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Matt Barkley solid if not spectacular at USC's pro day

Quarterback returning from shoulder injury displays skills for representatives of many NFL teams. Receiver Robert Woods rises in opinion of many evaluators.

March 27, 2013|By Sam Farmer

Matt Barkley moved in the pocket. He moved his recuperated throwing shoulder with ease. He consistently moved the football into the right locations.

But there was also something Wednesday that the former USC quarterback didn't move much:

The needle.

Barkley, the main attraction at USC's pro day, did what was expected of him. In a scripted display of his skills, with representatives from virtually every NFL team watching, he was solid but not spectacular. By an unofficial count, he completed 56 of 62 passes — short, intermediate, and deep — throwing in public for the first time since suffering a separated shoulder in a loss to UCLA in November.

As one scout put it: "If you liked him before, you could find reasons to like him more. If you didn't like him, you could find reasons for that too."

In each of the last two drafts, four quarterbacks were selected in the opening round. This isn't considered a strong quarterback class, but it would be somewhat surprising if Barkley were to slip into the second round.

The pro day wasn't just for the quarterback, but also for receiver Robert Woods, offensive lineman Khaled Holmes, defensive end Wes Horton, safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling, cornerback Nickell Robey and others.

In attendance were such NFL notables as new Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley, St. Louis Rams General Manager Les Snead, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and Norv Turner, new offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. Also there was Troy Polamalu, the All-Pro safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers who returned to his alma mater for the first time in a decade to support Holmes, his brother-in-law.

"My whole family's out here, just adds a little more pressure," Holmes said with a smile.

Steadily rising in the opinion of many evaluators is Woods, who Wednesday made a beautiful, one-handed grab of a deep pass by Barkley. Some of the scouts who in the fall projected Woods as a second- or third-round pick now see him going in the second half of the first round.

George Stewart, receivers coach for the Minnesota Vikings, spoke to Woods' parents after the workout and stood nearby while reporters gathered around the receiver for a group interview.

"We're a character organization from ownership on down," Stewart said. "I had a chance to visit with [Woods'] mom and dad, and they're character people. Those are the type of people who will turn an organization, character people. That's a premium for us."

The Vikings, who have the 23rd and 25th picks in the first round, left a void in their offense this off-season with their trade of receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks. This is the time of year when teams put up smoke screens and are especially secretive about their intentions, but Minnesota gave every impression Wednesday that it is interested in Woods.

No one was under more scrutiny than the quarterback. Barkley said his best resume is the tape he has compiled over the last four years at USC, not a one-day snapshot.

"I think today was just proof that I still have an arm and I still can throw and make those passes down the field," he said.

Mike Mayock, draft expert for NFL Network, said he tends not to put too much stock in what he sees at a quarterback's pro day and instead relies on a player's body of work in games.

"The best pro day I ever saw was JaMarcus Russell's," he said of the No. 1 pick who flopped with the Raiders. "So you have to keep in perspective what you see."

Orchestrating the drills for Barkley was former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who has been working with him to prepare him for his transition to the pros.

"We probably added a few extra deep throws just to show that his arm is healthy," Weinke said. "When you make [62] throws, very rarely are you ever going to be perfect. But I think that he showed that even the balls that he missed today were in good spots, and he has the ability to make every throw that he's going to need to make in the National Football League."

Barkley's throws were into the wind, and some scouts noted some of his deep passes tended to float, and that he didn't always lead his receivers on those. Also, he didn't throw a lot of tight spirals. There was some conjecture among observers that his ball wobbled more the harder he threw.

"Look at Peyton Manning," Weinke said. "Break down every throw that he's ever made, and very rarely do you see the ball spin tightly. But he's accurate."

Weinke said the adversity Barkley has faced during his college career — the NCAA sanctions on the school, the disappointing 2012 season, the shoulder injury — actually will help him in the pros.

"The biggest thing is he knows how to face adversity," Weinke said. "Guys who go to the NFL from college that haven't faced adversity usually struggle. He's been through it all."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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