INDIANAPOLIS -- Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, perceived by many experts to be the top quarterback in the 2011 draft class based on pure game tape, has decided not to participate in the throwing drills at the scouting combine. It's a decision that has some wondering if he'll lose "buzz" as the week goes on, especially if Auburn's Cam Newton (the second quarterback on most lists) put up a great total performance going through all the drills.
Newton has expressed his desire to be "transparent" through the process, which may be as much about marketing as anything else. But Gabbert isn't concerned at all about losing traction on any pre-draft list two months before the fact, and when he's planning to throw at Missouri's Pro Day on March 17.
The reason behind Gabbert's decision is simple - agent Tom Condon generally prefers that his quarterbacks don't throw in Indianapolis. "Tom's philosophy in the past is not throwing quarterbacks at the Combine," Gabbert said from the podium at the combine in Friday. And I trust him with his advice. We have a plan set up.
"It's been successful in the past. Of course, Sam [Bradford] had his injury, so he was only going to throw at his pro day. But Matt Ryan(notes), Matthew Stafford(notes), these guys have only selected to throw at their pro day, and they've been extremely successful in doing that. It's more of a controlled atmosphere; you have a script. I'm not shying away from competition or anything, but I'm just throwing at my Pro Day and that's really about it."
In truth, we're past the point where teams hold the decision not to throw against bigger-school quarterbacks who have loads of game tape to analyze. Anyone who wants to watch Gabbert roll out and hit his receiver 22 yards downfield with a perfect sideline stick throw can turn on any game tape and see it often enough. Mike Holmgren has said that smaller-school quarterbacks whose agents tell them not to throw here are being sold a bill of goods. But for marquee players like Gabbert, whose repeatable exploits can easily be seen, it's not as big a deal.
What matters for Gabbert in the combine situation is what he does in the rooms with teams - the interview process and in displaying his ability to read defenses and understand complex offenses. Coming from a spread offense as he did, Gabbert will have teams wondering whether he can hit that second read across his body, stick a throw on the third read of a progression, and make things happen out of chaos.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that the reads are different," Gabbert said of the spread-to-prop transition. "We're not really a one-side read offense. We have three- and four-progression reads. Of course, the footwork is different. We're in the shotgun about 98 percent of the time. So that's what I've been working on. That's what I focused on out at Athletes Performance in Arizona. My quarterback coach, Terry Shea, has made that an extremely important process that I have to work on. And I've done a great job so far and haven't seen a problem one bit.
Gabbert will come across well in the interview process - he's a poised, focused player with a good reputation as a team leader. And when draft day rolls around, and teams have seen enough tape on Gabbert to know that he belongs at the top of the quarterbacks list from a skill set perspective, it's the intangibles that will come to the forefront.
"It takes more than what I did in college," Gabbert said about what it will take for NFL success. "Talking to guys that played at high levels in college. I talked to Eli Manning(notes), Josh Freeman(notes), of course Chase Daniel(notes), Sam Bradford(notes). These guys were extremely successful in college but it takes more in the NFL. It's a full-time job and I realize that and I know that. And the best thing about me is I love the game of football. That's been my goal -- to only do football. And I'm going to be in the film room; going to be in the weight room just preparing as hard as possible."
And perhaps with quarterbacks more than at any other position, that's what teams seem to want to see here - the stuff that doesn't show up in tape.