A lot of questions surround highly touted University of Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley as he gets set for the Trojans' pro day on Wednesday.
After suffering a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder, this will be the first time NFL scouts will be able to see the Trojans' four-year starter showcase his abilities—and there is plenty of reason to believe that he will thrive.
Barkley's stock has taken a significant hit since he decided to return to USC for his senior season, and the perception is that he regressed. That may have been true in the context of the team's record and his increased number of turnovers, but it wasn't entirely his fault.
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The defense simply didn't click, and the Trojans were placed in obvious passing situations as a result. Being behind forced Barkley to press and resulted in an increased number of interceptions from seven as a junior to 15.
Plus, pass protection was a major issue—mainly due to the opposition pinning their ears back due to the Trojans' defensive shortcomings.
Expectations have been sky-high for Barkley since his days at Mater Dei High School, and now he has the opportunity to prove himself on a grand stage, in a workout that will be televised on NFL Network.
It's a wonderful situation for Barkley to be in. For starters, he is in a familiar environment, throwing primarily to a receiver in Robert Woods who caught 111 passes from Barkley as a junior before Marqise Lee broke out and essentially stole the show in 2012.
While pro days aren't in pads and are generally friendly occasions for the players, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah notes that Barkley still has plenty at stake:
Matt Barkley can help himself tomorrow. Biggest knock is arm strength... that can be displayed in a workout.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 27, 2013
The notion that Barkley doesn't have NFL-caliber arm strength is one that seems to take the signal-caller aback. A reporter posed a question at the combine that asserted Barkley didn't have what it took to make all the throws. As Doug Farrar of Yahoo! documents, the QB fired back confidently:
I would disagree. Look at the tape. Watch the tape. I’m not going to go through certain throws, but you can watch the tape where I’ve made throws in tight windows. I can make every NFL throw that you need. So I would disagree ... I’ve thrown with great velocity, deep balls, already...With all the back, scapula, rotator-cuff movements and exercises that I’ve been doing, I’ll be better than I was before the injury.
Having that kind of confidence and belief in oneself is characteristic of so many successful quarterbacks. Barkley has played this role for so long, and it sounds as though his arm may be even stronger than ever before due to the focus of his injury rehabilitation.
That is the type of stuff that won't show up this afternoon: leadership qualities and the other immeasurable assets Barkley brings to the table, which Gil Brandt of NFL.com raves about:
The thing I like the most about [Barkley], though...[are] his intangibles. Remember, he started for four years and was a captain for three at USC. You don't do that unless you can be a leader and have something special about you. They just have too many good football players in that program for it to be any other way.
Sure, Barkley doesn't have a total cannon like recent Super Bowl QBs Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick, but he makes up for it in other ways.
Michael Lev of the Orange County Register seeks out ESPN's Trent Dilfer, who indicates that what the Trojans' all-time leading passer lacks in arm talent is made up for in other areas. Barkley shows great timing, anticipation, touch and ability to manipulate the defense thanks to his implicitly high football IQ.
How healthy Barkley is, what his arm strength is like up close and where he will ultimately be selected in the 2013 NFL draft are all questions that should have more definitive answers after Wednesday.
If Barkley's own account of his abilities, others' encouraging appraisals and the positive atmosphere of the familiar confines of USC are any indication, he should surprise some people with how well he fares.