Competition ferocious for top quarterbacks

University of Florida quarterback Rex Grossman will be watching the April 26 NFL draft in Chicago with his sister, Ashley Fox, who lives in town.

If the Bears pick him, he said, "That'd be nice to just drive over."

Until the NFL scouting combine workouts that end Monday, the Bears and Miami Dolphins were the only teams that had visited the junior after he declared his early draft eligibility.

"The Bears told me they were going to draft a quarterback for sure on the first day," Grossman said, meaning somewhere in the first three rounds.

Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel visited Grossman last month in Gainesville.

Because nobody has projected Grossman as a top-five prospect, he will have to wow scouts Sunday for the Bears to consider taking him in the fourth spot. At least Grossman is ready to throw rather than skip the workout in front of all 32 NFL teams.

"It's what I do best," he said. "I'm trying to show off, I guess."

Many of the more than 300 prospects delay workouts until their own "pro days" at their schools, irritating most scouts. Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, widely considered a top-five pick, is unable to throw because he has revealed he was playing on a fractured left leg that is still healing.

That Nov. 3 injury followed a 2001 stress fracture on the same leg and the admission that a small steel rod was implanted in his leg, leading to considerable concern over his future durability.

Leftwich insisted he is fine and that his so-called "leg problems" are no more than unhappy coincidence.

"I got chicken pox twice too," the affable Leftwich said in an effort to calm growing hysteria.

The dilemma facing the Bears in their promise to leave no quarterback stones unturned is they aren't the only team searching.

If they pass up Leftwich or trade down in hopes that Grossman or another possibility will be there as late as the 35th pick, their second-rounder, they could strike out.

In 1999, after trading down to the 11th spot, they wound up with the fifth quarterback, and the reverberations of the Cade McNown failure still echo.

"The history of quarterbacks is they get pushed up and go higher than you would think," Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay said.

At the moment, Grossman is the consensus third quarterback behind USC's Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and Leftwich. But Cal's personable Kyle Boller also is moving up the charts following an impressive Senior Bowl, and despite reports that his score on the Wonderlic reading comprehension test is below average.

"He throws a very pretty ball," one scout said of Boller. "He reminds me of last year when [Tulane's] Patrick Ramsey started the year as maybe a late second-rounder and moved into the first round."

Boller said he can throw a ball 50 yards through the goal post uprights from his knees. If that enhances his qualifications for becoming a Bear, Leftwich does him one better.

"I can probably get it 55 yards," Leftwich guessed.

A fifth highly regarded quarterback is Chris Simms of Texas, son of former New York Giants star Phil Simms.

Louisville's 250-pound Dave Ragone is the only one of the top six prospects almost certain to be available on the Bears' second pick. His accuracy was questioned during Senior Bowl week after a season of having to rush throws behind leaky protection.

"I definitely think they're looking for the negatives at this point," said Palmer, who is working out with Ragone in California.

High-profile quarterbacks Ken Dorsey of Miami (too skinny), Brad Banks of Iowa (too short) and Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech (too weak) all have been relegated to second-day status at this point.

Banks expressed a bit of the exasperation at this annual probe of weights and measures that seems to ignore production.

"I was listed last year as 5-11 so I wasn't expecting to measure 6-2 or 6-3 or something," Banks said. "I can get the job done."

Grossman is working out in Tampa with former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg, who was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two tours of duty while Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was there.

Grossman, a native of Bloomington, Ind., has a compact, quick delivery and is unconcerned about his lack of height, pointing out that at 6-feet-1-inch he had no problems seeing over his 6-6 offensive linemen.

All the top quarterbacks are keenly aware of the Bears' need for help.

"I know what's going on," Grossman said. "They have some old guys. They're looking for a quarterback. If they draft me, it would be exciting. I've always been a Bears fan. Great city. A little bit of strong winds would be the only negative. Hopefully the new stadium will help somehow."

Boller, a Cal Bear, said: "I'd love to stay a Bear. Chicago would be awesome."

Boller said he has played in wind, but "the coldest weather I ever played in is the 40s or 30s, not the 20s or 10s."

It's supposed to be a good quarterback class, but the real grades don't come out for two or three years, after scouts and coaches lose jobs.

"I don't care how good an evaluator you are, and what your track record is, you draft a [quarterback] in first round, it's a crapshoot," Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's 50-50. And that's the thing that will concern most teams."

Leftwich doesn't want to get left out. Palmer clearly has moved ahead in the bid to be the No. 1 pick of Cincinnati.

"Don't forget about me," Leftwich said. "I would love to go to Cincinnati with the No. 1 pick. But it's a dream to play in the NFL. I just want the chance to play for any team.

"Teams here didn't even look at my face; the first thing they looked at was my leg. I was so happy to be here I just wanted to stick my leg out for everyone I saw."