Joe Licata believes in himself.
Never mind that some draft experts have 30 or 40 other quarterbacks ranked ahead of him in this year's class. The Williamsville native who started 3 1/2 years at UB with 9,485 yards and 76 career touchdowns is "certain" in his abilities, beyond confident, on the cusp of this weekend's draft. While he probably won't be drafted, he's eager to join a NFL camp, fight for a roster spot and win with this mind.
In addition to the main story in our NFL Draft Preview, here's a Q&A from our conversation at Sahlen's Sports Park where Licata has been training...
What do you know about yourself, your game and how you approach it that gives you a shot? “I was in Jersey training and I had a chance to talk to Chad Pennington and he kind of outlined what I should be trying to sell to people. It was I started 40 games. I was a 3 ½-year starter. I have the experience factor. I’m a hard worker. And I really love the game. I’m obsessed with it. I watch film every time I can get in. I’m obsessed with the in’s and out’s of the game and that obsession will drive me to never give up on the sport that I love.”
You need to be obsessed as a QB. So how did you take it here… to there? “I was big in the film room and had a good understanding of the ‘why’ of our schemes so I was big into getting into the coach’s mind and asking thousands of questions to learn everything the coach was thinking. Back when Coach Wood was the coordinator on Coach Quinn’s staff, he’d say ‘You have to know at least what I know and probably more to be out there doing what we’re doing.’ So I took a real desire to know the offense and everything that’s going on. That’s why Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Drew Brees were so successful for so long. They really love the game.”
What would be examples of that? “There’s constant examples of hot reads or you see a safety turn one way but you’d studied on film Sunday through Friday. So you knew what they were most likely to do. So I was big into situations. Say, second and long I know they like to roll the safety down and blitz off the weak side. So I was big on knowing stuff like that and really studying that. There are two different types of quarterbacks. There’s guys who study a lot of film and know the game that way and there’s guys who react to the game. The great ones can do both. The reacting to the game part is just natural. But the studying part and working your butt off in the film room — everyone can do that but it’s about the desire to do it.
“So I’d go in every Sunday and watch a couple hours of film to break down the game before and then start watching our next opponent. I’d come in Monday for meetings and the coach would explain to us what the team was going to do but I already knew. Before I got the game plan, I knew what their top four coverages were, I knew what their top blitzes were. All that stuff. And I would come in with a couple of plays in mind that I wanted to run.”
Is your brain your greatest asset, over athleticism, arm, etc.? “People want to talk about the 6-5 guy with the power arm. But I’d take Drew Brees over JaMarcus Russell any day of the week. Brees is 5-11, maybe 6 foot but he thinks like a coach and sees the game unfold. Not a lot of people can do that and that’s why there’s not a lot of 10-year starters in the NFL.
“I’ll always be thinking through the game so I’ll always have that to my advantage.”
Do you need to accept that you don’t have this howitzer arm? “I never knock on my arm strength. People aren’t going to say you’re the next Andrew Luck out of college, no matter what. So people have to find one negative. And the glaring negative on mine is considered my arm strength. I think that’s one of my strengths. I think I can make every throw. I had a couple workouts and, at my pro day, I didn’t miss one throw down the field.”
Is Chad Pennington a player you can then look to? “He’s a perfect example. He made it off of knowing the game. Talking protections with that guy, he’s brilliant. The way he thinks the game is unbelievable. He really has a knack for understanding what defenses do and why they do the things they do. He actually gave me some insight into what Rex Ryan’s defenses do too which is kind of funny.
“Toward the end of his career, he couldn’t throw the ball 40 yards. But he was still getting calls to play because it’s not about throwing the ball through the wall. It’s about anticipating things and seeing things. Peyton Manning was a beast but he didn’t have the greatest arm in the world but he could anticipate everything. He was brilliant. He changed the way the position was played, just off the mind part of the game.”
Nobody is really talking about you at QB this year... “My agent texted me the Kobe Bryant thing the other day, his quote about the Hornets not wanting him. He said it fueled him every day. He said, ‘this has to fuel you,’ and I said ‘it does.’ Hey, if people don’t say I’m good enough, that’s fine. But I’m not even confident in my abilities — I’m certain in my abilities. It’s just about getting that fair chance.”
What about Kurt Warner’s story resonated with you? “I mean, he was bagging groceries. He was literally bagging groceries at a Hy-Vee. But he never lost faith in his abilities and knew he could make it. He was always level-headed. That year he threw 48 touchdowns—everyone was nervous about Trent Green because Trent Green got hurt—but he was so confident, so level-headed and knew he could do the job… That’s where I have to be. I have to have that quiet confidence. A quiet certainty in your ability.”
If there was something different inside of Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, what is different inside of you? “I think it’s swagger, but that word is overused. Everyone wants to say everyone has swagger. But it’s that moxie. You walk into a meeting room and everybody says, ‘Alright, that’s the guy.’ When Kurt Warner walked into that room, everyone knew ‘That’s our guy.’”
As a Buffalo guy what would it mean to stay in Buffalo and sign with the Bills as a UDFA? “Yeah, there’s been some interest. But I’m putting too much stock into any one team right now. Chances are, I won’t be drafted. There’s an outside chance. So I’ll sign as a free agent right after. You get to pick and choose. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent. There are a lot of guys who have made it being undrafted free agents.”
Which means you could pick Buffalo. “Technically. If the fit is right and I fit into the offense and I think I have a chance to make the team, then that’s where I’m going to go to.”
What are other things leadership-wise you did? “We used to have the offense over for dinner. In high school, on Thursday nights, we’d have all of the offense over. Then, in college, I’d have the offensive line over. And I’d have the receivers over. So you try to bond the guys that way, especially through good food with my mom cooking. Even in college, we’d go back home. … Pasta. Pounds of pasta. And her sauce, she makes the best sauce.
“And a lot of film sessions, going in, I’d sit in with the offensive line and ask ‘What do you see here?’ I’d sit with Trevor Sales my first couple years, our center. And the past couple years I’d sit with James O’Hagen. So I’d ask ‘When this linebacker is stacked over the three-technique, what are you thinking?’ And he’d say, ‘They’re going to blitz off the back end.’ I wanted to have an interest in every part of the offense because when you get in that huddle the guys need to know you care about them. I do. I love those guys.”
Would you put your football intellect up against anyone in this draft? “Yeah, I think I can talk with the best of them. I live, breathe, everything is football. I love it. I love to sit in the meeting room and talk with those guys. I’m certain in my abilities. I know what I can do. I’ve never had a question about learning an offense and seeing the way things break down and knowing the answers to the test. That’s what playing quarterback is about. You get a study guide — which is the film — and then you go take the test on Sundays in the NFL. It’s ‘how well have you prepared?’ It’s like going to school again.”
Five years from now, where’s your NFL career? “Hopefully in the NFL somewhere, where I’ve established myself as a contributor and a player in the league. ... If I get to play in the NFL, I don’t consider it work. It’s not a job to me. I’d gladly go in at 6 in the morning and watch film and then stay there until 10 at night. That’s what I did in college. The only difference is you don’t have to worry about going to class."
For more NFL Draft talk, here is this week's "Dunne with Graham" podcast...