As noted, Cam Newton faced some tricky questions at the NFL combine over the weekend. He did not, however, face any regarding drugs. Those were posed to Ryan Mallett, the quarterback from Arkansas.
Since Mallett declared himself draft-eligible, word had circulated that NFL clubs were concerned about “character issues.” Last week Tony Softli, a former pro scout and executive, posted on the 101ESPN St. Louis Web site that those issues involve the possibility of drug use, and apparently not just casual use. Wrote Softli:
Character and drug use issues are starting to rear their ugly head. Heavy rumors of drug use and possible addiction kept him from coming out for the 2010 draft. A lot of people are comparing Mallett to Ryan Leaf. I think Ryan was a better football player, with a cannon for an arm but the immaturity was just too much to overcome. A hair [follicle] test might tell all 32 teams who this person really is.
There’s no word on whether Mallett underwent a hair follicle test at the combine, but he was tested in other ways. He threw well, which never hurts if you’re a quarterback, but it was widely reported that he cut short a Saturday press briefing due to persistent drug-related questions. Don Banks of SI.com described the session as “a train wreck.”
If you watch the video below, you might get a different impression. (Then again, you might not.) No, he doesn’t offer much in the way of responses to those queries, and yes, he does at one point say that’s the last he’s going to say about the matter, but he doesn’t storm off. He leaves after 7 1/2 minutes, not 30 seconds. He even says, “Thanks, guys,” as he’s exiting.
As a card-carrying member of the media, I sometimes wonder what we expect a person to say in such circumstances. Had Mallett said, “Yes, I’ve used drugs,” we’d have wanted to know what, when and how often. Had he said, “No, I’ve never used drugs,” we’d have branded him a liar should a test indicating otherwise come to light. (There is a record of him being arrested in 2009 for public intoxication.)
If you’re an NFL team in need of a quarterback, do you take Mallett in Round 1? (Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has said repeatedly he wouldn’t because of lapses in accuracy and decision-making.) He was, after all, good enough to lead the Razorbacks to a second-place finish in the SEC West, ahead of LSU and Alabama. He can throw the ball. And there was once a famous quarterback who entered the draft battling whispers about drug use and wasn’t taken until the 27th pick.
His name: Dan Marino. He’s in the Hall of Fame.
(OK, here’s the video, via MartyTimeTV on YouTube. And if you watch the entire clip, you’ll hear esteemed colleague D. Orlando Ledbetter ask two questions — both about Mallett’s relationship with Bobby Petrino.)
By Mark Bradley