(Photo: The Associated Press)
Marcus Mariota looked comfortable on center stage Thursday.
He had the deliberate walk, the calm demeanor and the perfect answers. All the Oregon quarterback has to do now is prove he can thrive in the NFL.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner spent roughly 15 minutes answering questions Thursday at the NFL’s annual scouting, using a no-frills approach to show why he should be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“As a competitor, any person would tell you that they’re the best,” Mariota said. “I truly believe that in myself. We’ll see whatever decision is made. I’ve got to go in with that mentality.”
His sterling resume is not the issue.
Mariota threw for 4,454 yards with 42 touchdowns and had four interceptions in 2014, leading Oregon to the national championship game. He won the Heisman Trophy, was voted The Associated Press and Walter Camp player of the year and took home the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Maxwell Award and the Dave O’Brien Award.
In December, he earned his college degree from Oregon. Add a virtually spotless background check and it appears Mariota is the right fit as a franchise quarterback.
But there are concerns about how well quarterbacks in spread offenses fare when they move to the NFL. When asked about reading more complex defenses and the perception that he can’t make NFL throws, Mariota responded by simply saying that’s somebody’s opinion.
Those who really have questions could get an up-close look Saturday when Mariota intends to throw during quarterback workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Of course, even Mariota acknowledges things will be different in the NFL.
“I haven’t huddled in a while,” he said. “It seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing. There are 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.”
Mariota was supposed to share the big stage Thursday with Jameis Winston.
Instead, because of a longer-than-anticipated medical exam, Winston’s appearance was delayed until Friday. That’s when the 2013 Heisman winner from Florida State is expected to take questions.
In previous years, some of the top college quarterbacks tried to put a personal spin on the combine.
Robert Griffin III wore Superman socks, Tim Tebow embraced the attention about his faith and 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel even tried to change his playful public image by taking a more business-like approach.
Mariota, in contrast, played it safe with short answers that reinforced his commitment to the sport without raising any potential red flags among his future employer. Even the right shoulder he hurt in the national championship loss to Ohio State is healed.
“There’s a purpose for 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,” Mariota said. “My motivation isn’t to prove anybody wrong. My motivation is to make a dream come true.”
The other prospects in Indianapolis are following the situation, too.
Even Baylor’s Bryce Petty, who has been working out in San Diego with the two best-known quarterbacks in the draft, weighed in.
“The coolest thing about Jameis is that a lot of people don’t understand is his ability to compartmentalize things,” said Petty, who comes from a similar offensive style as Mariota. “He (Winston) is a great person and a guy that loves football, and I’ve had a blast working with him.”
All eyes Friday will be on Winston, and the scouts will be watching closely Saturday — if he works out.
But the other 13 quarterbacks in Indianapolis aren’t conceding anything to the guys who could go 1-2 in the draft.
“My goal is to be No. 1,” UCLA’s Brett Hundley said. “Mariota is very athletic, Jameis is a great quarterback. They both have a Heisman under their name. I personally know them very well, but we all have our unique abilities and I think that’s where you separate each quarterback.”
For Mariota, it’s not about being a star at the NFL’s biggest offseason attraction.
It’s all about being successful, his way.
“I don’t really compare myself to other players,” he said. “You really limit yourself if you compare yourself to others, that’s something I was taught at a young age. For me, I just really focus on myself and make sure I can be the best player I can be.”