how the Q&A sessions go. Prospects are reluctant to show any signs of perceived weakness. They all say they’re the best at their respective positions and deserve to be first-round picks.
So it should come as no surprise that when West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was asked about potentially playing in an offense that ran the read-option, he said it would be no problem.
“Well, I played in three different systems in college. I’ve also played in the read-option system,” he said. “I had to adapt because coming out of high school, I had no say in that system. So I had to adapt to it. I think that’s something I’ve always been capable of. I think I have the skill set that fits any offense. I can play within the pocket, but I’m athletic enough to run that style of offense.
“Whatever it takes for me to put my team in the best position to win games, that’s what I’ll do, and that’s what I’ve always felt was necessary for me and anyone else to play quarterback. I have the ability to [run the read option]. I don’t think that’s my game. I don’t think my game is predicated around that. If a coach wants me to, I’ll definitely be all for it.”
Last year, Smith (6-3, 214) ran for 167 yards – that’s not in one game, that’s all season. The numbers are skewed since sacks count as rushing attempts in college, but you get the point: He has not been a running quarterback.
He’s reportedly spent time studying Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees - two quarterbacks who are mobile, but won’t be running the read-option any time soon.
Last season, West Virginia started off with a five-game winning streak that included victories over Baylor and Texas. But the Mountaineers then lost five in a row.
“The one thing I take from that experience is that being a leader, you’re not going to deal with fair situations at all times,” Smith, who is expected to be a first-round pick, said. “The main thing I learned was that to stop whatever goes on, in my position as the leader of the team, I’ve got to set the bar and lead by example. That’s what I did for my team.”
Meanwhile, the one QB who might fit Chip Kelly’s (projected) preference as a passer who can also run is Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. You probably know the story by now, but just in case, Kelly recruited Manuel out of high school. The two met up at the Senior Bowl, and the Seminoles’ signal-caller has made it clear he’d love to join the Eagles.
“Obviously, I went to Florida State and played for coach (Jimbo) Fisher. Oregon was on the other side of the country,” Manuel said. “Maybe if I had been from California, I may have considered those guys more. But I definitely watched their games. I saw the success he had. He’s in Philadelphia now, so we’ll see what happens.”
Manuel was not a prolific runner in college (310 yards last season), but he has a chance to show off his athleticism at the Combine. Some think he could sneak into the first round. Others project him as a third- or fourth-rounder.
Asked if he thinks he can run the read-option in the NFL, Manuel said, “Most definitely. I did a little bit of it at Florida State. Coach Fisher would wrinkle it in whenever he felt we would be good doing that against a team. So it wasn’t like we did it the whole time. But I know we can do it. It’s not a very complex thing. It’s mostly reading the end and also reading the big picture as far as the linebacker playing outside the end.”
One theme throughout the week here has been the production from last year’s quarterback class. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson all showed they could be effective in their first years.
All three (along with 2011 pick Colin Kaepernick) showed they could use their athleticism as an advantage.
“I don’t think I have to be Colin Kaepernick. I don’t have to be Russell Wilson. I can be EJ Manuel. But I do see a lot of my abilities in those guys,” Manuel said.
“Knowing that kind of quarterback, a guy who can run and throw – not necessarily run first, but who can throw the ball and also have that run threat, it’s more accepted now. Whereas five to 10 years ago, it really wasn’t accepted. And you definitely didn’t want to act like you [wanted to] run. You just wanted to sit in the pocket the whole time. Now, it’s more embraced as a QB.”
Manuel and Smith are both expected to participate fully in workouts on Sunday.