MOBILE, Ala. -- He was a Rhodes Scholarship finalist.
A year earlier, Greg McElroy wrapped up an undefeated season with a national championship.
But is he an NFL quarterback?
The questions and the quiet undertone of unfavorable reviews follow McElroy as he prepares for Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
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The son of an NFL executive with the support of a pro quarterbacking empire will get him only so far, so McElroy’s week in Mobile has a single objective: Hush the naysayers.
“I feel like a lot of people criticize me for being a product of the system and being surrounded by great talent,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for me to go out there and just show people on an even playing field that I can play at this level. I can make all the throws, and I have a lot of confidence in my game right now.
“I had a good senior year, -- that’s all well, and I had a great time at ’Bama -- but a lot of people question my abilities so I’m going to try to prove people wrong throughout the week.”
As one of three former Texas high school quarterbacks on the South roster, McElroy will compete with TCU’s Andy Dalton and Florida State’s Christian Ponder for playing time in the 4 p.m. Saturday game in Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Before that, he has a week’s worth of interviews and practices in front of the game’s most influential people. Monday night alone, he moved between hotel lobby couches for interviews with seven NFL teams after a long workout and media day interviews.
What he is hearing from scouts leads him to believe he could be selected anywhere from the third round in the April draft to not hearing his name called at all.
Either way, he is just looking for the opportunity to make an impression this week in Mobile.
One of those big wigs McElroy is looking to impress this week is Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey, the Americus (Ga.) High, graduate and former Georgia Tech coach who is leading the South team this week. Though he said the former Tide quarterback looked “a little rusty” in Monday’s opening practice, the veteran coach sees potential.
“I think he’s highly intelligent,” Gailey said. “He knows what he’s doing with the ball. He has a good arm, probably a better arm than I thought he had walking into the first practice.”
So does he have what it takes to make it in the bigs?
“I don’t know,” Gailey said. “I think I can answer that question at the end of the week better than I can after one practice.”
Ask Archie Manning about McElroy, and the former New Orleans Saint and father to NFL star quarterbacks Eli and Peyton can’t say enough about his potential.
Watching him work at the past two Manning Passing Academy summer camps left the former Pro Bowler impressed with more than his leadership ability.
Playing in “the best league against the best people” bodes well for McElroy.
“It kind of bothered me after this year when he took the next step and people said he can’t play pro ball,” Manning said. “I think he will. I don’t know how the draft goes. I’m not very good at that, but I just think he’ll be on somebody’s roster next year.”
Some of that first-day rust was knocked off before Tuesday’s second practice. McElroy looked sharp throughout and connected on a 40-plus yard touchdown pass when practicing 11-on-11 at full speed late in the workout.
Watching the practice from the sideline was former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach who secured a commitment from the Texan before McElroy opted for Alabama. The two spoke on the field after practice along with McElroy’s father, Dallas Cowboys senior vice president for sales and marketing Greg McElroy Sr.
Leach said McElroy was always an overachiever who showed resiliency at Southlake Carroll High School and Alabama when he waited his turn for a starting job and made the most of it.
But the NFL?
“Well, we’re about to find out,” Leach said. “The thing with pro quarterbacks is timing is so key. Who gets you and when and how it unfolds. I’m sure he’s excited to be out here throwing a bunch of balls.”
Nick Saban ended up coaching McElroy after he signed with Alabama, then coached by Mike Shula. The former Cleveland Browns assistant and Miami Dolphins head coach said finding the right quarterback in the draft is risky business.
“It’s the No. 1 failure position in the draft because quarterbacks are just hard to evaluate,” Saban said. “I think the reason is you never know if you have the right stuff. It’s just a judgment, decision-making and leadership position.
“I know when it comes to intangibles and all the right stuff, Greg McElroy has all the right stuff.”