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Arizona football: Foles ready for more drills, then NFL draft

2012-03-18T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T10:26:44Z Arizona football: Foles ready for more drills, then NFL draftRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 18, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Nick Foles sat in a meeting with NFL executives during last month's combine, facing a mental minefield designed to test his intelligence, decision-making skills and sanity.

There were no right answers.

The former Arizona Wildcats quarterback was asked questions about coverages, protections and off-the-field incidents. The queries were designed to mask a few telling details that would provide a window into Foles' personality.

One question stood out: "Would you rather be a starting quarterback as a rookie but not make the playoffs, or be the backup quarterback on a Super Bowl champion?"

So, scouts asked Foles, what is it? What do you want to be?

He thought for a minute, and then answered. Carefully.

Making UA history

Foles has been poked, prodded, analyzed, weighed, measured and tested during his four-month transition from college star to NFL draft hopeful. Monday, the UA's all-time leading passer will work out for all 32 teams as part of the Wildcats' annual pro day.

And while experts differ on where Foles, 23, fits in the upcoming draft - many project him as a second- or third-round pick - this much is certain: He'll be taken somewhere and by somebody.

That alone is an accomplishment.

Since joining the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) Conference in 1978, Arizona has yet to produce an NFL quarterback. Starters John Conner (1985) and Alfred Jenkins (1987) were drafted to play other positions. Jason Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills but never appeared in a game. Keith Smith was too small and too old, his career delayed by a stint playing minor-league baseball. Ortege Jenkins had a big arm but no aim.

Willie Tuitama, the UA's former yardage king, appeared headed for an NFL career before a drunk-driving arrest and character issues drove him to a second-tier arena league.

The last UA signal-caller to take a snap in an NFL game was Bill Demory, an undrafted free agent who started three games for the New York Jets in 1973.

Foles is different. In three seasons (2009-11) as Arizona's starting quarterback, the Austin, Texas, native threw for 10,011 yards and 67 touchdowns. His 66.8 percent completion percentage (933 for 1,395) and relatively low (33) interception numbers made him one of the nation's most accurate quarterbacks. At 6 feet 5 inches and 240 pounds, he has pro potential.

To consider him slow or unathletic would be a mistake, former UA quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo said.

"I think the definition of athleticism sometimes escapes me," said Scelfo, Foles' position coach in 2010 and 2011. "Nick can move on the (basketball) court and can move on the football field. For a quarterback, athleticism is being able to extend the play without breaking it off and running."

Foles can do that. In fact, it's one of the reasons he was able to crack the starting lineup as a sophomore. The Michigan State transfer struggled in former coach Mike Stoops practices, which were so scripted and regimented, there was little room for improvisation.

Scelfo has a phrase for what Foles was able to do on game days.

"He can play in the backyard, and in the NFL, there's a lot of that," Scelfo said.

"Nick started instinctively; now, he has to apply the technical aspects instead of the other way around. If you come in knowing the technical aspects instead of it being the other way around, you'll get drafted, but then all of a sudden the whole thing hits you in the face."

Slow, but improving

There's a lot riding on Foles' performance in Monday's pro day on campus. But the workout probably counts for one-fourth of his total body of work.

Foles' draft process began in January's Senior Bowl. Playing for the South team, he completed a team-high 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown; his scoring pass went to Arizona teammate Juron Criner, who caught six passes for 77 yards.

Foles' performance earned him a spot in a made-for-television football skills challenge that aired on Super Bowl weekend, and he traveled to Florida for an interview with ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.

The reviews were less-favorable at the combine, his second big test. While Foles flashed the strong arm and accuracy that made him Arizona's single-season and career passing leader, his footwork - and foot speed - were concerning.

His 40-yard dash time of 5.14 seconds was the slowest among all quarterbacks invited to the combine; Stanford's Andrew Luck, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in this spring's draft, was a half-second faster. Baylor's Robert Griffin III was the fastest quarterback at 4.41 seconds.

Foles said he wasn't concerned by his 40 time, though he plans to run it again Monday.

"You'd have to ask the scouts what they look at. But some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL aren't guys who had great 40 times," he said. "I don't think it's a make-or-break on your athletic ability. Can you move away from pressure? Can you be accurate? You don't really see that with the 40-yard dash. That said, I want to go out there and show that I've improved on that as well. That's what this is all about, showing that you've improved."

Leaving home

Foles' body of work is impressive, and his combine performance was more than good enough to earn him a mid-round selection. But it's the third and fourth stages of his evaluation - in-person workouts and character- that should boost his stock.

He graduated in December with a communication degree and though he last took a snap here in November, he remains connected to the Old Pueblo.

The Cats' quarterback reads the bible and attends early-morning yoga classes. He mentors three local children, all brothers. Last week, Foles treated them to hamburgers and a night of video games.

While training in Orange County, Calif., this winter, the quarterback rooted for his alma mater against home team USC. Foles sports a single tattoo on the inside of his biceps, the Chinese characters for "family." He writes his late aunt's name, Nancy, on his wristbands.

Though his birth certificate and drawl scream Texas, Foles considers Tucson home. "I love Tucson the town, and to see my teammates, my coaches and my friends, it's just great," he said. "I've made a lot of special relationships here."

But Foles will likely have to leave the state to pursue his pro dreams. He'll fit best in a pro-style offense with an established coach and a businesslike approach, Scelfo said. Foles' standing as the sixth- or seventh-best quarterback in the draft means he could land with a championship-caliber team.

•••

Foles' answer was simple, direct, unpretentious. He told the scouts that, given the choice between winning as a role player or losing a starter, he'd rather win.

"It'd be a great experience," he said. "If you're winning a Super Bowl, it's probably because the quarterback is probably pretty damn good.

"Having a great guy to mentor under would be pretty good. Seeing how he leads the team would be a great experience."

Soon, Foles figures, he'll have that chance.

"I'm looking for a team that believes in me, a team that's willing to invest in me," he said. "You can't look at the city, and you can't look at the team. It's, 'Do the coaches believe in me?' I really want to be in a situation where they do."

On StarNet: Find the latest news on Arizona's NFL draft hopefuls on Ryan Finley's blog at azstarnet.com/finley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
UCLA 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
ASU 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
Arizona 6 2 0 0.750 9 2 0 0.818
USC 6 3 0 0.667 7 4 0 0.636
Utah 4 4 0 0.500 7 4 0 0.636
Colorado 0 8 0 0.000 2 9 0 0.182

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 7 1 0 0.875 10 1 0 0.909
Stanford 4 4 0 0.500 6 5 0 0.545
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 6 0 0.455
Oregon State 2 5 0 0.286 5 5 0 0.500
Washington 2 5 0 0.286 6 5 0 0.545
Washington State 2 6 0 0.250 3 8 0 0.273
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