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Mariota says Bucs should draft him No. 1

Marcus Mariota says he won’t be hindered in the NFL by not calling out plays in college.
Marcus Mariota says he won’t be hindered in the NFL by not calling out plays in college.
Published Feb. 20, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Mariota is arguably the best dual-threat quarterback to enter the NFL draft. He has a strong arm, is an accurate passer and can run like a wide receiver. All his talent and intangibles scream superstar.

What he has to learn to do is speak up, starting in the huddle.

At Oregon, Mariota never called a play. The Ducks signaled plays in from the sideline while players stood at the line of scrimmage.

But now, each night, Mariota verbalizes an NFL play sheet he got from Browns quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell.

"He's told me to just read the play calls out loud," Mariota said. "That's something little but as this process goes, it's going to help me with whatever team that I get to in just speaking in the huddle and articulating the plays."

On Thursday at the NFL scouting combine, Mariota had no trouble voicing his belief that he is the best quarterback in the draft and deserves to go No. 1 overall to the Bucs.

"As a competitor, any person will tell you he's the best. I truly believe that in myself," he said. "We'll see whatever decision is made, but I've got to go in with that mentality.

"Any player will stand in front of you and tell you that they're confident in their abilities. I'm no different. I feel what I've been able to do at the University of Oregon, what I've learned, has prepared me for this level."

The Bucs are considering Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for the top spot. Both won the Heisman Trophy — Winston as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and Mariota last season as a junior — and both played in the national champion­ship game. Both are great leaders with strong arms and identical in height at 6 feet 3¾ inches. Mariota added some much-needed weight and hit the skills at 222 pounds Thursday.

Off the field, there are no character issues for Mariota. The only question: How quickly can he play?

That's a projection at best. Quarterbacks who have increasingly come from those type of college schemes have struggled in the NFL trying to win from the pocket. Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene with their one-read-and-run performances. But the league has caught up, and those quarterbacks have struggled.

Last year, the Jaguars used the No. 3 overall pick on UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, who played in a similar scheme as Mariota. His development was slow.

"We went with a race to maturity. He doesn't have to come in and have to start," Jags coach Gus Bradley said. "We've got a guy, Chad Henne. But how do we speed this process up? Not just to make us happy, but to truly where this guy is mature enough to be able to handle it? I think because of the way we did it, Blake made progress fast."

Bortles completed only 58.9 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Mariota said he doesn't carry a chip on his shoulder because of the doubters, but he has a reason for motivation. "I guess you could say it's a little bit of the motivation, but it's not the reason I'm doing it," he said. "There's a purpose why I'm here and why I'm standing in front of you, and that's because I love the game, I want to be a part of it, I want to be a part of a team for a long time. My motivation isn't to prove anybody wrong. My motivation is just to make a dream come true for me."

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Despite injuring his right (throwing) shoulder in the Rose Bowl title game against Ohio State, Mariota said he's healthy and will participate in passing drills Saturday. But just as important are the interviews and whether he needs to sound like a guy who can succeed at the next level.

"It starts with the interviews," Mariota said. "It's not just blurting out all the football information that you know. It's kind of processing and showing how you think and how you progress in your reads. Just telling them whatever you were asked to do at whatever school you're at, and hopefully they'll believe in what you're saying and give you an opportunity."

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