Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Colleges

Collin Klein seeks to prove NFL draft worth in East-West Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — By so many important measurements, Collin Klein meets the standards required of NFL quarterbacks.

At 6 feet 5 and 226 pounds, he has the necessary size plus a presence that can command a huddle of large men. He has the charisma you want from a player who must face hard questions at both good and bad times. And he's a proven success, going 22-6 as a starter in his career at Kansas State, setting records and nearly winning the Heisman Trophy along the way.

But when it comes to his future at the game's highest level, Klein is hardly considered an elite prospect heading into April's NFL draft. The flaws in his game threaten to undermine so much of the good.

That's why today's performance in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field can only help Klein, who has been subjected to much scrutiny by scouts during this week's practices for the college all-star contest.

Klein believes he can win them over.

"I think I just need to show that I can execute and make all the throws, and also show that I can pick up a new system in a week," said Klein, who will play for the East. "I just need to play the best that I can and get better and better every day."

Klein, 23, will be joined by prospects from a number of major programs, including Pittsburgh 1,000-yard rusher Ray Graham, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and others. Each is vying to become the next Alfred Morris, a participant in last year's game who fell to the Redskins in the sixth round but went on to lead all rookies in rushing.

During practices this week, scouts saw up close what everyone who watches Klein has: He struggles with his throwing motion, perhaps more so than Tim Tebow did when coming out of Florida.

Klein's tendency to seemingly push the ball rather than throw it fluidly won't go over well. And his arm strength and accuracy are considered limited, major red flags among NFL decisionmakers.

Klein counters by stressing a track record that suggests he can make a team better. Put simply, he's a winner. He was far and away the most impactful player on his Kansas State team and, at times, one of the most dominant in the country.

"I think that's huge," Klein said of his .786 career winning percentage. "When it's all said and done, that's what really matters, right?"

Klein's imperfections will get close examination. But his attributes can't be ignored. His size is key, as is his athletic ability. But a major part of Klein's makeup is his mental grasp of the game.

Former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, who is coaching the East, recalled this week his first meeting years ago with a young Peyton Manning. Glanville pointed out a parallel he saw in Klein.

"Tennessee had a kid like him years ago," Glanville said. "He had a little hitch in his throwing motion. That guy at Tennessee, he's bounced around a little bit now, but he's now playing for the Denver Broncos. Inside, (Klein) is a Peyton Manning. There is no difference. None. He knows football."

If Klein struggles to show the necessary skill set to play quarterback as a pro, there may come a time when the discussion turns to a possible position change (Klein began his career at Kansas State as a receiver). But he has a pretty firm stance on this.

"I see myself as a quarterback," said Klein, currently projected as a late-round draft choice. "Mentally, I love the strategy of the game. I think I have a lot of mental toughness, the kind of stuff that you need to play with at that position. And I think I have the ability to do it."

By day's end, we'll have more evidence for or against that notion. The game is a precious chance for a guy with lots to prove.

"It is," Klein said, "an amazing opportunity."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]

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