Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden stood apart from the rest in the classroom thanks to his age advantage and seemingly more polished throwing skills. But Weeden had the added benefit of learning from one of the most creative offensive minds in the business as a member of the South team in Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.
“It’s all about competing and you want to put yourself in position to get drafted as high as possible and for a team to take a chance on you,” said Weeden, who at 28 has drawn comparisons to former Florida State quarterback and 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. “So I think what this week is all about is to continue to learn, get adjusted to what they do offensively and kind of learn the Xs and Os and the speed of the game.”
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley joined Weeden on the South, while Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson are being coached by Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and his staff on the North. The two vastly different coaching philosophies have led to intriguing challenges for all six.
In a year when the best draft prospects at the position are either underclassmen or had to pull out of the Senior Bowl due to injury, this is the best opportunity for these quarterbacks to convince teams they are worthy of consideration in the early rounds.
“That’s what the Senior Bowl’s all about and that’s why we’re here, to show what we’re about,” Cousins said. “I have nothing to hide. I’m an open book, not just on the field but also off the field. I want coaches and GMs to see who I am and what I’m about and what my strengths are and I’m not trying to be a mystery to any coach. I want them to know about me and know who I am and I feel like if they do they’re going to like what they see.”
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Cousins finished his college career at Michigan State as the Spartans’ career leader in touchdown passes with 66, passing yards with 9,131, completions with 723, passing efficiency at a 146.1 rating, total offense with 9,004 yards and 200-yard passing games with 26. He towers above his two North teammates at quarterback in height, but would be the smallest one on the South roster.
Moore measured out at 5-11, 191 pounds during the official Senior Bowl weigh-in on Monday and Wilson came in an inch shorter at 5-10, 205. Foles was the tallest quarterback at 6-5, 244, with Weeden coming in at 6-3, 219 and Lindley at 6-3, 229, but Moore has shrugged off the questions and concerns about his size.
“I’ve been this size since I was in 9th grade,” said Moore, who threw for 14,667 yards and 142 touchdowns in four seasons with the Broncos. “I’ve been doing it for a while and played with a lot of guys of different sizes, with tackles that are 6-6. It’s all about finding lanes and getting the ball down the field and I think I can continue to do that.
“Certainly Drew Brees is a great example and just seeing that he’s been able to accomplish not being the 6-4 traditional look. It’s all about pocket presence, finding lanes, keeping your eyes downfield and he does a really good job of that.”
Due to the growing popularity of the spread offense at the college level a lot today’s quarterbacks have worked primarily out of the shotgun. That was evident early in the week as these players were asked to go under center with fumbled snaps and disrupted drops the result.
For Moore, he felt he was well prepared for this week thanks to the type of practices his head coach, Chris Petersen, runs at Boise State. In fact, the majority of the players in Mobile remarked how much shorter the practices were compared to what they were used to, but there was a significant increase in tempo and intensity and Weeden again appeared to be the least affected by it. He sees his age as more of an asset than a detriment.
“When you look at guys track records there are a lot of examples of guys that have sat for a few years and they finally got a shot in their later 20s,” Weeden said. “Then they won Super Bowls in their 30s and late 30s and if I play until I’m 40 that’s 12 years. That’s a long NFL career and you look at Kurt Warner, who’s probably going to be a Hall-of-Famer, he has the same exact track record. I’m a realist and I understand that I’m not going to have a 25-year career, that’s just not realistic, but not many guys do. I realize that I need to be ready and ready soon and I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Weeden is coming off of back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, completing 408-of-564 passes for 4,727 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a senior. In 2010 he was 342-of-511 for 4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and ended his career with 9,260 passing yards, 75 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
One of the more impressive quarterbacks from a personality standpoint this week has been Wilson, who began his college career at North Carolina State and transferred to Wisconsin in June for his senior year. He was a two-sport athlete at N.C. State, also playing baseball, and played in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system.
Wilson and Cousins engaged in two of the more memorable games of the 2011 season, with Michigan State winning in October on a Hail Mary pass, 37-31, and the Badgers coming out on top in the Big Ten Championship game in overtime, 42-39. This week he has been the most athletic of the quarterbacks but is aware of the areas he’d like to improve upon.
“I’m always working on my feet and footwork’s part of it. As a quarterback you want to have great feet all the time,” said Wilson, who completed 72.8 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions for Wisconsin. “I’ve just got to keep working at that part and just deliver an accurate ball every single time. That’s part of the game of playing quarterback and I think I’m very, very intelligent and can make all of the throws. I’ve just got to get in a great system.”
There’s perhaps the golden lesson for Wilson and the other five quarterbacks, aligning themselves with the right system. Wilson has played in a West Coast offense at N.C. State and Wisconsin and that familiarity could make him attractive to teams that run that style.
All of the practices are finished now and all that remains is tomorrow’s Senior Bowl game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. That will be the final exam for Weeden, Foles, Cousins, Moore and Wilson.
INJURY BUG HITS INDOORS: A last-minute change of practice venue due to bad weather forced the teams indoors Thursday at the Mobile Civic Center. Two players left the Civic Center injured, with the unsettling sound of a tornado-warning siren adding to their pain.
Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard of the North team suffered a hip flexor and Houston wide receiver Patrick Edwards from the South pulled a hamstring. Neither player will be replaced, as it was too close to the game.