INDIANAPOLIS – The past is the past.
There’s nothing Matt Barkley can do now about his decision to stay at the University of Southern California for his senior season or a subpar 2012 campaign that dropped him down most draft boards or a separated right shoulder that’s become his highest hurdle in proving himself to NFL scouts.
And Barkley has comes to terms with all of it.
“No regret that I came back last year,” Barkley said at the NFL Scouting combine. “Haven’t looked back once and wouldn’t change my USC career for anything. You can’t really teach some of that stuff so I’ve had to learn through experience over the years about leadership and, definitely, I think I’m in a better position now entering this draft than I was last year.”
Whether an NFL team agrees with Barkley will be seen during April’s draft. Last year, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., projected Barkley to be a Top 4 pick. This year, the quarterback isn’t even projected to be a first-round pick.
“History would’ve been rewritten completely,” Kiper said.
After leading the Trojans to a 7-6 record, Barkley fell off Kiper’s Big Board. However, earlier this month Kiper softened and said if Barkley could be chosen in the Top 32, but it won’t be until the 20th pick or later.
The Cardinals, searching for a quarterback of their own, have the seventh choice.
One USC teammate felt the Trojans’ underwhelming season is factoring into the criticism being levied on Barkley.
“Our team did not have the most successful team this year and perceptions of us individually have all been affected, I believe, because of that,” USC center Khaled Holmes said.
At the combine, Barkley exuded an aura of self-awareness on top of a confidence one would expect from a Southern Cal quarterback. Yet, while he’s out to prove that not all USC quarterbacks appear to be overhyped NFL prospects, Barkley is facing the possibility of not being a starting quarterback for the first time since junior high school. He started all four years at Mater Dei High School, about 40 miles from the Coliseum, where he started all four years for the Trojans after replacing Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez as a true freshman.
While being a backup during his rookie season is the most likely scenario for Barkley, it’s not what he has in mind.
“My plan and what I hope to do is to start right (away) and to make an impact right away,” Barkley said. “So, we’ll see what happens and where I end up.”
It doesn’t matter where he’s chosen, Barkley wants to be the first quarterback to shake Roger Goodell’s hand in New York City. He sees himself as the best quarterback in the draft and he wasn’t shy about telling everyone so.
“I believe I am,” Barkley said. “I don’t think you can go into a draft not thinking you are. So I definitely believe I am.”
With teams smitten with the read-option offense, the latest trend to consume the NFL, they’re looking to discover 2012’s version of the 2011 crop of quarterbacks. Barkley’s not their guy. He’ll openly admit he’s not a mobile quarterback like Washington’s Robert Griffin or Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
He’s a traditional drop-back passer who believes he has the athleticism required to avoid a sack when the pocket collapses.
“I think my throwing on the run is great and have complete confidence in that,” he said. “I’m not going to be running a 4.3 40 (yard dash) or anything like that but how many starting quarterbacks this day can? I’m strong enough to make every throw in the pocket and make guys miss.”
While Barkley is making those claims, the hundreds of NFL scouts and coaches gathered in Indianapolis will have to wait until his March 27 pro day to see it for themselves. The shoulder injury, suffered in November, will keep Barkley from throwing at the combine.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said the sooner Barkley can return to throwing at full power, the better off it’ll be for first-round hopeful.
“It’s harder if the guy can’t do anything till April,” Arians said. “That’s late.
“He’ll (probably) have four or five pro days because everybody is going to want him individually and the big pro day has become so orchestrated that it’s rehearsed too often that you want him out there by yourself more to get to know the guy. Once he shows everybody his arm strength is back he’ll be fine.”
Barkley danced around a definitive answer on how healthy his shoulder is, only saying he’s “100 percent” on track with his rehabilitation program, which has been under the watchful eyes of the same team of doctors and physical therapists, led by Dr. James Andrews.
Until Barkley is healthy enough to throw for scouts and coaches, the questions about his arm strength and NFL aptitude will continue to linger. As a Southern Cal quarterback, he’s used to the skepticism.
After taking the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2010-11, Sanchez has struggled over the last few seasons. Former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart never lived up to the hype that accompanied his Heisman Trophy in 2004.
Barkley doesn’t want his name mentioned alongside other underachieving USC signal callers.
“I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing on that,” Barkley said. “I know they’ve done great things and there’ve been some great USC quarterbacks to do great things in the NFL. I know my case, my situation, my story is different than all those other guys and I don’t think you can put everyone in the same mold.”
Barkley hopes to cast his own mold next month and quiet his critics. He hears Kiper saying he’s not physically imposing and how he won’t “wow you in a workout.” He heard the reporter ask him about not having an NFL-caliber arm on Friday – to which he responded, “watch the tape.”
Barkley’s not looking back at an end of a career that could’ve been.
He’s only looking forward to what’s to come.