Height's Nothing But A Number

Chris Leak trying to overcome stigma of being short QB

April 12, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.
E-mail here!

He holds his school's record for the most passing yards, completions and attempts, just to name a few. He was a four year starter, playing in the toughest conference in the country, against the best defenses, in leading his team to a 35-12 record. He was named to a bevy of honorary teams, took home a bunch of awards, won an SEC title and then led his team to an upset win in the national championship game.


But for all his accolades and numerous records, the one stat that defines Chris Leak more than any other these days has nothing to do with his play under center.  


That's because at only 71 inches tall, Leak has been trying his hardest to shed the stigma that comes with being a short quarterback - and the idea that he won't be able to play at the next level - as the NFL Draft quickly approaches.


He's heard the criticism ad nauseum:  He's too short. His arm isn't strong enough. He's not pro material.


But Leak, the MVP of the BCS Championship Game, is defiant about proving his critics wrong, most especially those who think his less than 6-foot frame is a hindrance he won't be able to overcome in the NFL


"Height's not an issue for me," Leak said.


But it's one of the biggest reasons why NFL scouts and executives have Leak rated as roughly the 12th best quarterback available in the draft, behind other QBs like Jordan Palmer, Isaiah Washington and Tyler Palko - quarterbacks who would kill to have the kind of college career Leak had.


The scouts all ask how he will be able to see over his offensive linemen, many of whom will tower over Leak. He'll be a David amongst the Goliaths.


Leak says not to worry about it.


"In my four year career at Florida, all of my offensive linemen were like 6-foot-5. So I'm very familiar with how you have to see through lanes and how you have to drop back to control things," Leak said.


And it's not like he's not without some backers. During his week in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl, Leak spent time under the tutelage of the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff, and specifically then offensive coordinator Norv Turner who has since been named the head coach with the San Diego Chargers. Turner told Leak his height wouldn't be an issue at the next level and 49ers head coach Mike Nolan agrees. 


"He's a very impressive kid," Nolan said, "He appears to be sharp as far as the quarterback position goes. I don't know what he measured up height-wise because he looks on the shorter-side from that standpoint, but there's a lot of guys like Drew Brees - he's only about 6-foot if he's lucky - so that doesn't have a whole lot to do with it."


Brees is a name frequently evoked when talking about short quarterbacks. Brees happens to be one of the shortest in the NFL, listed at 6-foot, but also one of the best. He's now a two-time Pro Bowler who just got finished leading the Saints to the NFC Championship game.


Leak would love to have the kind of career Brees has whittled out for himself in his six seasons in the league and he thinks he's more than capable.


"I think with my track record and being a great passer, that speaks for itself," Leak said. "With the guys I've played against most have them have gone on to be successful and having that track record has really given me confidence. That's not an issue."


And just like Brees, Leak is plagued by questions surrounding his arm strength. He isn't blessed with the kind of arm others quarterbacks in this year's draft classm like JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn, have. Leak doesn't agree with the criticism, and neither does Nolan.


"Everyone thinks with a quarterback that (arm strength) comes from your arm," Nolan said. "It really comes out of your motion and out of your butt and torso and everything else.


"I thought he was smaller than what I saw from the national championship game. He has great lower body strength and girth. He's much more powerful in his lower body than I thought."


Leak's "battle tested" - a phrase he frequently invokes when questions are brought up about his makeup. He'll readily tell you how he's been through three different offensive coordinators in his four years in Gainesville. He's dealt with innumerable pressure, had himself a fine college career and of course gained a certain amount of immortality on Jan. 8.


"He won a national championship so I would imagine he's got to have some of those tangibles to make the next step," Nolan said. "Only time will tell. But from my standpoint, physically he's got the right power where it needs to be."


Leak won't be taken with the first pick in the second round like Brees - he very well could fall into the sixth or seventh round - but he's shown he's more than capable of being a winning quarterback, especially with the right pieces around him.


After all, Leak's the one with that big ring around his finger.  


"To be able to walk around with that ring, that's a great thing," Leak said.


The only thing sweeter would be to prove that at 71 inches in the NFL, he can play like a giant.