Though only 6 feet, Smith has NFL potential

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ohio State quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels recited the number so quickly, it was if he had been asked his date of birth.

“Seven,” Daniels said. “Troy (Smith) had just seven passes knocked down this year, and five of those were on three-step drops.”

Daniels coached in the NFL for seven seasons, but you don’t have to be able to name a single first-round playoff team to know what the knock on Smith will be – his height. NFL scouts are skeptical of quarterbacks who stand 6 feet tall.

“Some teams will say: “No, he’s too short,’ and just end the conversation, ” Daniels said.

Smith doesn’t understand the fuss.

“I can’t buy into that,” he said. “Passes get knocked down whether you’re 6-6 or 6 feet. How tall was Doug Flutie? And look what he did. So who cares?”

Flutie, listed at 5-10, starred in the CFL and threw for 14,715 passing yards during a 12-year NFL career.

Several starting NFL quarterbacks are 6-2 or less, including Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman and Marc Bulger (though he’s listed at 6-3).

New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who earned MVP consideration, measured at 6- during the scouting combine.

“Troy Smith, to me, is Drew Brees,” NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt said.

As vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys from 1960-89, Brandt said the team passed on Mike Singletary because he fell a half-inch below their mandatory measurement (6-2) for a linebacker.

“You have to bottom-line it this way,” Brandt said. “Troy Smith will win you football games.”

Impressive first impression

Brandt spent three days with Smith last spring during Playboy magazine’s All-American weekend in Phoenix.

Smith impressed Brandt in several ways, including his politeness, manner of dress (classy, not flashy) and arm strength (he fired a baseball about 85 m.p.h.).

“I’m probably more bullish on Troy than other people are because my impression of him was so good,” said Brandt, who thinks Smith has a “very good chance” to be a first-round pick in this spring’s NFL draft.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projects Smith as a second-rounder, depending on which players forgo their senior seasons. Kiper ranks Smith behind Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn and juniors JaMarcus Russell (LSU) and Brian Brohm (Louisville) – and even with Michigan State’s Drew Stanton.

“Troy has a strong, powerful arm,” Kiper said. “He sees the passing lanes well, he has real good instincts and he buys time effectively. The only negatives with him are his height and his long throwing motion, which will allow some NFL cornerbacks to jump some routes.”

And whereas Vince Young took a major leap after Texas beat USC in last year’s BCS title game, Kiper doesn’t think Smith can surge into the first round with a great performance tonight against Florida.

“This kid has already had statement games – Texas and Michigan and Notre Dame last season,” he said.

Smith’s coaches point to his terrific accuracy and decision-making, as reflected in his 67 percent completion rate this season and his 30-5 divide between touchdowns and interceptions.

And then there’s Smith’s competitiveness, which is manifested in his 25-2 record (10-1 against ranked teams) as the Buckeyes’ starter.

“I think NFL people want the same thing we do – guys who win,” Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. “The thing that I continue to say, and I haven’t heard anyone disagree with, is that Troy can make every throw – the long out-cut, the deep ball, the touch ball. There are some excellent quarterbacks who can’t make every throw.”

Tressel was a 5-9 quarterback at Division III Baldwin-Wallace. So he’s partial to the little guy.

“There have been plenty of quarterbacks who have played the game at 6 foot and done well,” he said. “But there will be some (NFL) teams that shy away. All he needs is the right team.”

Very handy guy

Glance only at Smith’s hands, and you would swear he’s an NBA forward. Smith could palm a basketball at age 13.

“When I shake hands with him, it’s more like he’s shaking my wrist,” Ohio State center Doug Datish said.

Daniels, who coordinates the Buckeyes’ passing game, said Smith’s huge mitts allow him to get a better grip on the ball, which leads to “tremendous snap” and a tight spiral.

And if Smith’s height were such an issue, Buckeyes offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said, how is he able to fire passes over the team’s giant offensive line?

“The guys in front of him are 6-8, 6-7, 6-6 and two 6-5ers,” he said. “I understand it might not be quite as natural as with (a quarterback) who’s 6-6 or 6-8, but there are not many of those guys either.”

One of the keys is selecting plays that call for Smith to put arc on the ball.

“If you threw a bunch of short passes directly over the middle, I’m sure a lot of people would get them batted down,” Bollman said. “When passes over the middle are a little deeper or your quicker throws are a little wider, that helps him. When you ask him to throw ones that are a little more dangerous, he has to find the (passing) lane and throw through it.”

Smith said he loves the NFL but has attended only one game, a 38-34 Patriots victory in Indianapolis in 2003 that featured a memorable goal-line stand.

A Browns fan from Cleveland, Smith can only hope that teams don’t grow fixated on his stature during the draft in April.

“A lot of things are overrated as a quarterback,” he said. “But who am I to pinpoint that? They’ll use that as a strike against me, but that will make everything even more amazing when it works out.”

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