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In era of scripted quarterbacks, Michael Penix Jr. opts for another read

MOBILE, Ala. — Other quarterbacks had offered their rehearsed answer.

The annual pre-draft tradition of forced player comparisons had begun in earnest at the Senior Bowl, so quarterbacks played along.

They model their games after Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford, after Russell Wilson and, of course, Patrick Mahomes, 2024 prospects said.

They volunteered whose deep ball they believe they could come to emulate; which veteran’s off-script plays they strive to mirror after they’ve escaped the pocket and kept the play alive.

But Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. did a double take Wednesday afternoon when queried.

Did he have a favorite quarterback to watch growing up? Sure, the Indiana and Washington product was a Michael Vick fan.

But as he nears his own NFL Draft date, does he want to play like one quarterback more than the rest?

“I don't even know how to answer that as a quarterback,” Penix said Wednesday afternoon. “Do I take this three-step drop? It's still the same three-step drop. I can't really take somebody else’s throwing mechanics.

“So it's like the only thing I could take away is different schemes and stuff that the offense may be doing. It's different than the wide receiver — he could see somebody do a release or the way they run a route or something like that.

“But for a quarterback, I don't really know how you can idolize or build your game off of somebody else.”

On paper, perhaps the reasoning sounds like an evasion. In person: Penix sounded like a player who actually listened to the question and processed it in his mind, a refreshing change from the coached answers some of his peers gave.

It’s ironic that a quarterback who repeatedly preached preparation didn’t come across as overprepared.

In terms of pure time spent in college, Penix is that and more. He spent four seasons with Indiana’s football program as he battled injuries, including two ACL tears that hampered his availability and two with Washington.

With the Huskies, Penix led the country in passing yards per game each of the past two seasons, also quarterbacking Washington to a national championship berth in January. Penix threw for 4,641 yards and 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions in 2022, before throwing for 4,903 yards, 36 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this past season.

NFL teams wanted to understand not just his results but also his decision-making.

“Some of the guys put you on the board, some of the guys just want to talk ball, some pull up your game film — so it’s just your confidence,” Penix said. “Especially at this position, everything isn’t going to be perfect. I wasn’t perfect by far this season and we made it to the national championship. We fell just short.

“The way I prepared throughout my college career allowed me to be confident.”

The Senior Bowl changed its interview schedule for quarterbacks to meet with five teams at once, in addition to one-on-ones. Scouts and coaches volley questions at players for 40 minutes in the five-team sessions, fellow quarterback Spencer Rattler said.

National quarterback Michael Penix Jr. of Washington throws a pass during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Michael Penix Jr. says NFL talent evaluators emphasized to him the importance of making layups at the next level. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Their strategies varied, as Rattler said he was asked less about his film than to “draw up concepts and talk about protections and schemes.”

“But a good amount of them just want to know who you are,” Rattler said. “Get your knowledge of the game.”

Penix broke down a specific play he had discussed while interviewing.

"They asked about a Cover 6 beater. I basically just drew up a high-low to one side and on the back side, I had an over route with a purl, which is a post-curl,” Penix said. “In my offense, we could tap the post-curl and give him a post route. So in Cover 6, you’ve got Cover 2 to the boundary, Cover 4 to the field and you’ve got the high-low on the corner on the Cover 2 side.

“So I’m reading that side first, and if I don’t like it, I’m going over to my over route, and on the 4 side, sometimes that field safety will take the over route [so] if I feel like he’s gonna take the over route, I can tap my receiver, give him a post route and I’m throwing it over the top.

“If not, then I’m finding my checkdown to the back.”

Penix credited his ability to understand and pick up new offenses to his preparation, saying “extra work” differentiates system mastery more than raw ability.

Where might he land? It's too soon to say whether a quarterback-hungry team will fall in love with Penix in the draft process as an imminent starting prospect, or whether a team building for the future and considering assets strikes. Penix did not crack Yahoo Sports' Nate Tice top-40 prospect list, though NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah ranked Penix 40th in his top 50.

North Carolina's Drake Maye, USC's Caleb Williams and LSU's Jayden Daniels are widely expected to be the first three quarterbacks off the board. But could two or three of Oregon's Bo Nix, Michigan's J.J. McCarthy and Penix slide into the first round if teams worry they won't be on the board late into the second?

One NFC talent evaluator told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday night that they expect five quarterbacks to go in the first round. The executive, who interviewed Penix at the Senior Bowl, expected him to go in the first.

With nearly three months remaining until that question is answered, Penix is focusing on capitalizing opportunities to elevate his stock. He valued the chance to work at the Senior Bowl with NFL coaches, who emphasized ball security and the value of small on-field wins at the pro level.

Senior Bowl coaches guided him to consider not only the big plays but also the small wins on which he could build. Ball security, they reminded him, is a premium at the pro level.

“Just patience,” Penix said. “ ‘Continue to take the layups’ — I heard that from one of the coaches, man. Take the layups and those layups can turn into big plays. Not forcing the ball down the field, putting your team in a bad position.

“Just making sure I'm taking what the defense is giving.”

Penix said he wanted NFL teams to leave the Senior Bowl believing in him as a competitor.

“That's one of the biggest reasons why I came here: I wanted to show the coaches that I'm willing to compete and I love football,” Penix said. “Just show my leadership, make my presence and my command be seen.

“I just want to continue to keep getting better, continue to keep learning, continue to keep growing in all phases of my game.”