VANCOUVER - The book on Mike (Radar) Reilly said that he had everything needed to be an NFL quarterback, except ideal arm strength -- an annoying but influential piece of gossip that stuck to him like gum to a shoe.
In his first session with the B.C. Lions Monday, Reilly seemed to relegate that complaint to insignificance when he uncorked a deep throw to practice roster receiver Darius Passmore, who took the pass in stride behind Lions starting cornerback Davis Sanchez. Sanchez was instantly razzed by his teammates, even though it was just practice.
"There was a game in college, when we played against Montana, where I got hit in the chest, and I threw a 65 or 70-yard post route off my back foot for a touchdown," Reilly explained. "Then I get labeled somehow, somewhere, by some guy watching some tape, that this guy doesn't have a very strong arm and he put it out there on the Web. That's the thing about the Web. Once it's out there, you can never take it back. It's funny because, at the NFL combine, they radar your throws. I threw it harder than anybody at the combine. Ron Jaworski made the comment, 'I've seen this guy throw 70 yards. I don't know where this [lack of arm strength rep] came from.'"
As a four-year starter with the Central Washington Wildcats, Radar Reilly broke most of the school passing records previously held by Jon Kitna, the well-traveled quarterback who is still gainfully employed in the NFL, 13 years after graduating from the NCAA Division II school in Ellensburg, Wash.
At 6-3, 215 pounds, Reilly has NFL size, if not a major college pedigree, and the quickness needed to evade the rush. Indeed, he was enough of a running threat to lead the Wildcats in rushing in the 2008 season. Still, unlike Kitna, he has been a virtual rolling stone since the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him as a free agent following the 2009 NFL draft. From the Steelers to the Packers, from the Rams to the Seahawks, he has been racking up thousands of frequent flyer miles but little in the way of playing time over the past year.
When Seattle released him in May, after the 'Hawks signed former Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, the Lions added Reilly's name to their 35-man negotiation list.
"We wanted to bring him earlier," explained Lions player personnel coordinator Neil McEvoy. "But he wanted to explore other opportunities in the NFL first. We like him because he's from the state of Washington. It would be foolish not to look at a player with his resume from not very far away."
Plans to bring Reilly in for a look-see heated up Saturday after starting quarterback Casey Printers' problematic knee experienced swelling following a return flight from Toronto and the team's quarterback depth was called into question. Printers didn't play in Friday's 24-20 loss to the Argos, resulting in the first CFL start for Travis Lulay.
Reilly said he turned down an option to join the New York Jets for a once-over because he already had made a commitment to the Lions.
"My NFL career has been an interesting one," he says. "I haven't had a lot of downtime between teams. There's been a lot of moving around. I wanted to go somewhere where . . . I can maybe stick around a couple of years, make an impact and benefit a team instead of just trying to make an NFL practice squad. It's been a while since I've been on the field competitively. I was in two preseason games last year with the Steelers. But I haven't competed in a regular-season game since I was at Central. I don't want to lose the competitive spirit. When I got this opportunity, it kind of lit the flame again."
Though Reilly and Lulay only met for the first time Monday, they are well aware of each other's college careers. Reilly, who played high school football in Kennewick, Wa., was recruited by Montana State, among other schools, when Lulay played for the Bobcats.
"I knew of him, for sure," said Lulay who, like Reilly, was released by the Seahawks before coming to the CFL. "I tend to follow the Northwest small college guys. He had a great career at Central. It's nice to finally get a chance to meet him."
Lulay, a running/passing threat in college who set numerous records at Montana State, shares another bond with Reilly, besides their Northwest roots (Lulay grew up in Aumsville, Ore.) He, too, got tainted with the same lack-of-arm-strength brush by the NFL. But the validity of that scouting report was tested Friday in Toronto when Lulay rifled a 66-yard pass, downfield to Emmanuel Arceneaux, only to have the sophomore receiver drop the textbook deep throw.
"It's not necessarily fair, but it's the way it is," Lulay says. "You get labeled in this game. He [a scout] might have seen me underthrow two deep balls one time, the only time he saw me play. But it stays with you. It's just another thing to get you going, to prove people wrong."
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