Harper tries to overcome five words

CLEMSON — All it took was five words, but it might have been the most damaging words he has ever said or sent via a text message.

When ESPN reporter Joe Schad texted former Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper about Tommy Bowden's dismissal as head coach last Oct. 13, Harper responded back by saying "He got what he deserved."

Schad reported the text moments later, but Harper backpedaled initially by telling the local media that he was talking about Dabo Swinney being promoted as interim head coach. When NFL scouts started interviewing him as an NFL prospect early in the process, the 6-foot-3, 227-pound quarterback decided it was best to come clean and tell the truth.

"I wasn't thinking that it would be on ESPN or anything, but the next thing I know, boom, it is everywhere," Harper recently recalled. "I tried to call the reporter and say that was confidential, but he said that it was too late.

"It was my fault. I should have known better than that. I have been around this business for a long time and you really have to watch what you say."

Especially when you were the top senior quarterback in the draft at one point and you were in the middle of a season that was spiraling out of control.

"I don't know if anything has hurt Cullen Harper worse than his play last year," said Chris Steuber, Scout.com's NFL Draft Analyst. "I know he had a shoulder injury and the coaching change. Before the season started last year, I had Cullen Harper as my top senior quarterback. I was probably the most disappointed guy as far as his play goes from last year."

Though Harper eventually told the truth, scouts still question his ability to lead as they enter Saturday's 2009 NFL Draft.

"The comments that he made about Bowden will obviously hurt him because it does not show good leadership and it doesn't show what he is all about," Steuber said.

Harper has since tried to move on from those comments and has done everything he can to prove to scouts that he is an NFL caliber quarterback. Despite what was a bad senior season for the ACC preseason Player of the Year, Steuber seems to think Harper still has the ability to make it in the NFL.

"I still think he has potential. I'm one of these guys out there that really thinks he can be a pretty good pro quarterback," he said. "But obviously he has to be in the right system and he has to be coached up a little more, but I think we saw the potential Cullen Harper has a junior, but unfortunately as a senior he did not show that kind of ability."

As a junior, Harper completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards and 27 touchdowns, while setting 12 single-season records and 10 single-game records.

But 2008 wasn't good. Sure he had his moments and an injured shoulder he suffered in a 34-10 loss to Alabama to start the season played a lot into it as did an offensive line that was young and was suffering through continuity issues due to injuries.

Still, he threw just 13 touchdowns and though he completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2,601 yards, he also threw 14 interceptions, eight more than the previous year.

"I think his drop in production had a lot to do with the offensive line he had around him," Steuber said. "I think a lot of the players on the team also read the press clippings a little too much. Maybe it was a wakeup call for Cullen Harper, but I think he is a much better player than he showed last year."

As a junior, Harper completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,991 yards and 27 touchdowns, while setting 12 single-season records and 10 single-game records.
So does his personal quarterback coach, former UCF head coach and Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Kruczek, who Harper hired to get him ready for the draft.

Kruczek won two Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970s as Terry Bradshaw's backup and before Ben Roethlisberger set an NFL record for most consecutive wins (15) by a rookie quarterback in 2004, Kruczek, who played college football at Boston College, owned the mark with six straight wins when he stepped in for an injured Bradshaw in 1976.

"I think Cullen has a huge upside," said Kruczek, who coached Matt Ryan last year. "There are a number of factors that resulted in him having the kind of year that everyone thought he was going to have."

One of those things could have been Harper's mechanics, which the two have worked on a lot in the last fourth months to get corrected.

"He worked extremely hard on fixing things," Steuber said. "He would step underneath himself with his left foot so he could not get his hip through the throw which generates the power on your throws. It's not the arm. It is through your leg and your hip drive.

"He had problems locating throws at first, but once he got his confidence, he felt more comfortable. That was good for him. He has cleaned up a major percentage of it, but it is an ongoing process."

Harper says his throw is coming down a little more than three quarters instead over the top like he has done his whole Clemson career.

"I'm throwing the football with my legs and my core mainly," he said. "I have a strong lower body and core and it is really important that I utilize all of it instead of my arm."

Scouts like Harper's size and his quick setup, plus they like the fact that he is an effective game-manager. Because of his accuracy and the fact they think he has adequate arm-strength, Harper has the tools to quarterback most NFL teams.

Scouts also think he could be a good quarterback for maybe a team that runs the West Coast Offense. Teams like San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Denver and New England would all be good fits for a quarterback of Harper's ability, who is expected to be taken somewhere between the fourth and sixth round.

"I think he is a good player and has good accuracy," Steuber said. "He doesn't have the strongest arm, but he has good accuracy and it has worked for him. If he gets in a system that he can learn and develop under a veteran quarterback and work on his mechanics a little better and his footwork, I think he will be fine.

"I think he is a good developmental quarterback for some team and maybe in one of the West Coast offenses. Maybe one of those teams will take a chance on him. He seems to be a good fit there. He is a good intermediate kind of passer and I think he has a chance."

Which is surprising considering scouts were not impressed with him after what he said about Bowden.

"I have put that behind me and have answered all the questions for that and I'm just moving on from that," Harper said. "People want to know why I said it, I just explained to them what happened and everyone has been pretty forgiven so it is too bad it happened and I definitely regret it.

"I thought it was confidential between a reporter and me, but you learn your lesson and you don't let it happen again."

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