Thursday February 4th, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — It was darn nice of the Super Bowl to come to Jared Goff’s backyard, just as the Cal junior quarterback is kicking off the three-month-long draft prep that will help determine his NFL fate and where the story of his pro career begins. Kind of the mother of all carrots at the end of a stick, as it were.

Taking in the sights, sounds and rush of activity that makes up the Radio Row experience in the Super Bowl media center on Wednesday morning, Goff was introduced to at least a sideline slice of the game he hopes to play in some day, once his eventual NFL address is known.

Making the rounds on behalf of Gatorade and its latest innovation in hydration, Goff had the look of a guy who could get used to the Super Bowl experience.

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“I’ve never been to a Super Bowl before,” Goff told me, his eyes widening as he took a look around the expanse of Radio Row at the downtown Moscone Center. “This is my first time seeing all of this. I actually can’t stay for the game, but it’s pretty cool.

“It’s just an exciting time for me overall with the draft ahead. You try to embrace it and make it as positive an experience as you can, and just enjoy it. You only go through it once and it’s over before you know it. There’s a long way to go and a lot of stuff is going to happen between now and the draft, but today is kind of the first feel of it for me.”

While Goff is determined to embrace a draft process that at times can be tedious, overblown and even dehumanizing, rest assured that some eager team is going to embrace him early on the night of April 28 in Chicago, when the first round unfolds. He’s very much in the race to be the first quarterback selected, and along with North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, will be the focal point for every team that is perceived to be in need of a future franchise passer. No. 2 Cleveland, No. 3 San Diego, No. 4 Dallas, No. 7 San Francisco and No. 15 Los Angeles all have varying levels of need at the position, so who knows, Goff might have three decent shots to stay in California and perhaps even the Bay Area.

“The draft, it’s so far away, you think about it, but you know you don’t control it,” Goff said. “Whatever happens, happens, and I’m going to be happy with wherever I go. I really just want to go to a team that really wants me and wants to use me the right way and make me successful. But it’s almost not worth talking about now, because there’s so much still to do between now and then.”

In my eyes, here’s the most interesting bullet point on Goff’s draft-season resume: He turned 21 just last October, and yet he has already logged three consecutive seasons of 500-plus passes, with 35 collegiate starts in his three seasons at Cal, and he was the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start the season opener. In other words, he’s perfect for a team like Dallas or San Diego, that can afford to let a first-round quarterback develop behind the likes of Tony Romo or Philip Rivers for another year or two. nce Goff will be in the NFL at the age of 21, allowing his team the option of patience if it can afford it.

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“He’s thrown a lot of passes at a really young age, and that’s what I think makes him particularly intriguing,” said Ryan Tollner, Goff’s Southern California-based agent, who represents both Wentz and Goff in this year’s quarterback class. “You look at the top of the draft and people are talking about Dallas and San Diego, teams that maybe don’t have to play a guy immediately. Well, Jared’s 21, but by the time you plug him in and play him, he might be 23? That’s the age of a lot of other seniors coming out.’’

The other most attractive part of Goff’s game is his accuracy and his ability to avoid mistakes, particularly in the red zone. He never threw a red-zone interception in his three seasons with the Bears, and tossed just 30 interceptions (to go with 96 touchdowns) despite throwing a whopping 1,569 passes during his collegiate career. Red-zone interceptions in the NFL will get a coach fired, so Goff’s pinpoint control (62.3 completion percentage at Cal) is going to be a popular selling point for some club.

“I’m extremely accurate, that’s one of my biggest strengths,” Goff said. “I take pride in that, and when I miss a guy by a little bit, it kind of ticks me off. (Former UCLA coach) Rick Neuheisel was recruiting me and he told me something, and I’ll never forget it, he said you make your money in the red zone. If you’re down there, that’s already three points, so don’t turn the ball over. I kind of took that to heart and I’m always very careful in the red zone. You take your shots when you have them, and I threw a lot of touchdowns, but I’m always going to take care of the football in the red zone.

“There’s nothing to hide with me. I threw 500 balls three years in a row, so what they see on film is what they’re going to get. I’ll improve a team as soon as I get there.”

Cal’s up-tempo “Bear Raid” spread offense was fairly prolific again this season, with Goff throwing for 4,719 yards, 43 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions. But if the spread offense quarterback label still scares some in the NFL, with its reputation for being a one-read and throw style of passing game, Goff is ready for the counter-balancing argument.

“I had so much control this year over what I wanted to do (at the line of scrimmage),” Goff said. “I was lucky enough to have a coaching staff that trusted me and a lot of it had to do with me earning their trust and doing the little things right for three years. I could change the play whenever I wanted, change the route whenever I wanted, change whatever really I wanted. Protections, everything. They gave me a lot of control and that’s another thing I think I’ll be able to sell myself with.

“We were in a spread but we ran a lot of pro-style concepts, with a lot of stuff you see in the NFL, pass combinations, and route combinations and read combinations and all that. It’s kind of surprising to some people when they see the film, because everyone thinks in the spread it’s just a streak and a slant. We did do a little bit of that, but there was a lot of stuff that was very progression based.”

With Goff at quarterback the past three years, Cal made a steady progression as well, from 1–11 in his freshman season, to 8–5 with a bowl win in his junior year.

“The tape will speak for itself and show the stuff I was able to do on the field over my career,” Goff said. “I was a three-year starter, and started every game I was at Cal. I had an integral role in turning the program around and was able to get us from 1–11 to a bowl game win this year, at 8–5. I’m proud of that.”

Goff is in the midst of pre-draft training alongside Wentz in Irvine, Calif., where Tollner’s company has a facility. The likes of ex-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley, longtime NFL coach Mike Martz and former USC head coach Ted Tollner (Ryan’s uncle) have worked with the pair of top-rated quarterbacks. One of Goff’s challenges is to make the transition to playing under center in the NFL, rather than exclusively in the shotgun formation, just as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota proved so successful at doing last year while preparing for the draft.Wentz in Irvine, Calif., where Tollner’s company has a facility. The likes of ex-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley, longtime NFL coach Mike Martz and former USC head coach Ted Tollner (Ryan’s uncle) have worked with the pair of top-rated quarterbacks. One of Goff’s challenges is to make the transition to playing under center in the NFL, rather than exclusively in the shotgun formation, just as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota proved so successful at doing last year while preparing for the draft.

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“It seems to me like all the NFL teams are just accepting of the fact that’s where they’re all coming from, the high school and college kids, out of the spread,’’ Ryan Tollner said. “Now it’s just a matter of assessing aptitude: ‘Can this guy pick up what we need to teach him and physically does he have the attributes to be able to operate under center and turn his back to the defense? Marcus was the same way. But you ask (Jared) to make a movement he’s never done and he can do it like that.’’

From shotgun to playing under center isn’t a major leap, Goff said. It’s just about learning new mechanics.

“It’s really not as big a deal as people make it out to be,” he said. “After a week I felt pretty comfortable with it. The play action stuff, the under center stuff, really, if you’re a good enough athlete and you have an athletic mind and body, you can adapt to it, and I think I’ve been able to do that.

“The NFL is shifting to a lot of shotgun stuff. Some of the best quarterbacks in the game, you see them do it. (Tom) Brady’s in the shotgun a lot. Aaron (Rodgers) out of the shotgun a lot. Peyton (Manning) plays in it a lot. And what Mariota did last year, that’s huge, because he definitely sets a good baseline for spread quarterbacks.”

Goff has spent his most recent weeks “trying to get bigger, faster, stronger” in preparation to handle the physicality of the NFL, and after playing at 6’4”, 210 pounds in college last season, he’s up to close to 220 as the scouting combine looms in three weeks. That’s partly where his Gatorade association is helpful, because his fitness is a focus as he gets ready to take part in every drill and passing session that will be on tap in Indianapolis. There will be no sitting out of the festivities for Goff at the combine.

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“Gatorade is obviously on the cutting edge of hydration and fueling, and what they’re doing now is almost customizing it to everyone’s individual needs,” said Goff, of Gatorade’s new Smart Cap squeeze bottle, that has sensors on it to track fluid intake and flag an athlete when they haven’t properly hydrated. “Now you can tell how much you drink from the lights that go on if you don’t finish. But it’s important for my performance and my recovery.”

Goff’s performance is about to get the full-bore grilling and dissection that every potential first-round quarterback endures. It’s part and parcel of the draft scouting process, and the poking and prodding has just begun. But if it had to all start somewhere, his visit to the Super Bowl city was at least a well-timed motivational tool for the future. His goal is to get back to this stage for far more than promotional reasons.

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