ARLINGTON — If anyone knows what an NFL quarterback looks like and the pressure on that position’s shoulders entering a bowl game, Tamaurice Nigel “Tee” Martin might have some insight.
“I felt the pressure every day, but that’s what I signed up for ,” said the current offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California. “I wanted to learn the game from my teammates and I took advantage of that time. Sam [Darnold] is doing the same thing. Sam wants to win and I think he’s starting to see that this is the beginning of something special.”
Martin knows the demands and stigmas that pave “NFL Draft Road” for any next-level hopeful —but specifically those of Power 5 Conference stock.
Enter Darnold, the quarterback that will look to lead USC to it’s first Cotton Bowl victory since 1995 — the only time the Trojans have played in the Classic.
Darnold has been one of the most heralded quarterbacks in college football in the last 48 months and one expected to land in the top five of the upcoming draft. With Deshone Kizer’s struggles in his rookie year, it’s not an unlikely prospect for the Browns to make a play for the 6-foot-4 gunslinger.
Martin, a former University of Tennessee quarterback and Pittsburg fifth round pick also knows the benefits being ready when the opportunity bell is rung, too.
“You have to be ready,” he said while leaning into his microphone. “What happens sometimes is that you may not be ready and don’t have success at one place and you may not resurface. You don’t have success at that place but they’ll want you at [another]. That’s something to think about. Some people that have been blessed are the ones that have gone lower in drafts — guys like Das Prescott that were able to build confidence and continue to grow.”
The two-time SEC and one-time BCS National Champion spent parts of a four-year NFL career with the Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and Oakland Raiders, as well as three years with the Canadian Football League’s Rhein Fire and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
There is a second option for Darnold, who has yet to declare for the NFL Draft in his junior year, though. He could potentially return to USC for a senior season if his draft stock plummets, he falls out of the top five picks or if he wants to avoid a team like the Browns — one with a historic inability to develop players at his position.
Even if the rhetoric he uses says otherwise.
“Whenever I come out to go to the NFL, I think I’d be honored to play for any team,” Darnold said. “It’s been a dream of mine for such a long time to play in the NFL. Any team that would want to give me that opportunity to be a part of their organization, it would mean the world to me.”
Still, the Browns, which have the No. 1 pick and No. 4 (via Houston), could opt to end the Deshone Kizer Experiment a year into its trial run and choose a quarterback they believe is a transcendent franchise-changer and a dominant lineman to protect him. The answer to one of those draft quandaries could be Darnold or Josh Rosen, which may be splitting hairs when regarding the state of Cleveland’s consistent under-center issue.
The second could be Texas’ Connor Williams, the heir apparent to Joe Thomas at left tackle.
Darnold is expected to make an announcement about his eligibility after Friday’s Cotton Bowl. If drafted by Cleveland, he would be the fifth quarterback chosen in the first three rounds and the third chosen in the first round.
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