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It’s QB day at the NFL combine, and all eyes are on Caleb Williams

It’s QB day at the NFL combine, and all eyes are on Caleb Williams

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

INDIANAPOLIS — More than a dozen questions into his Friday morning news conference, Caleb Williams finally fielded one that sparked a smile.

The D.C. native and former star quarterback at Gonzaga College High was asked about the possibility of playing for his hometown team, the Washington Commanders, who have the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft.

“It’d be really cool to be back there and experience that,” Williams said. “The meeting [with the Commanders] went really well, and everybody was in the room. So, being around everybody … [I got] a taste of how they are, who they are, because everything is new there.”

Intrigue about the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner’s chances of returning home to star for the Commanders grew when the team hired Kliff Kingsbury as its offensive coordinator last month. Last year, Kingsbury was a senior offensive assistant at Southern California, where Williams played two seasons of college ball.

“Kliff and I haven’t talked too much specifically on [Williams],” Commanders General Manager Adam Peters said Tuesday. “We really just talked about quarterback play in general and what he looks for in quarterbacks and how we can find that right fit for him, if that’s what we’re going to do. And certainly that hasn’t been decided yet, by any stretch of the imagination.”

The Commanders’ ability to land Williams, the presumptive No. 1 pick, depends on the Chicago Bears, who hold the draft’s top pick and would probably expect a haul to even consider trading down.

Williams was one of six quarterbacks the Commanders held formal meetings with at the NFL combine this week, along with Jayden Daniels (LSU), Drake Maye (North Carolina), J.J. McCarthy (Michigan), Bo Nix (Oregon) and Michael Penix (Washington). Many, if not all, of them are likely to meet with the Commanders again on top-30 visits this spring to the team’s facility for more in-depth interviews.

Those visits are why Williams opted out of throwing or undergoing medical tests at the combine.

“I played 30-something games, I believe,” he said. “Go ahead and watch real, live ball of me and see how I am as a competitor. … I’ll be doing the medical stuff — just not here in Indy. I’ll be doing it at the team interviews. Not 32 teams can draft me. There’s only one of me. So the teams that I go to for my visit, those teams will have the medical [information], and that’ll be it.”

So what are the Commanders looking for in their next quarterback? “You’re looking for the face of your franchise,” Peters said. “… He doesn’t need to be a big rah-rah guy, doesn’t need to be a big colorful guy. But just be a leader and carry yourself the right way. Obviously, all the talent you want, and especially now, if you have a mobile quarterback, that certainly helps, but you have to be able to play the position first.”

Coach Dan Quinn cited mental toughness as a must-have quality, along with the ability to improvise and be able to get out of bad plays.

“There’s not a metric for that,” Quinn said. He added that quarterbacks need to be accurate on deep throws because they key explosive plays.

Throwing downfield will probably be a big part of Kingsbury’s offense. During his four seasons as the Arizona Cardinals’ coach, 12.5 percent of the team’s throws traveled for 20-plus air yards downfield, the 10th-highest rate in the NFL.

Over the past two years, Daniels, the former LSU quarterback, had the most efficient deep ball in the nation. He completed 53 percent of his downfield attempts for 27 touchdowns and no interceptions, according to TruMedia.

Daniels said what stood out about his interview with the Commanders was “just how cool the whole staff was.” He name-checked Quinn and Kingsbury.

Maye doesn’t think it would be weird to play with Sam Howell. Maye sat behind Howell at North Carolina in 2021 and considers him a mentor and good friend. They play the board game Catan and the video game PGA Tour together. But Maye brushed off the idea that it’d strain their relationship if Washington were to draft him to replace Howell.

“There’s a lot bigger problems out there in the world than being with one of your best friends in the quarterback room,” he said. “It’s not awkward for us; it’s just business.”

Maye said he has “a lot of connections” to the Commanders. Quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard recruited him in high school, and Kingsbury knows Phil Longo, Maye’s offensive coordinator in 2021 and 2022.

McCarthy’s first interview was with the Commanders. “So I was super nervous, I’m not going to lie,” the former Michigan quarterback said. “Sweating a little bit. Coach Quinn was just awesome. I got to talk to Mr. Peters right before the meeting. Just a great vibe.”

Commanders managing partner Josh Harris sat in on all six quarterback interviews. He was there to observe rather than ask questions. When asked what stood out about their interviews with Washington, no quarterback mentioned Harris.

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