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Marcus Mariota to Bears not impossible

2/19/2015
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Journey To The Draft: Marcus Mariota

Mel Kiper Jr. breaks down some of the strengths and weaknesses of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after Chicago Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace danced around any commitment to Jay Cutler, the quarterback's potential replacement addressed the media assembled for the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota seems a long shot for the Bears, which own the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. But the club's brass left open that possibility Wednesday when asked about the quarterback position. The team also brought in former backup Josh McCown for a Wednesday morning breakfast in the restaurant of the team's hotel.

"We're gonna look at all avenues, whether it's free agency, whether it's evaluating and aligning our roster correctly," Fox said when asked about potentially drafting a quarterback. "Obviously [in] the draft because that's where you get young players you can build in your system that can be core guys. All those avenues are going to be things you look at to get better."

But are Fox and Pace being realistic, considering they've got an experienced and talented, yet inconsistent quarterback in Cutler already in the fold? If Mariota tumbled to No. 7 overall, would the Bears seriously ponder making him the team's selection?

That's unclear at this point, but the Bears appear to be leaving open all options.

"That's the hardest position to find, and I recognize that," Pace said. "But that's what we do. That's my challenge and we'll evaluate that.

Having spent considerable time working in New Orleans with Drew Brees, one of the NFL's elite signal callers, Pace admitted to being spoiled by strong quarterback play. Pace was asked whether he preferred to draft and develop a quarterback over bringing in an experienced veteran such as McCown.

"I think it can come either way; just getting the best guys at that position," Pace said. "I know [Hall of Fame former Packers GM] Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year. It's such a critical, critical position, that that's something we're always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team. So competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere. There's different ways. All these quarterbacks, if we went through them all, they all have different personalities; just like we do. I don't think you have to be just like [Brees], and I think it would be wrong for me to be that focused in on that that's the guy it has to be."

That potentially bodes well for Mariota, should he fall out of the top five and into Chicago's range at No. 7. But as the evaluation process intensifies at the combine for Fox and Pace, surely the club's personnel staff is focusing in on finding answers to many of the questions concerning Mariota's potential as a pro.

Mariota excelled in Oregon's high-octane no-huddle attack, and it's logical to ponder whether the quarterback's big numbers in college were manufactured mostly by the system. There are also concerns about Mariota's arm strength.

Mariota admitted to experiencing some awkwardness getting accustomed to huddling again, and he's also working on many of the minor details of a traditional pro-style offense such as three-, five-, and seven-step drops from under center.

Mariota confirmed Thursday he'll throw during Saturday's workouts, and also revealed he's been working closely through the pre-draft process with quarterback specialist Kevin O'Connell, a former third round pick by the New England Patriots, who was hired by the Cleveland Browns. Mariota has also been working with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who told the former Oregon star "to be myself and enjoy this process as much as you can."

"It's nice, but it's all about control," said Mariota when asked about all the speculation concerning where he might be drafted. "People will always talk, there will always be rumors. But for the most part right now in this process for me, I'm trying to be the best player I can be in order to make an impact on whatever team I go to."