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January 15, 2008
Morelli, Smith take different paths to NFL
• More Shrine Game Coverage
As the only Penn State quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards in multiple seasons, Morelli was a lock for a postseason senior All-Star game. His physical tools ensured the NFL would take note.
But even after posting outstanding numbers during his senior season, Tulsa's Smith needed a last-minute invitation to join Morelli in Houston. Smith made the cross-country trip from Saturday's Hula Bowl in Hawaii to Texas on Monday.
The quarterbacks are continuing their auditions for the NFL with the East team in the Shrine Game, and each is trying to shed negative labels and move their way up draft boards.
"I'm here to show I can do it like the rest of the guys," Smith said.
Morelli arrived at Penn State as a heralded five-star prospect out of Pittsburgh's Penn Hills High. At 6 feet 4 and 232 pounds, Morelli has the frame of an NFL quarterback and the arm to match.
But his career was marked with inconsistency. A leap in his play never occurred during his senior season, and he drew criticism from fans and media alike.
He ended his career by completing 56 percent of his passes, with 31 touchdowns and 18 interceptions; he threw 19 TDs and 10 picks as a senior. Morelli also led Penn State to back-to-back bowl wins for the first time since the 1998-99 seasons.
"I look at that as a good career," Morelli said.
But bowl wins don't equate to high draft status, and Morelli has to prove he has more than just a big arm. He says he plans to work on his footwork, but NFL teams also would like to see improved consistency and decision-making.
That is where Morelli and Smith start to differ. Smith started for three seasons, with his completion percentage never dropping below 60 percent. Following a coaching change, Smith had a career year in 2007, with 5,065 passing yards and 47 touchdown passes in 14 games. He became the first quarterback in NCAA Division I-A history to throw for at least 300 yards in 14 consecutive games, and he finished his career with 10,924 yards, 83 touchdowns and 35 interceptions.
Those numbers aren't an automatic ticket to the NFL, either. Smith was a late addition to the Shrine Game after Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco opted to play in the Senior Bowl.
At 6-2 (which is stretching it) and 193 pounds, Smith doesn't have the prototypical frame of an NFL quarterback. He might not have ideal arm strength, either.
But he has shown mobility and adaptability. He spent the first three seasons of his college career playing for Steve Kragthorpe, a former NFL quarterback coach.
"I was trying to be like a sponge for those years I was around him," Smith said. "He's got that experience, and what he said mattered a lot to me."
Smith said Kragthorpe helped him with the mental part of the game, which came in handy when the coach left for Louisville. With no time to waste, Smith made the new offense look easy with a career year.
Unlike Morelli in the Big Ten, though, Smith feasted on weaker Conference USA defenses. Smith will have to use the coming weeks to show he has the tools of an NFL quarterback and prove his numbers weren't padded by playing bad teams.
Will their Shrine Game auditions and upcoming workouts be enough? The duo will have to wait more than three months to get the answer.
"Hopefully everything will work out the way it's supposed to," Morelli said.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.