INDIANAPOLIS – Marcus Mariota had center stage Thursday.
Jameis Winston, the other quarterback considered in contention for the top pick of the NFL Draft on April 30, wasn’t available for the appointed meeting with the media horde covering the Scouting Combine because of a scheduling conflict for medical examinations. He’ll get his turn Friday.
On Thursday, it was all about Mariota.
And the first question he heard, of course, was whether it would also be all about him on draft day when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do with the first overall choice.
“It doesn’t really affect me at all,” the former Oregon standout said. “That’s going to be their opinion, that’s going to be their decision. All I can really control is how I prepare and get ready for whatever team picks me.
“Any player would stand in front of you and tell you they’re confident in their abilities, and I’m no different. What I’ve been able to do at the University of Oregon and what I’ve learned has prepared me for this. As a competitor, any person would tell you that they’re the best. I truly believe that in myself. We’ll see whatever decision is made. I’ve got to go in with that mentality.”
Mariota’s humble nature and sterling character are qualities that form one of two significant separation points from Winston, the former Florida State star who is generally viewed as having greater talent but carries the baggage of multiple off-field issues during his collegiate career.
The other separation point is that Mariota played in a spread-style offense at Oregon that never asked him to call detailed plays the way he will in the NFL and, for the most part, didn’t ask him to make the longer and more challenging throws he will have to make in the league.
Mariota has been working with a quarterbacks coach, Kevin O’Connell, who was recently hired to fill that position with the Cleveland Browns, and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. O’Connell and Rivers have been teaching Mariota the ways of NFL quarterbacking.
One of the methods O’Connell employed to help get Mariota used to calling NFL-style plays was to give him a play sheet and have him read the play calls out loud each night so he could become accustomed to doing so in the huddle.
“That’s something little, but as this process goes, it’s going to help me with whatever team I get to in terms of just speaking in the huddle and articulating the plays,” he said. “I haven’t huddled in a while. That will be one thing. It seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing.
“There’s other things as well. Three-, five-, seven-step drops under center. That’s all stuff I’ve been able to work on the last month.”
Unlike many other highly rated prospects before him, Mariota plans to take advantage of the chance to show coaches and scouts from all 32 NFL teams how well he can throw a football on Saturday on the field in Lucas Oil Stadium. Winston also is expected to throw, along with the other quarterback prospects.
“I felt that I was ready and prepared to do it,” Mariota said.
He acknowledges that he faces a major adjustment, as any rookie quarterback does. But he expresses a clear sense of confidence that he can successfully make the transition.
“I’m going to continue to absorb as much as I can, learn from all the people I can and do my best in whatever situation I get into,” he said.
There are critics who have said they haven’t seen him make NFL-style throws during his games at Oregon. Mariota is unfazed by that.
“All it takes is one team to believe in me and to give me an opportunity,” he said. “I’ll do my best to make the most of it.”
Does the criticism fuel his determination to prove people wrong?
“I guess you could say it’s a little bit of motivation, but it’s not the reason why I’m doing it,” Mariota said. “There’s a purpose of why I’m here and why I’m standing in front of you and that’s because I love the game, I want to be part of this game, I want to be part of this game for a long time.
“My motivation isn’t to prove anybody wrong. My motivation is to make a dream come true for me.”