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Published: 4/22/2005

MAC success paved way for Frye

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Maybe the NFL scouts have finally figured it out.

When you play quarterback in the Mid-American Conference you throw to lesser accomplished receivers and stand tall behind smaller and depth-challenged offensive lines.

A guy who puts up big numbers in the MAC isn't necessarily doing so because he's running gimmick plays out of the shotgun.

He's doing so because he's good - every bit as good, in many cases, as the big-name studs from big-time conferences.

The most successful young quarterbacks in the NFL the last two years? That would be Byron Leftwich of Jacksonville and Ben Roethlisberger, the Findlay High product, who turned the league upside down as a rookie last season with Pittsburgh.

Leftwich, like Chad Pennington of the New York Jets, played at Marshall. Roethlisberger, of course, left Miami (Ohio) a year early to enter the NFL draft.

Maybe they made it easier for Charlie Frye of Akron to be taken more seriously in this weekend's draft. He has prototype size - 6-foot-4, 225 pounds - and his 4.76 clocking in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was anything but a turn-off.

After throwing for more than 11,000 yards and setting about every school passing record at Akron, Frye followed up with an MVP performance at the Senior Bowl and now figures to be among the first five quarterbacks taken in this weekend's NFL draft.

He should be a solid catch in the bottom half of the second round, maybe a steal in Round 3. He really doesn't care as long as he gets the chance.

"It's not where you start from,

it's where you finish," he said at the Combine in Indianapolis. "There are a lot of guys like Joe Montana and [Tom] Brady that weren't selected in the first round and they've both won three Super Bowls, so it's not where you start from, it's where you end up."

The Super Bowl talk might be premature as some scouts feel Frye needs to improve on his hard - as in speed - throws, but he gets pretty good grades for accuracy and toughness. There's nothing not to like about his size and smarts.

Alex Smith, touted as the best quarterback available in the draft, is another product of a non-BCS conference. Speaking of smarts, the former Utah quarterback earned his economics degree in two years with a 3.7 GPA and reportedly scored 40 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence and psychological profile test. The average score among the NFL-bound players is about 20.

Smith doesn't have the arm strength of Aaron Rodgers, the Cal quarterback who is the only other lock to go in the first round. But Smith's intelligence, his accuracy in the intermediate passing game, his quick feet, and his ability to make something out of nothing will likely prompt San Francisco to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Only time will tell if Smith or Rodgers is capable of being a franchise quarterback. Their high stock in the draft might be more a case of being at the right position in the right year. Neither would have ranked higher than No. 4 among QBs in the 2004 draft behind Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger, and there's no guarantee both would have gone in the first round.

The best arm in the '05 draft belongs to little-known Andrew Walter of Arizona State. He is 6-6 and 233 pounds, but can be timed by a sundial and, because he rarely leaves the pocket, takes a lot of sacks. Some teams will be scared off by the fact he recently underwent right shoulder surgery and has not been fully able to work out in advance of the draft.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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