Agent Joe Linta representing QB son as draft approaches

BARRY WILNER (AP Pro Football Writer)
The Associated Press

It didn't take long for TJ Linta to select an agent for a potential pro football career.

''After an exhausting search, I finally settled on JLSPORTS,'' he says with a laugh.

The agent there is one Joe Linta, TJ's father.

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And also his coach in high school.

Joe Linta doesn't have a huge NFL clientele, but he's one of the most respected people in the field because of his background as a coach and scout. It certainly didn't hurt TJ that Joe Flacco is one of his dad's clients, and the younger Linta happens to be a quarterback.

Not a quarterback high on the radar considering he played at Brown and, after graduating last May, spent his final season at Wagner , both FCS schools. TJ didn't get to throw the ball a ton at Wagner, of the Northeast Conference, in part because of an early-season finger injury that cost him two games, and also because the Seahawks had an All-America running back, Ryan Fulse.

The 6-foot-3+, 232-pound Linta was not invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, but he was at a regional combine at Kansas City, an important step in his uphill battle to get noticed.

''The biggest challenge for me mostly involves being the underdog in this draft class,'' he says. ''I wouldn't want it any other way, though; it pushes me harder to prove myself every day.''

He's proven himself enough to some prominent NFL coaches and talent evaluators that 17 teams sent scouts to Linta's pro day at Columbia, his father notes.

''Let's look at the plays on film, he plays like a real quarterback,'' Joe Linta says. ''He has the arm strength and the brain and the physicality, doesn't flinch in the wake of getting blasted in the pocket.''

Then Linta stops his evaluation, recognizing he needs to make it clear he is talking from a football knowledge standpoint, not a familial one.

''Yeah, it's a little weird when calling a general manager or personnel director and talking about your kid,'' he says. ''But I'm not going to be apologetic. It's 99 times out of 100 the most important grade for a player is my own; I've been doing it for 100 years. In this case, because of the nepotism, I wanted to make sure I did not have beer goggles on. Am I seeing what I think I am?

''There are the traits there with TJ: toughness and intelligence, quickness in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield, arm strength and accuracy.''

Two keen observers of quarterbacks, former Browns coach Chris Palmer, who was Eli Manning's position coach when the Giants won the 2008 Super Bowl, and former NFL QB Jim Miller, liked what they saw of TJ enough to identify him as a genuine pro prospect.

Palmer saw ''a very strong arm comparable to some of the players I worked with in the NFL. I would say his arm strength is a seven out of 10.'' The highest mark Palmer ever gave in that category is a nine.

''In this throwing session he displayed good accuracy, he carried the ball at chest height with no windup to the delivery,'' Palmer adds. ''Mechanically, he is very solid, showed very good quickness to catch and throw on slot screens. He clearly displayed a pro level arm.''

Miller, now a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio and a knowledgeable evaluator of the position cites TJ ''always gets his feet in balance when possible to make an accurate pass. Made off-balance throws accurately when necessary.''

''I thought he read coverages quickly to get to the right guy,'' Miller adds of highlights against such opponents as Syracuse and Montana State. ''He's oblivious to the pass rush, which you have to be, and reacted when necessary and sturdy in the pocket taking hits.''

There are many drawbacks that small-school players, particularly QBs, carry when NFL teams consider whether to draft them or pass and then bring them in for OTAs, minicamps or training camp. Level of competition is among the biggest negatives; only one non-FBS quarterback was invited to Indy, and that was Easton Stick of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

TJ Linta acknowledges that can be a difficult obstacle to hurdle. He simply doesn't think that way.

''One of my strengths is I don't see things like that, being intimidated,'' he says. ''One of my good traits is I don't really get rattled. One of the most important days of my life, I know, was at the regional combine, but you can't think like that. I am what I am and here's what I am.''

Like most players on the bubble of getting drafted, Linta might have other avenues to the NFL. With the Alliance of American Football in its first season, which concludes at the end of April, and the XFL launching next year - plus the CFL, of course - there are additional proving grounds.

His dad recognizes those - Joe Linta has represented plenty of players who've not immediately made the NFL - and also that TJ could see seven rounds of the draft go by without hearing his name.

''What I want is for him to have his chance, he deserves a chance to compete and I would like to see him live his dream, as a father. But the pro signs are there,'' he says. ''Scouting is a very inexact science.''

Although Miller isn't a scout, he looks at film of hundreds of potential NFL players each year. Miller believes Linta could get drafted.

''He should be in a camp,'' he says. ''I would take a flier on him in later rounds.''

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