USC quarterback Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen once again competed against each other Friday at NFL combine
Their roads from Southland high schools and colleges to the scouting combine took different turns, but there were Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold on Friday, once again competing with each other to show NFL teams they were worthy of consideration as top-five draft picks.
Perhaps the top two.
The Cleveland Browns hold the first pick, the New York Giants the second. The Browns have been searching two decades for an elite starter. The Giants need an eventual successor to aging Eli Manning.
Inside the Indiana Convention Center, Rosen, Darnold and other quarterbacks such as Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson took turns speaking to reporters from podiums, a test of their poise behind microphones.
“I’m the best quarterback here,” said Rosen, who played three seasons at UCLA. “I think I can diagnose defenses and put the ball where it needs to be and make quick decisions.
“I think we’re all competitors, and I think every other quarterback should have the same exact belief that I do.”
Darnold, USC’s starter for most of the past two seasons, delivered answers in a slightly different style. He said it was not his place to say he was the best quarterback in the draft.
“That’s for other people to decide,” he said. “I’m really just here to put my best foot forward and really just give it my all and show teams why I should be with their organization.”
“Ball is ball,” he said. “That’s what we do is we throw the football. So come in here, I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Darnold affirmed he would not take part, waiting instead for USC’s pro day workout. Darnold said he had no medical issues.
“I felt like it was just the best decision,” he said, adding that USC’s pro day was “a good opportunity for teams to be able to look at how I can spin it. And I’m going to be throwing to guys who I’ve played with. So I think just given all the information that I had, I thought that was the best decision.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson and Giants coach Pat Shurmur said this week that not throwing at the combine would not be a mark against Darnold.
“It’s certainly nicer when they do throw,” Shurmur said of quarterbacks. “The more exposures you have, the more times we see the player doing what he does, it helps.
“But I think times have changed. Some do, some don’t.”
Rosen, 21, and Darnold, 20, came off well during their 15-minute media sessions, showing personnel executives they can handle questions, some with self-deprecating humor.
The more important queries — at least to the teams — will come from coaches and general managers during formal interviews at the combine and during other meetings leading up the April draft.
The 6-foot-4, 226-pound Rosen said he looked forward to answering questions about his personality. He is aware that some scouts and coaches have privately questioned whether the sometimes outspoken Rosen is totally committed to and “loves” football.
“That’s why all these interviews and meetings and visits are awesome,” Rosen said, “because teams actually get to know me. And they don’t have to find out through third parties. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to most at this combine.”
Later he added, “If teams still questioned my love for the game after this week, and after they actually really got to know me, then it might bother me a little bit more. But I think that coaches can really see what I care about.”
Rosen said he has learned from mistakes. His game plan is simple: be himself.
“I’m not going to present a fake image of myself,” he said, adding, “You have to be yourself, you have to be authentic and you have to show that you’ve learned and grown over the years…. I’m trying to show who I really am, not who I’m trying to be because I want them to draft me.”
Darnold, like Rosen, said he would welcome the opportunity if the Browns chose him first, but would be happy to play for whichever team drafts him.
“I really want to just prove to people that I’m capable of leading a franchise, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the No. 1 team to select me,” Darnold said, adding, “I’m just going to continue to be myself, and if a team happens to fall in love with me and they take me at No. 1, or they take me wherever in the draft, I’d be happy to go anywhere.”
Darnold, 6-4 and 221 pounds, acknowledged being pressed about turnovers during team interviews. Last season he had 13 passes intercepted and fumbled 11 times.
During draft-preparation workouts, he said, he has been working on keeping both hands on the ball while in the pocket.
“The No. 1 priority of a quarterback is to protect the football,” he said. “And I’m aware of that, and I’m aware of how much I turn the ball over, and that it’s not OK.
“I’ve been addressing it.”
Rosen, who attended Bellflower St. John Bosco High, and Darnold, who played at San Clemente, both said it was “awesome” to go through the combine experience together.
“It’s cool to get out there and compete,” Rosen said. “And hopefully our names will be side by side as we move forward in the NFL.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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