By Harry Allison

Tonight’s the night we have been waiting for.

Tune into ESPN tonight at 8 pm to find out what all the hoopla has been about Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston and where each will be throwing for a living in September when the NFL season starts.

For months now, former Oregon quarterback Mariota has been working on what many inside the sport say is a massive change to his game. After winning the Heisman Trophy while piloting Oregon’s famous no-huddle, quick-strike offense that left college defenses gasping for air, Mariota is learning to huddle.

“That seems like a little detail but that is kind of a big thing,” Mariota said during the NFL draft process.

He has been given a mock play-call sheet and is calling plays in training in an effort to placate NFL teams who want to see him operate a more traditional offense.

This is one of many tweaks that college players are asked to make, but it can be a very bad thing.

The NFL is one of the few industries that finds perfect candidates for their jobs and then makes them change everything. Mariota will be drafted high tonight night—possibly as high as the second overall selection. Then comes the hard part: making him an “NFL” quarterback. That means huddling, taking a snap directly from the center and running less with the football. None of those are Mariota’s strengths.

And this is the NFL’s problem. The draft, its great spectacle and arbiter of parity and fairness, is hurting the sport’s innovation.

The old joke among coaches and players was that every team ran the same plays but they had different names. True aficionados of football strategy would roll their eyes at the NFL game. It was, for all its revenue and viewers, not the place for innovation. That’s no longer the case for all 32 teams.

In the last decade, no position in football—or sports, for that matter—has changed more than quarterback. They are more athletic than ever yet they can still throw the ball as well as their lumbering predecessors.

At the same time, Mariota’s former college coach, Chip Kelly, has brought his quick-strike offense to the NFL as coach of the Eagles. Teams such as the San Francisco 49ers have had success with quarterbacks who are a threat to run the ball.

But Mariota will not, barring a trade, find a home with a team that will run the right offense around him. This square-peg-in-a-round-hole game will continue. Mariota needs Kelly or a like-minded coach. Instead, he could get NFL lifer Ken Whisenhunt as a head coach. He’s as fine a coach as there is in the NFL—he took the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season—but he has never had any experience with the new style of quarterbacks. The NFL will try to NFL-ize Mariota rather than a team letting themselves get Mariota-ized.

Even Jameis Winston, the presumed first overall pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would probably play somewhere else if he had his way. Lovie Smith, the Bucs coach, is a defense-and-special-teams-first wizard who will keep Winston under wraps in the early stages of his career, and maybe forever. If Winston were able to pick his scheme—or if a team with his scheme were able to pick him—the sport would benefit greatly.

NFL teams are running more no-huddle players and more plays out of the shotgun than ever before. The “read option” running play, which gives the quarterback the option to run the ball, is still a tool used by a handful of successful teams. Yet scouts and general managers say the checklist for a prospect to be considered NFL-ready hasn’t dramatically changed. There are some legitimate changes most college quarterbacks must make: Footwork is a bigger concern; quarterbacks have to release the ball quicker because the defensive linemen are faster; wide receivers will run more complex routes at this level.

But the problem is only going to get worse. That’s because college teams have long since stopped kowtowing to NFL teams. In 2009, the University of Florida had Tim Tebow, one of the most unorthodox star college quarterbacks in recent memory. For his senior season, after he had already won a Heisman and a national title, the school hired former Michigan assistant Scot Loeffler, who had coached Tom Brady, among others. At the time, Tebow alluded to learning from Loeffler “things that the NFL people want.”

A few years later, the idea of a college-football program doing that is unlikely. College football can sometimes barely resemble its pro counterpart; introducing NFL plays at some schools would be like writing the playbook in German. College-football coaches have learned to adopt a take-it-or-leave-it approach with the skill sets of their quarterbacks. Will the NFL?

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