Marcus Mariota: A New Norm Van Brocklin

Jordan Ingram Men of Oregon: Players and Coaches

Marcus Mariota will participate in the 2015 NFL scouting combine as the most decorated football player in Oregon history. Thus begins the native Hawaiian’s arduous journey to the NFL.

For three years, Mariota thrived in the no huddle, up-tempo Oregon offense, rolling out and extending plays, often racing past flat footed linebackers.

But most NFL teams want pocket passers, quarterbacks comfortable making reads and capable of standing firm amidst the chaos of a charging defensive line. This will be the biggest challenge for Mariota moving forward.

Mariota’s relentless pursuit of perfection, unparalleled work ethic, explosive athleticism, and natural leadership are qualities necessary for success in the NFL. These are the shared attributes of the greatest quarterbacks that have ever played the game. Can Mariota be the next Norm Van Brocklin?

A World War II veteran at age 22, Van Brocklin enrolled at the University of Oregon to play football under new Oregon head coach Jim Aiken. Long before the spread offense, Aiken adopted the T Formation. Van Brocklin was groomed to pass freely within Aiken’s system, protected by a formidable offensive line, featuring center Brad Ecklund.

In his final season, Van Brocklin and the Ducks went undefeated in the Pacific Coast Conference, finished the season 9-2 overall, and played in the Cotton Bowl. The Flying Dutchman became the school’s first passer to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season and became Oregon’s first All-American quarterback. The 1948 Ducks are still regarded as one of the best teams in Oregon football history.

Today, most NFL coaches are hesitant to draft quarterbacks from spread offenses. Washington drafted Baylor Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and found out the hard way that there is a costly punishment for scrambling in the NFL.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians explained his concerns about drafting spread offense quarterbacks.

“So many times you’re evaluating a quarterback who’s never called a play in a huddle and never used a snap count. They hold up a card on the sideline and he kicks his foot and throws the ball. That ain’t playing quarterback. There’s no leadership involved there. Now there might be leadership on the bench. But when you get them now, and you give them verbiage and they have to spit the verbiage out, use the snap count, change the snap count, they’re light years behind. Light years behind.”

At the time, Aiken’s T Formation at Oregon prepared Van Brocklin for an easier transition into professional football. By the end of his playing and coaching career, the Dutchman had won two NFL championships with two different teams (Rams, 1951; Eagles, 1960), was a nine time Pro Bowl selection, and he is now one of only six Ducks currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also currently holds the NFL record for most passing yards in a single game (554).

The Ducks run the spread offense with a master’s stroke. Mariota blossomed within Oregon’s system, transcended the dual threat quarterback mold and brought the first Heisman Trophy to the University of Oregon.  The soft spoken native Hawaiian became the first player in Pac-12 history to surpass 5,000 yards of total offense in a single season, holding the NCAA record for passing for a touchdown in 41 career starts, and the first quarterback in FBS history to finish a season with a TD/INT ratio of 58 touchdowns to seven turnovers.

Mariota has worked out with the Cleveland Browns new quarterback coach Kevin O’Connell for the past month and has received advice from San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers. The Heisman winner is the first to admit there are going to be growing pains until an NFL team takes a chance and drafts him.

“I haven’t huddled in a while. That will be one thing. It seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing. There’s other things as well. Three-, five-, seven-step drops under center. That’s all stuff I’ve been able to work on the last month,” Mariota said.

And Mariota knows he will need to make some tough adjustments in order to succeed in the NFL. And there is nothing to suggest that Mariota wouldn’t take full advantage of opportunities the same way Van Brocklin did.

“Other people’s opinions, that’s something I can’t control. All it takes is one team to believe in me and to give me an opportunity. I’ll do my best to make the most of it,” Mariota said.

Mariota and the Flying Dutchman have very little in common outside their love and exceptional talent for the game of football.

So, did Van Brocklin have any parting words of wisdom about the NFL?

“There’s no tougher way to make easy money than pro football.”

Top photo from video

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