- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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For his career, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has officially carried 84 times for minus-498 yards. That's an average of minus-5.9 yards per carry, for those scrambling for a calculator. He has one career rushing touchdown. It came in 2011 and was, naturally, a 1-yard score. Of course, those numbers are deflated by the 61 times he's been sacked. But you get the idea.
Sean Mannion isn't a runner.
And in a conference silly with running quarterbacks and Heisman hopefuls and unprecedented depth at the position, Mannion is the old-school prototypical pocket passer. Big (6-foot-5). Sturdy (220 pounds). And productive to the tune of 10,436 career passing yards and 68 touchdowns.
By the time you're buying your Halloween costume, Mannion will probably be the Pac-12's all-time leading passer. And yet that almost seems blasé with excess of quarterback talent in the league this year. He's not a Heisman frontrunner, or, as we've already established, any kind of runner for that matter. That hype belongs to Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.
He wasn't first- or second-team all-conference, despite 4,662 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013. Those honors went to Mariota and ASU's Taylor Kelly. Heck, even Stanford's Kevin Hogan, who operates a pro-style scheme, broke through because the coaching staff designed a special read-and-run option package for him. And with "raid" quarterbacks Jared Goff and Connor Halliday, Mannion isn't even the only pocket guy.
No question, Mannion has NFL talent. He was given a third-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. And with another strong year, he might develop into a first-round talent, given his frame, his understanding of the pro-style offense and his skill set. But in the Pac-12 pecking order, where exactly does he fit in?
"I don't really know. And to be honest, it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about," Mannion said. "I don't think about pecking order. I feel like when I'm playing well and at my best, I'm as good as or better than anyone. But all I'm worrying about is being the best Sean Mannion I can be. But I also know I'm as good as anyone when I'm at my best."
It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Mannion, who won skills competitions at both the Elite 11 camp and the Manning Passing Academy. To claim the crown at the Manning Camp, he had to connect with moving golf carts moving at distances of 10 and 20 yards and a "deep ball" cart. Not surprising, Mannion went 4-for-4 on the deep ball. He did, after all, spend all of last year throwing to Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks. And Cooks is faster than a golf cart.
"Yes, he certainly is," Mannion said. "But it was more about getting the ball out of your hand fast and getting your grip and getting rid of it."
This time last year, Mannion didn't even know if he'd be Oregon State's starting quarterback, let alone go on to have a record-setting season. A 2012 quarterback competition with Cody Vaz spilled into the 2013 summer, leaving many to wonder if Mannion would ever develop into an upper-echelon quarterback. He proved more than capable last year, re-writing school and conference records along the way.
"Right now, I feel like I'm as prepared as I've ever been," Mannion said. "Even last year with the whole controversy or competition or whatever, at that time, I felt like I was as prepared as I could possibly be. It was a little tough because you weren't really sure what was going to happen Week 1. But now I'm able to take a deep breath and not worry about that and just keep preparing."
And that means improving on those skills that make him an intriguing NFL prospect. Like getting the ball out quicker -- a skill he shored up at the Manning Academy. It also means playing to his strengths. And Mannion knows what his are ... and aren't. So while other notable Pac-12 quarterbacks will be getting it done in the air and on the ground, Mannion will stick to what he does best.
"College football has transitioned so much more into the spread and the shotgun and running quarterbacks," he said. "I'm not a big runner. So I think I landed in the right spot. There are still a lot of good pro-style systems out there. And this has been, for me, the perfect fit."
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