Leinart solid, not great during pro day workout

Matt Leinart still is projected as a top 5 draft pick, but questions remain as to whether he's a NFL franchise QB.

Originally Published: April 5, 2006
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- If you don't believe the bar is set high for Matt Leinart and also by the Southern California quarterback, well, consider this reality: During the Sunday pro day workouts for the Trojans' 19 draft-eligible players, Leinart completed 80 percent of his passes, 36 of 45 attempts. And at the end of the throwing session, neither Leinart nor his audience was overly impressed with the effort.

Such is life for the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, who compiled a 37-2 record as a starter, and led his team to two straight national championship game appearances. When you are proclaimed the Golden Boy in the Land of the Stars, and are perceived as having embraced that status by hanging out with the glitterati and being seen in all the city's trendiest night spots, every performance is expected to be 24-karat stuff.

LAND OF THE STARS
USC has been a dominant figure on the college scene the past three seasons. Now, many of those key performers find themselves on the verge of NFL careers. ESPN.com went to USC's pro day to check out the Trojans.
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And the weekend throwing session, in front of about 150 NFL scouts and a legion of curious fans who apparently had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than devote four hours to watching future NFL players run around in T-shirts and shorts, wasn't quite up to that standard.

Leinart displayed some athleticism by turning in a 37-inch vertical jump, but he declined to be timed in the 40-yard dash and, like most quarterbacks, didn't participate in the bench-press drill. Of his 45 pass attempts, three were dropped by his receivers and he was wild on several more throws. Four completions were of 30 yards or more, and on one deep route -- to USC tailback Reggie Bush -- the ball was in the air for 60 yards. Leinart's accuracy was good, but not great, and his arm strength was adequate.

It appeared, at times, as though he aimed the ball a bit; some throws sailed wildly on him, and Leinart conceded afterward that he probably pressed a little.

"In situations like these," Leinart said, "I think you tend to overdo it. You know, you try to throw a ball too hard, and it goes high, or you try to be too fine with your passes. I think I started off too tight."

Word is that during a private Monday workout for Tennessee officials -- the team sent a small army to scrutinize him and even provided four Titans wide receivers to run routes and shag passes -- Leinart was much better. The private workout was choreographed by Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who held the same position at Southern California during Leinart's first two seasons as the starter. So, there apparently was a familiarity with what was expected of him and, for sure, less of a circus atmosphere than existed during the pro day spectacle created by Trojans coach Pete Carroll, in part as a recruiting tool.

But on Sunday, truth be told, most scouts left the workouts having not changed their opinions on Leinart very much. Those who liked him when they arrived probably liked enough of what they witnessed in an uneven workout. The doubters probably perceived the same warts.

As Leinart leaned against a concrete wall and told reporters he had "answered all the questions about my arm strength," several scouts were saying that component of his game is still a problem for them. Indeed, several passes wobbled; others lacked NFL-level rpm's; and Leinart didn't exactly drill the ball into the tight windows you get at the next level.

Noted Titans coach Jeff Fisher, rather tellingly: "It was like he was trying hard to complete every ball."

Matt Leinart
AP Photo/Ric FrancisLeinart's workout likely didn't change the minds of many scouts who arrived with preconceived notions.

And because of that, it seemed that Leinart never really cut loose, erring instead on the side of caution. Although most of his passes were within the frame of the receiver's body -- it would be unfair to suggest that his pass catchers ran precise routes or laid out for every attempt -- they often lacked the fine accuracy the NFL demands. Some sideline routes, in particular, were thrown over the wrong shoulder or too much into the body of the receiver. And Leinart didn't have the benefit of throwing the collection of slip screens and hitch patterns that are so much a part of the USC design.

If much of that sounds like nitpicking, well, those are the kinds of nits that are picked by scouts, coaches and personnel directors. Teams that are about to invest millions of dollars in a prospect look for every blemish they can find and create some when they don't discern any -- like the contentions by some Sunday that Leinart is a little "too much Hollywood" -- and that is a natural part of the analytical rigmarole that proceeds every draft.

At the same time, it's difficult to ignore Leinart's body of work, including all the big throws he made in so many big games. In three seasons, he completed 807 of 1,245 passes (64.8 percent) for 10,693 yards, with 99 touchdown passes and just 23 interceptions. He threw from the pocket, on half-rolls, on the run. And he consistently exhibited consummate poise (see last year's Notre Dame game) and leadership.

"I don't think you make yourself a player in these kinds of workouts," Leinart said. "You're a player in games, when it counts, when people are keeping score. There's no scoreboard on days like this. Different people take away different things, I'm sure, and that's just part of the process, I guess."

It is a process that has focused on some of Leinart's flaws and shortcomings, no doubt. But it is a process that still hasn't found enough reason to knock him out of the top five in the draft. The question of whether Leinart proves to be a franchise-level quarterback in the NFL, and the suspicion of many is that he won't be, hasn't eclipsed the fact he is still a prospect coveted by many teams.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.