What's the biggest thing Bobby Petrino will use to grade his quarterbacks when spring football practice rolls around in two weeks?
"How will they lead the team?" Petrino said last week when he talked to a Razorback Club in Batesville.
And of all of the things Ryan Mallett did the last two years at Arkansas, that's what he did best. Foremost, that's what he brings to the table for NFL teams.
Yes, there's more. But anyone who questions Mallett's leadership didn't listen to Petrino the last two years. They didn't listen to Paul Petrino, the offensive coordinator in 2009. They didn't listen to Garrick McGee, Mallett's QB coach the last three years and the offensive coordinator last season.
All three of those men said Mallett was a positive in the way he worked with teammates and led the team. That's what Petrino said he's looking at first when Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell and Jacoby Walker battle to replace Mallett.
"That's the biggest thing, who can be the leader of the team," Petrino said. "That's what we'll be watching for, to see who leads when the competitive spirit comes out this spring."
Petrino has said it over and over: players determine the depth chart. He calls it "fun" watching that happen.
The head coach was asked to predict Mallett's future as far as his NFL career at the Batesville meeting.
"That's really hard to predict," Petrino said. "I think what happened in the (bowls) hurt his draft standing. By that I mean some (quarterbacks) who played well were athletic. But you have to go back and look at all the things Ryan did in the season for us. He made all of the throws they want (in the NFL). In the right offense, he's really, really good.
"If he stays healthy, he'll do very well. But what I'll say about him, he's very, very tough. He can take shots and get back up and keep playing.
"What we talk a lot about is how you display courage. It's OK to be afraid, but you have to overcome it.
"What he can do and what the NFL guys see is the way he transfers his weight and makes some of those throws in the seams all the while getting hit in the chin. Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson both do that as well as anyone you'll see.
"The best thing that could happen to Ryan was to get drafted to a team where he doesn't need to play right away. If you can sit for three or four years and learn, that's a good situation. The guy (Aaron Rodgers) sat behind Brett Favre for a few years and was ready when his number was called."
You don't get the idea that Mallett has ever been afraid. He's stuck his nose in and competed. He did that last weekend at the NFL Combine. He'll do that when he's taken in the NFL draft.
His character has been questioned in some national blogs over the last couple of weeks.
I leave you with one question: Does Bobby Petrino seem like a coach who would risk his career on a quarterback with the kind of issues rumored? No, he doesn't. And he will lead in the huddle and in practice. His previous head coach judged him as just fine.
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