Height still sizable issue for QBs like Troy Smith

May 07, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

When Troy Smith stepped in front of the microphones after the Ravens' first practice at their recent minicamp, the mike stand had to be adjusted - down. That confirmed everybody's worst fears: Smith, the Ravens' fifth-round draft pick, was not as tall as Peyton Manning.

Any other similarities to any other quarterbacks, past and present, will have to be determined on the field. How he plays, that is, not what vitals are next to his name in the program.

Smith is listed at 6 feet even by the Ravens and 6-1 by the NFL, the shortest of the 11 quarterbacks chosen two weekends ago. When an observer, who claims to be 5-11, noticed in the locker room that he was looking up to a barefoot Smith, the rookie couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, how about that?" he said.

Expectations were low (pun intended). If you knew nothing else about Smith, you knew about the Heisman Trophy, and you knew about the height - which, it was said in one pre-draft analysis, was not "ideal." After all these years, there still is an "ideal" for what an NFL quarterback looks like, still a "prototypical" look experts crave in their field generals.

Thankfully, skin tone no longer appears to be part of that ideal. But physical attributes, style of play and the image derived from that still carry a lot of weight, pun intended again.

They've got to be tall. Standing tall in the pocket, that's huge. Dropped back, arm cocked behind ear, posed not like Smith's Heisman but like Johnny Unitas' statue outside M&T Bank Stadium. That never goes out of style. Quarterbacks who don't fit that mold are forced to prove they can play in this league, while ones who do fit it are handed a chance to prove they can't.

That's still the case today, even though examples of winners who don't fit that mold are sprinkled throughout NFL history - and the league today. Smith's draft profile on the league Web site compared him to Jeff Garcia and Drew Brees, who have had obvious success in the NFL at, respectively, listed heights of 6-1 and 6-0. "Listed," that is.

The smart teams that signed them found ways to maximize those players' unconventional skills. There aren't enough smart teams out there, though. Michael Vick is proving to be no Einstein himself, but his Atlanta Falcons continue to appear equally clueless about how to bring the best out of him, endlessly endeavoring to make him fit a system, rather than finding a system that fits him and his unique skills. Not to mention size (6-0).

Eight decades of precedent in pro quarterbacks can't be wrong. Except when it is wrong.

Amid all the talk about being one of the first two black coaches in a Super Bowl, Tony Dungy said that coming out of college in the 1970s, he had bought the excuses about his being too short to play quarterback. Then he got onto the field at cornerback and realized he could look two-time Super Bowl champ Bob Griese straight in the eye.

Not much has changed. The guys who have the look got drafted, and fairly high. Sometimes they play up to expectations. Sometimes they get outplayed by guys who don't fit - who run more than they should (Fran Tarkenton) or don't look terribly fit (Sonny Jurgensen) or don't have rocket arms (Joe Montana). Or whose skills from the neck up make up for whatever anyone thinks he lacks from the neck down (too many to count).

Or who are really short. Poor Doug Flutie barely hung on to play pro ball for 21 years.

After that first Ravens minicamp practice, at least one person didn't find anything notable about Smith's height.

"I think society puts [standards for] different heights and measurements on different players," said first-round pick Ben Grubbs, a 6-3 and 315-pound guard. "But if you're an athlete, you're an athlete, and that's what Troy Smith is. I don't second-guess him or his ability when he's on the field. I just see the leadership role he's taken upon himself. He's done a pretty good job."

In other words, Smith acts like a quarterback, which often is more than half the battle.

"Players know who I am, they know what I represent, they know what I do," he said. "We have that mutual respect for what each other can do."

Even with a handful of "character" questions dotting his college background, Smith found to his amazement that the bigger questions at draft time were about his size. What he calls the "so-called experts" have left a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

"I won't be able to address that until my career is over," he said with a grin. "Then I can see those guys mano a mano, sit down with these guys and talk to them about it."

That conversation might be soon, or years away. But what are the odds that the course of his career will be even slightly determined by his height?

Pretty tall odds, probably. Pun intended.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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