Leak, Troy Smith must win over the doubters

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:29 p.m.
For quarterbacks Chris Leak and Troy Smith, standing tall at the NFL combine is proving to be a big challenge.
With the national championship trophy encased in Florida and the Heisman Trophy safely tucked away in Ohio, the two quarterbacks who shared the grand stage at last month's title game are trying to prove the so-called experts wrong again.
Some critics contend Leak and Smith aren't tall enough to excel at the next level, a line that's followed them seemingly everywhere they've played.
''You make it sound like being short is a disease or something,'' Smith said during the NFL's annual scouting combine. ''I got to meet Drew Brees and he's a great guy and I understand why he has the success he's had - it's because he devotes himself to football.''
The inference was that height had nothing to do with it.
Smith, at 6-feet, and Leak, who is slightly shorter, now must convince the picky scouts who pore over tapes, times and measurements to make the right calls on draft weekend.
Sometimes scouts get things wrong. Jerry Rice was branded too slow, Barry Sanders too short and Tom Brady was knocked for his arm strength.
Throughout their careers, Leak and Smith have routinely heard outsiders dismiss their smallish frames by saying they might be better-suited at a different spot or given the nondescript position of ''athlete.''
Somehow, they've always found a way to prove the detractors wrong.
Smith, who started his college career as a slash back and kickoff returner, established himself as the Buckeyes starter during his sophomore season. All he managed to do was become the second Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three times and the seventh Buckeye to bring home a heisman Trophy. He threw for more than 4,700 yards and 46 touchdowns, 30 of them in 2006.
Leak was even more productive. The Gators starter since midway through his freshman season, he finished his career with more than 11,000 yards passing, 88 touchdowns, and a national title.
''I think it speaks for itself,'' Leak said. ''I think it reflects my hard work, my dedication to the team and the coaches to achieve that and become a national champion.''
But in a world where every quarter-inch and extra pound is evaluated, past successes are not nearly enough.
Smith checked in Friday at 6-feet, while Leak was a whisker shorter than that. By NFL standards that's short, perhaps too short.
Past performances, however, suggest it can be done.
Doug Flutie had a long NFL career despite standing just 5-10. Despite being only 6-feet, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick topped 1,000 yards rushing last season and the 6-1 Rex Grossman led the Bears to the Super Bowl last season.
Still, coaches believe height can be a difference.
''It's somewhat important because you're in the pocket, you don't have to create throwing lanes,'' Rams coach Scott Linehan said. ''Drew Brees is 6-1, our guy, Marc Bulger is 6-2 1/2. ... It's not a determining factor, but it is an advantage.''

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