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January 27, 2006

Senior Bowl QBs a mixed bag

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MOBILE, Ala. - The Senior Bowl quarterbacks are a motley mix made up of an oft-injured player, two longtime backups and two prolific passers from schools not exactly renowned for their football tradition.

They're all hoping to use Saturday's showcase game for college seniors as a springboard to becoming NFL quarterbacks - or, in the case of Penn State's Michael Robinson, perhaps an NFL tailback or receiver.

There's Georgia's D.J. Shockley and Robinson, who weren't full-time starters at quarterback until their senior seasons but led their teams to league championships. There's Jay Cutler of lovable loser Vanderbilt - perhaps the most highly regarded of the bunch - and Darrell Hackney of UAB.

There's Alabama's Brodie Croyle with the surgically repaired knees and Charlie Whitehurst of Clemson.

"All of us have something in our college careers that makes people wonder, can they get the job done?" said Shockley, who will play for the South along with Croyle and Hackney.

He spent three years backing up David Greene before turning in a veteran-like senior season: 2,311 yards and 21 touchdown passes with only five interceptions.

Shockley worried that his mobility would lead NFL types to want a look at him playing other positions this week. It didn't happen.

"That was one of my main concerns coming down here, that people would say, 'Let's see him at this other position just because he's athletic and mobile,"' said Shockley, whose Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference. "Since I've been here, I've heard nothing but good things. People want me to play quarterback and that's what I want to do."

It's what Robinson wants to do, too. But he's hedged his bets by mixing in some work at running back and receiver in practice.

Just in case.

"I've definitely shown that I'm a football player also," said Robinson, who led Penn State to an 11-1 record and Big Ten championship. "I can do other things. I can fill two or three roster spots with one person.

"I can be a backup quarterback, I can be a third-down back, I can be a receiver. I can be whatever I need to be. I'm just trying to get that point across."

It worked for Antwaan Randle El, a running quarterback who's forged a lengthy NFL career as a receiver. He first made the move at the Senior Bowl. Matt Jones of Arkansas did it last year and was a first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars as a receiver.

Robinson certainly isn't giving up on remaining at quarterback, but he's willing to be the NFL's version of a utility player if it gets him into the league and on the field.

"Would you rather get drafted later and play quarterback or get drafted earlier and play quarterback and some other things?" said Robinson, who notched 17 college starts at quarterback, six as a tailback and six as a receiver.

Among the other top NFL prospects in the game are: Virginia offensive lineman D'Brickashaw Ferguson; Clemson defensive back Tye Hill; tailback DeAngelo Williams of Memphis and linebackers DeMeco Ryans of Alabama and Chad Greenway of Iowa.

Cutler's biggest competition among quarterbacks in the draft might come from two players not in the Senior Bowl. Southern California's Matt Leinart turned down an invitation and Vince Young of Texas is a junior who is turning pro early.

Both received far more attention and national TV time than Cutler, the SEC's offensive player of the year. He never played in a bowl game but did start 45 games, set school career marks in virtually every major passing category and become the first Vandy quarterback to earn coaches' All-SEC first-team honors since 1984.

"I can do a little bit of everything," said Cutler, who will play for the North with Robinson and Whitehurst. "I've got a lot of experience. I played in the SEC against great competition game in and game out. I performed well. I won some games, I lost some games, I did well in the fourth quarter.

"I knew I had the ability. We just had to win some games."

For more college football coverage, check out the college football home page.



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