|Doug Flutie (left) hopes rookie quarterbacks Russell Wilson (center) and Kellen Moore get a fair shake in the NFL.|
Doug Flutie was listed as 5-foot-10. For his entire career, in the NFL and in the Canadian Football League, he wasn't just a quarterback. He was a short quarterback.
Over the years, Flutie has become a bit of an expert in the genre, a go-to voice in the discussion. And he has reached a damning conclusion.
"The biggest issue about the height factor is the bias that the NFL has about it," Flutie told NFL.com.
Flutie would know.
He suffered through countless talent evaluators and coaches choosing taller players over him, often to their detriment. Buffalo Bills fans still fume over coach Wade Phillips' decision to start Rob Johnson over Flutie in a 1999 playoff game against the Tennessee Titans better known for the "Music City Miracle." Flutie, no doubt, still fumes over being relegated to teams like the Calgary Stampeders just to prove he could win.
He didn't look like a traditional quarterback -- an affliction that plagues two well-known rookies in 2012. Seattle Seahawks third-round draft pick Russell Wilson has the best chance to buck the stereotype like Flutie did, while former Boise State signal caller Kellen Moore is trying to latch on with the Detroit Lions. Coach Pete Carroll has declared Seattle's competition at quarterback to be wide open, while Moore will be fighting for a job backing up Matthew Stafford.
"Absolutely, I pull for Drew because he and I worked together for four years and I love Drew," said Flutie, who played with Brees on the Chargers from 2001-04. "Russell Wilson, I've actually been in contact with over the past few years. Would love to see him be successful. Kellen Moore, it's tough to doubt (him). More than anything, I root for them to get a legitimate opportunity. And if things don't work out, they don't work out. But I just want to see them get a legitimate look."
There have been some successful quarterbacks in the 6-foot-and-under range. Sonny Jurgensen. Fran Tarkenton. Michael Vick. Brees.
And Flutie, a patron saint for this group. The Heisman Trophy winner at Boston College eventually emerged from Canada to go 38-28 as an NFL starter, and he didn't grow to do it. He remained the same height as he was when doubters dismissed him. Yet Flutie feels he never received the long, patient leash taller players get. If he didn't succeed quickly, he braced himself for the hook that often came. He fears Moore and Wilson will face the same reality.
The debate over shorter-than-average passers will rage as long as Moore is in an NFL camp, as long as Wilson is in Seattle's three-pronged quarterback derby -- and as long as spread-happy college football continues churning them out.
NFL talent evaluators will continue pointing to the difficulty short quarterbacks have in seeing over the line and a preponderance of batted balls. They'll gravitate to quarterbacks who look like they're starring in football movies. Most personnel men don't think of height like Wilson, who seems to relish it.
"It makes it that much more unique and that much more cool in terms of the fact that I can play at a high level that I play at 5-11," Wilson told Big 1070 in Madison, Wis.
Perhaps. But those in the NFL scouting world don't think so. Flutie does. He points out how Brees won a Super Bowl and led a dynamic spread offense at his height. He thrived in those wide passing lanes, and that will benefit the others, too.
Flutie can't understand why everyone's so hung up on height. Players who aren't tall don't think of themselves as handicapped, so why does the NFL? Flutie called Wilson a "phenomenal quarterback" and labeled Moore a "very accurate thrower." He wonders about Moore's arm strength, but thinks his mind is more than sound enough. If he has questions, it's for those putting together teams.
"You see the game from that perspective and you throw the football," Flutie said. "I really do not believe it's a big deal. I just think that they don't, in general, give the (short quarterbacks) the opportunities or stick with them. A guy that's undersized has to prove himself right away. And if you don't have success right away, you're out the door. Similar to a (Tim) Tebow situation. If Tim Tebow had taken over the Broncos last year and lost his first two or three games, he'd never see the field again. Instead, he won whatever it was -- five, six in a row -- and they kept doubting him until next week ... until next week ... until next week ..."
In Flutie's mind, the need to immediately prove oneself doesn't exist for passers with prototype size.
"If he were the 6-4 guy who was a true pocket passer, drafted in the first round and the franchise decided this is our guy, then he goes out and loses his first three or four starts -- well, there is a learning curve involved," Flutie said. "And they have patience with him. And that's my frustration with it."
Flutie is a college football analyst now, and he thoroughly studies the game that made him famous. He grew close with Wilson when the athletic passer was leaving North Carolina State and trying to decide between transferring to Auburn or Wisconsin for his senior season. He chose the Badgers and led them to a Big Ten title.
"I was advising him," Flutie said. "Go somewhere where, No. 1, you know you're going to play. No. 2, that you're the guy they want. Coming up to the draft, he had some questions. He's a great kid and I just wish him well."
Flutie watched Moore from afar, seriously respecting his 50-3 record as a starter. Like Flutie in the CFL, Moore excelled at Boise State with a simple schematic philosophy: spreading the field. With wider offensive-line splits and more players out in routes, there is more space to operate within. And nimble quarterbacks have an easier time maneuvering around taller offensive linemen. It's a situation more conducive to success for many signal callers, short and tall. Over the past few years, most NFL teams have incorporated some form of spread offense into the playbook.
"I think that when you can spread 'em out, it makes life a lot easier at the quarterback position," Flutie said. "You've got five quick receivers, you've got guys out into the route, you're spreading the field, making them defend the whole field and then, hopefully, you're getting a rush that's a little more spread out and there's bigger lanes, so you can see the field better."
Just one more reason why Flutie thinks Wilson and Moore should receive long, hard looks. He's just not holding his breath that it'll happen.
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