“Unfair Advantage” in Mariota/O’Connell Relationship is Overblown
There’s been quite a commotion surrounding the transformation of former NFL quarterback Kevin O’Connell, who’s now a quarterback consultant, as he collaborates with the soon-to-be first-round selection, Marcus Mariota.
This partnership traces its roots back to before Oregon’s loss in the national championship game.
The rumor mill has been churning out speculations, suggesting that O’Connell is practically a shoo-in for the quarterback coaching position in Cleveland.
However, his official appointment has been slightly delayed to allow him to dedicate more time to preparing Mariota and Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty for the NFL Combine and their pro days.
It’s essential to bear in mind that NFL regulations strictly prohibit teams from engaging with prospective players before the Combine.
Consequently, some NFL executives have voiced their concerns regarding the Browns’ circumvention of this rule by postponing O’Connell’s hiring announcement for another week. The NFL Combine is scheduled from February 17th to February 23rd.
To put it in perspective, one NFL team executive expressed his discontent, saying, “Let me clarify this: the Browns can have their prospective quarterbacks coach collaborate with a player, imparting the entire offensive playbook, and more.
Meanwhile, like other teams, we are barred from even initiating discussions with potential draft picks until the Combine, as per the league’s stipulations. Something certainly appears amiss here.”
Specific teams are concerned that O’Connell’s unique access to Mariota provides an “unfair advantage” in comprehensively assessing the quarterback compared to his potential competitors.
While this notion holds some validity, it doesn’t automatically translate into Mariota becoming the Browns’ selection in April, assuming that Cleveland proceeds with O’Connell’s appointment.
It may not carry any significant weight or could potentially work against him. Here’s the reasoning behind this:
After concluding my senior college football season, I embarked on a training journey at what was once known as “Athletes Performance” (now rebranded as “EXOS”) in Tempe, AZ.
This rigorous preparation aimed to prepare me for the NFL Combine and my pro day at Notre Dame.
Typically, after their college football career, players sign with an agent and are directed to training facilities, each designed to equip them with the skills needed to showcase their football prowess in the months leading up to the draft.
These facilities manage everything, from nutritional needs to sleep patterns and recovery strategies. Training has three facets: on-field drills, interview/classroom sessions, and physical testing preparation.
These facilities enhance a player’s performance in vertical jumps, broad jumps, the 40-yard dash, bench press, and other metrics that scouts employ to gauge a player’s overall worth.
The remaining two components are precisely where a quarterback consultant like Kevin O’Connell comes into play.
O’Connell’s role encompasses readying the player for the barrage of questions they’ll face during interviews.
This ranges from film analysis and chalkboard exercises to grasping the nuances that differentiate college football from the NFL game.
O’Connell’s experience in this process proves invaluable for a player like Mariota, who can gain firsthand insights into what lies ahead.
Furthermore, O’Connell’s duties extend to the field, where he strives to rectify any glaring fundamental issues Mariota might possess.
If the speculations regarding O’Connell joining the Browns hold, this situation could work for or against Mariota.
While Mariota’s dedication, high football IQ, and competitive spirit undoubtedly work in his favor, any issues with his throwing mechanics or the adaptation to NFL-style dropback passing could surface.
This isn’t to say that Mariota can’t rectify these concerns, but it might present a more significant challenge than O’Connell and the Browns are willing to undertake.
This is not to suggest that this is the most likely scenario, nor is it certain that Mariota will still be available when the Browns make the 12th pick.
However, if the rest of the Browns organization becomes enamored with Mariota, there’s always the possibility of trading up or the slim chance that he falls to them.
I encountered a nearly identical situation back in 2007. While preparing for the NFL Combine and Pro Day, my agent enlisted the services of Terry Shea, a former NFL and NCAA quarterback coach.
Terry and I collaborated for a few months before he was offered the quarterback coaching position with the Miami Dolphins.
The timing of this offer caught me by surprise, especially considering how close it was to the draft.
Nonetheless, I viewed it as a positive development, notably since the Dolphins held the #9 draft pick, and I had put in immense effort during my training under Coach Shea.
As draft day arrived, I was anxious, convinced that the Miami Dolphins would call my name with the 9th overall pick.
However, that moment never materialized, leaving me utterly speechless. I was left to ponder what went wrong and what crucial element I might have overlooked.
Considering the strong rapport I had built with Coach Shea, it seemed only natural to expect our collaboration to continue.
To this day, I’ve never had the chance to discuss with Coach Shea the reasons behind that pivotal decision nor the factors that led to my non-selection. Instead, the Dolphins chose Jon Beck out of BYU in the second round that year.
The takeaway from this experience is that a fruitful working relationship, like that between O’Connell and Mariota, doesn’t automatically translate to the former Oregon quarterback donning a Cleveland Browns jersey.
It’s not unprecedented for someone of O’Connell’s background to coach a player like Mariota and transition into a role with an NFL team, such as the Browns.
If anything, the collaboration between Mariota and O’Connell can be seen as an added feather in Mariota’s cap, as he gains the advantage of being coached by an NFL-caliber quarterback coach before officially entering the league.
Allowing O’Connell to complete the work he commenced before moving on to his next role isn’t a sinister maneuver; it simply makes practical sense.
On draft day, numerous variables come into play, and it’s safe to say that this isn’t some exploitable loophole that will lead to a slew of similarly timed hirings.
It’s a matter of accepting the reality as it stands – not a cause for significant concern.
This type of sensationalized narrative tends to become a trend during this time of the year when we lack tangible football action to discuss.
Often, trivial matters get blown out of proportion. In the end, Mariota will find his place in the NFL, and O’Connell will continue his coaching career.
It shouldn’t be surprising if, during this NFL offseason, we witness more uproar over issues that have minimal impact on the grand scheme.