Rookie QBs, Titans pick, Kaepernick all hot topics

Howard Balzer

April 20, 2015 at 11:40 am.


Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Mariota (8) believes in Scott Frost. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The chatter will end soon enough with this year’s draft approaching. Still, the hype and endless speculation about players and teams will only ramp up as draft day gets closer.

And, as usual, much of the discussion surrounds the quarterbacks. Making this year’s debate more intriguing than normal are the obvious differences – on and off the field – between the two top-rated signal-callers, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

The question no one can answer with any degree of certainty goes beyond which one will go first, most likely to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The larger debate is whether the quarterback not selected by the Bucs will start sliding through the round.

It’s happened before and certainly could happen again. The recent narrative surrounding Mariota only adds to the sense of wonder. There were the pronouncements by analysts Mike Mayock and Ron Jaworski that elevated Mariota ahead of Winston.

Of course, the one reality of the draft that will never change is this obvious one: Teams control where players are picked irrelevant to what any analyst believes.

There are certainly teams that have Mariota rated higher than Winston and vice versa. Of course, all that matters is what the team that eventually picks the player decides.

With all the avenues for opinions to be expressed in these days of the Internet and social media, many storylines are floated, some real, some imagined.

For Mariota, one that recently gained traction was the notion that because he isn’t fiery, that must mean he’s not competitive enough or assertive as a leader.

That, naturally, brings out the supporters that seek to silence those theories. Doing that for Mariota was former Nebraska quarterback and NFL defensive back Scott Frost, who is now the offensive coordinator at Oregon.

Frost took exception to the arm-chair psychologists that attempt to judge someone from miles away.

Noting the numerous questions that have been mentioned regarding Mariota, Frost said, “Some of them were great questions and some of them were some of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard. I think it’s ridiculous to think Marcus is too nice to play football. If that was the case, he wouldn’t have won so many games around here.”

While there will be an adjustment period for Mariota as he enters the NFL (just as there is for all players), Frost added: “The kid can do anything you ask of him on a football field. To say he can’t be a pocket quarterback, someone who says that just doesn’t know him. I have so much confidence in him, there’s nothing he can’t do.”

Meanwhile, aside from Mariota and Winston, many analysts consider this an especially weak quarterback group. The question being asked is who is No. 3 and on down, and in what round will they begin to go off the board.

There is significant debate how to rank the likes of Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty, Garrett Grayson and others.

For Hundley’s part, he doesn’t believe there should be any questions. In fact, Hundley claims he should be talked about in the same discussions with Mariota and Winston.

On Jon Gruden’s QB Camp on ESPN, Hundley said, “I think I’ve done enough to put my name in that conversation. I think that’s something that’s always going to be a chip on my shoulder. They may not say I’m in the conversation with Mariota and Jameis — and I respect them to death, they’re great friends of mine — but at the same time, I know I can put my talents against theirs. I feel confident in being able to do that.”

Whither the Titans

Assuming Tampa Bay does select Winston or Mariota, Tennessee at No. 2 will obviously have a huge impact on what happens next.

Will they take the quarterback the Bucs don’t pick? Will a bold team trade up for that spot? Or, will the Titans simply select a non-quarterback.

What no one outside Tennessee’s building really knows is how deeply the team likes Zach Mettenberger. A sixth-round choice last year, Mettenberger is a gifted player that fell in the draft because of a senior-year knee injury coupled with character concerns.

Mettenberger worked hard to allay those concerns, and showed his ability when he got the chance to play as a rookie. He also organized workouts with the team’s running backs and wide receivers prior to the beginning of the official offseason program. His teammates took notice.

Said wide receiver Kendall Wright, “I do think Zach is more than capable, and he is ready for the challenge. There’s some stuff to him, a different kind of swag that he has. He has some stuff to him that I love about him. And I respect him a lot. Right now Zach is the guy, and that is who I am rolling with until further notice. He is the quarterback until (head coach) Ken Whisenhunt says otherwise.”

Supporting Colin

Staying with the quarterback theme, there are many questions about the 49ers entering 2015, but tight end Vernon Davis loves what he has seen from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who spent time before the start of the offseason program working on his game.

When the workouts began recently, Davis said, “I didn’t even know that was Colin. No, seriously. He was working on his drop-back and I was just, ‘Who is that?’

“You guys are in for a treat. He looks like a totally different guy.

“I think it was really genuine and I think he’s just a class guy. It shows that he’s humble, for him to go to someone and work on his craft and get better. And it shows that his approach to this game, he’s just relentless. He just wants to be great and I respect that. And that’s another reason why I’m in this building today.”

Said Kaepernick, “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m getting better and doing my part to help this team win. You have to be able to change and adapt to be the best player you can be.

“We didn’t have the season we wanted to last year. I could have played better last year. Offensively, we should have played better last year. So, something had to change.”

Also chiming in was new head coach Jim Tomsula, who said, “Colin Kaepernick was not broke. None of us had a good season last year, OK? And we’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about last year, OK? We’ve got one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the National Football League sitting next to me, all right? This is a guy that went out and busted his tail. He took good and made it better.”