Intimate conversations provide new perspective of Mallett

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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The NFL is starving for quarterbacks. This is a throwing league, and good teams are averaging close to 40 pass attempts a game.

Where are the rare signal callers talented enough to do what every offensive coordinator wants and every defensive coordinator hates? Few and far between.

No one is perfect, but when it comes to the 2011 draft class you can't deny that Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet is an interesting candidate. Sure, he has some issues surrounding him that will cause some teams to back off. But when it comes to throwing the ball down the field, he might be the best of the bunch.

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I have had three separate opportunities to sit down with Mallett and dig a little deeper each time. And I have to tell you, he gets more intriguing each time. There's risk, but there also could be a big reward.

Is there risk in taking a player like Auburn quarterback Cam Newton high in the first round after just a single season as a starter in major college football, with just 292 pass attempts and his own set of off-the-field issues? Sure, but someone will take that chance in the first round.

When Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert's completion rate on throws beyond 15 yards is down near 30 percent, there is room for concern, but someone will take him early in the first round.

So what about Mallett? He is battling rumors of drug use, a potential issue of coach-ability and, of course, a 5.37-second 40-yard dash. What he does not have to defend is his arm, his height (6-foot-7), his 62 touchdown passed in two years as a starter, and his 9.4 yards per pass attempt average last season.

Talking with Mallett about these subjects and anything football has led to some interesting conclusions and a strategy for the weeks leading up to the draft. Here are the things we have covered so far:

PK: Why did you leave Michigan?
RM: I left after my freshman year because the system was changing with Coach (Rich) Rodriquez coming in, and they needed a guy like Denard Robinson. I'm a pocket passer.

PK: Which teams blitzed you the most?
RM: Alabama and LSU kept bringing the pressure, and when I read it and changed the play they changed the pressure call. Eventually, I just had to run the play and deal with the blitz with a quick release. I like to avoid hot reads and throw the ball downfield, so the quick routes worked best.

PK: Some people say you lack leadership.
RM: I hear that, but they don't know how much work I did behind the scenes with my teammates when the coaches weren't around. Ask Coach (Bobby) Petrino. He'll tell you I was a hard-working kid, the hardest-working guy.

PK: Who was your toughest opponent and why?
RM: I would have to say it was Ohio State. They rushed me with just the front four and got great push. That gave them a chance to drop seven into coverage.

PK: How about pass protections?
RM: I called the protections most of the time. I was fine with it and understood what to do. If the game was on the line, I liked five-man protections with everyone out.

PK: Is the game itself fun for you?
RM: When I step out there between the white lines I am relaxed and having fun with the whole thing. My dad coached me from T-ball to the seventh grade and then turned me loose to other coaches. I always have fun at practice and games.

PK: How are you handling the drug-related questions?
RM: I deal with stuff like that head on. There are so many things being written about me and other guys that aren't true. On the record, I never failed a drug test at Arkansas. My mom is an educator, and I have to calm her down when she hears all the stuff about me and drugs. My dad said he's been around the game a long time, and he knows bad perception is followed by a bad draft situation.

I talked to Mallet about his game preparation. He throws the ball so well, and the game appears so easily for him, but he couldn't stop talking about his game preparation. Ryan said the game got simple for him because of his prep time. He wasn't bragging, but he did mention he threw 69 touchdown passes (in three years). By the way, that turns out to be a touchdown pass every 14 throws. He said he knows where to throw the ball, which must be true since he threw an interception just one in every 40 pass attempts.

Mallett was quick to say he isn't running around trying to win with his feet and that he models his style after Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. Those are high standards to say the least, but in discussing those three quarterbacks with him it was clear he studies them closely.

Mallett's critics feel he takes too many sacks. One sack every 18 throws his senior year isn't ideal, but Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, and even Aaron Rodgers take a fair share of sacks. I got the feeling Mallett will work hard to improve in this area, but he also doesn't seem like a guy who lets sacks bother him. He would much rather take the sack than throw the pick, and in the last two years he had 62 touchdown passes to just 19 interceptions.

There's more work to do for the clubs when it comes to Mallett, but after watching the Georgia and LSU games from this past fall when he threw for a combined 700 yards and six touchdowns in victories you just can't toss him to the side and move on. The smart teams are going to keep drilling down into his background.

If I was a team with interest, the next stop for me would be Bobby Petrino's office for a long day and then off to meet his parents. How do you stop studying a guy who, in three years, went from 6.3 yards per attempt to 8.9 yards to 9.4 yards?

You can't.

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