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Winning equation

Finding the right mix of brain, brawn in a QB still tough call to make

Typically it is easy to recognize unintelligent play from a quarterback.

Often, intelligent play goes unnoticed.

Several times during the Rose Bowl, even as the University of Texas drove down the field in the final minute to win its first national championship in 35 years, Longhorns quarterback Vince Young paused and asked a teammate to take a peek at the Southern Cal Trojans.

''Go ahead, look at 'em," Young said. ''They're nervous. They're nervous because they can't stop us."

Like rare gems, wins at Vanderbilt are precious. With one such victory a touchdown drive away, Commodores quarterback Jay Cutler looked at his teammates as they prepared to quiet a hostile Arkansas crowd.

''Wow, they're going to love us now," he said, smiling.

Young and Cutler's statements were more smart than bold, more intuitive than boastful.

Not just because Young eventually scored on an 8-yard run with 19 seconds remaining to lift his team to victory, and Cutler tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left to give his team the win.

The Longhorns, nervous themselves, relaxed because Young was relaxed.

The Commodores, feeling the pressure of the tense situation, believed because Cutler believed.

There isn't a question on the Wonderlic test that helps determine whether a player is smart enough to recognize when his teammates need an emotional boost. And there are no psychological tests that allow a player to demonstrate the ability to provide it at the right time.

Similarly, there are no exams you can give a quarterback to judge if he'll know when to throw high, when to throw wide, when to tuck and run, or when to throw the ball away. Or one to give you a clue if he'll remember to do the right thing when it is time.

''Being a smart quarterback is about making good decisions, and that's probably the thing that's the most difficult to measure when coaches look at college players for the draft," said the Patriots' Tom Brady, regarded as one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL. ''There is no test for it."

Arm strength and 40-yard dash times can be measured; leadership and character can be measured by talking to teammates and coaches. But how can a team ascertain if someone is smart enough to be an NFL quarterback?

Smart quarterbacks seem to know when to do what needs to be done, and that knowledge isn't discernible from answers on a Scantron sheet. Some say conventional testing is all but worthless in that sense, and that is why NFL draft history is fraught with mistakes made on quarterbacks.

''There is a thing called football intelligence," said Pat Kirwan, an analyst and former NFL scout and player personnel man. ''It's a different animal. It's not what people would perceive as the intelligence it takes to get into the University of Pennsylvania.

''One is the ability to stand in front of a blackboard and explain why. Another is the ability to deal with stress and perform. You can be the smartest guy in the world and not be worth anything as a quarterback.

''It's like there are people who are excellent lawyers, but they aren't any good in a courtroom. They can't handle courtroom stress."

A lawyer can get only so far on flash and style, however. At some point, knowledge of law is important.

Mind field
Confidence and a strong arm are great, but an NFL quarterback has to be smart enough to handle the stress of the position and understand the complexities of an NFL offense, even if he played in a so-called pro-style offense in college.

''It's like the difference between the English language and the Russian language," CBS commentator and former NFL quarterback Phil Simms said. ''The most sophisticated college offense is the most vanilla, basic, nothing pro offense. So your ability to learn and gain knowledge is very important.

''You have a week to learn all this information. The test is on Sunday. You come in Monday, they say, 'Good job. Now here's this week's language. Learn it; there's another test Sunday.' It's complicated and it never stops."

As much discussion as there is about intelligent quarterbacks, there are plenty of examples of some of the smartest on the field being overlooked. Four quarterbacks were picked before Joe Montana. Bart Starr was the 200th player taken in the draft. Brady went one pick earlier in 2000, behind six other quarterbacks.

That is partly why Simms believes a Wonderlic score cannot be so easily dismissed in evaluating a potential NFL quarterback. Young had to retake the mental aptitude exam at the NFL Combine after officials said a grading problem led to an incorrect score that was reported to be in the single digits.

His eventual score of 16 is still below the average for an NFL quarterback (24), yet many NFL executives have downplayed the significance of Young's score. The New York Times reported that Dan Marino scored a 15 on the Wonderlic; Ryan Leaf 27.

''If someone says Vince Young's test score -- if it was as low as reported -- doesn't alarm them, they're not telling the truth," Simms said. ''Of course it's a red flag. When that red flag goes up, you research it big time. You have to do extra work to determine whether he can learn your offense."

Teams have done that, putting Young, Cutler, and USC's Matt Leinart, the top three quarterbacks in this weekend's draft, through extensive classroom sessions to gauge how well each could explain an offensive attack.

Jets coach Eric Mangini, who had a five-hour chalkboard conference with Cutler, told reporters at the recent NFL meetings that intelligence testing often gives an inaccurate assessment of football ability.

''I've been around players that have had low Wonderlic scores that have been some of the smartest players I ever coached," Mangini said. ''And that's always the difficulty of looking at that score and trying to define a player by that score. I can think of four, five guys who had what would be considered extremely low scores. If you get to know them, you're thinking: How could he possibly grade out at this? He's so much smarter than his score indicates.

''Then you have dumb smart guys. They've got great scores but they can't figure it out. They would do great if they had to write a paper before each game. But to go execute the information, they just can't get it. As smart as they are and as good as they are in the classroom, they can't put it into action."

Class in session
But you must prove it in the classroom to get an opportunity on the field. Young said he learned that in his first couple of years at Texas. After getting by on his athleticism, he said he had to study the game to play at the college level.

He understands he'll have to learn even more to thrive in the NFL. He got a taste of it in his visits with NFL teams the last two months.

''They were like job interviews, basically," Young said by telephone Thursday after arriving in New York for tomorrow's draft. ''Your game tape might be your résumé but they want to know how well you think on your feet, and how well you understood the information they gave you and whether you could relay it back to them."

Young felt he did well in those sessions, hopefully erasing doubts about whether he can handle an NFL offense. He said there is more and different information, not more complicated information.

''People who say that don't know what they're talking about," Young said. ''There's a lot of carryover. But there will be different terminology to adjust to, and more information to take in. Nothing that I can't handle."

Kirwan says he has received positive reports about Young's visits.

''There's no doubt in my mind he made a huge impact with his football intelligence on one NFL head coach, who had a predisposition that Young couldn't handle pro football," Kirwan said. ''The coach said, 'I wish I met the kid before I went through all this other stuff, because I wasted my time trying to figure out if he could handle what he'll have to handle in the NFL. All I had to do was talk to him.' "

That predisposition was surely shaped by the Wonderlic fiasco. Some of the talk about his intelligence, or lack thereof, has bothered Young.

''I was offended, definitely," Young said. ''But I took it as something you have to go through, something you have to deal with being one of the top guys. There always seemed to be something about me that people wanted to bring up to criticize my game, to doubt what I can do. There's nothing I can do about that."

Looking smart
Likely to be a top-10 pick, he'll have the opportunity to prove it on the field. Brady had the opposite problem when he went through the draft process. Few thought he was physically capable of doing the job.

Once a stick-figured 210-pounder who ran the 40-yard dash at a fast-walk rate of 5.2 seconds, Brady now weighs 225 and has improved his speed. More importantly, he always had a decent arm, but now he can make throws that few in the league can. He is even mildly insulted when described as only a ''smart" quarterback.

''If you can't make the throws it doesn't matter how intelligent you are or how smart you are," Brady said. ''You can't get the job done."

Simms agrees.

''Don't tell me about Tom Brady and all these intangibles and smarts, the main thing he does that gives him credibility is the fact that he can really, really throw the ball," Simms said. ''It's amazing how much smarter you are if you can throw the ball."

And you look even smarter if you can do it under pressure . . . in national championship games, major bowls, or in hostile environments. That's how Brady would start his appraisal of incoming rookies.

''Look at the game tape," he said. ''That should tell you a lot of what you need to know.

''I look at these guys -- Matt Leinart and Vince Young -- and believe they will be good pros. They just have to work hard and understand that what they know is only a small bit of what you need to know in this league. Watch and learn is what I'd tell them.

''Or like I told Matt Cassel [a rookie with the Patriots last season], 'Shut up and listen.'

''There are a lot of great players in this league, so you can't depend only on your athleticism as you did at the college level. But these guys would not have done so well on any level if they weren't smart enough to make good decisions.

''You can see good decision-making on film, but you can't see good playmaking on some written exam. Smart players make smart decisions in games.

''You can see the speed and strength at the Combine. But on film is where you see if a guy is smart enough to be a quarterback in the NFL."

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