He's widely considered one of the top two quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft class, but after a subpar senior season that was derailed by a separated shoulder there's some convincing that USC's Matt Barkley has to do. Physically however, that won't be happening at the NFL Combine. He'll have to wait another month, but Barkley is supremely confident his throwing arm will be better than ready.
"I'm 100-percent on track with my rehab program," said Barkley Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "It's been a slow process. You have to be very patient at times with the rehab that I've been doing. I've been in great hands with Dr. Andrews Dr. (Neal) ElAttrache on the West Coast and Dr. (James) Tibone. By March 27th on my pro day, I should be perfect to throw."
In a quarterback class that is anything but perfect Barkley is just one of several senior signal callers whose production dipped in 2012 along with USC's fortunes. The injury was the main culprit in compromising his season and that of the Trojans.
"I learned a lot from this last year, that you can't teach in a classroom," Barkley said. "You have to learn through experience, in terms of handling adversity at its peak, finding the motivation to get guys going in the locker room, in the huddle, on the practice field when you're not playing for postseason.
"This year, especially, with the early loss to Stanford, we weren't expecting it. It allowed me to step up and be that voice when guys didn't really know where to look. You can't really teach that stuff, so I've had to learn through experience over the years about leadership. Definitely I think I'm in a better position now entering this draft than last year."
Of course there are a lot of signal callers that would take his "down" senior season in which he completed close to 64 percent of his passes, threw for better than 3,200 yards along with 39 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.
Barkley has had to impose a bit of self-discipline with his rehab regimen. Knowing how sensitive the timetable is for a return to 100 percent health, the quarterback had to stay the course and not do too much too soon.
"I'm as competitive as it gets, so I wanted to just get out there and fire up," he said. "The plan that I've had in place, I'm still on a pitch count. It's been pretty specific in terms of the percentages, the velocity, how far, even the distances that I've thrown every day.
"I believe in the doctors and the physical therapists that have been watching over me. They worked with the best before—they brought back Drew Brees, they brought back Sam Bradford. So I know it's worked before. I just have to trust in them knowing that it will be fine."
When Barkley first began his rehabilitation throwing everything was spelled out and charted, forcing the quarterback to take incremental steps forward.
"It was a certain number of throws at this distance for this velocity," he said. "There would be another set of 10 throws at more velocity and more distance until you gradually were working up, under their guidance."
Barkley is now at a point where he's throwing on his own while working through the final stages of his rehab regimen. His arm strength for the NFL level was debated prior to his shoulder injury and is an even more popular topic now.
As far as Barkley is concerned the arm strength argument doesn't have a leg to stand on.
"I would disagree," he said when asked what he thought of those that claim his arm is not strong enough for the NFL. "Look at the tape. Watch the tape. I'm not going to go through certain throws, but you can watch the tape where I've made throws in tight windows. I can make every NFL throw that you need. So I would disagree."
In fact all of Barkley's meticulous rehab has him convinced that his arm strength will benefit instead of suffer moving forward.
"With all the back, scapula, rotator-cuff movements and exercises that I've been doing, I'll be better than I was before the injury," he said.
Though Barkley's pro day will not be for another month the quarterback said he'll be 100 percent healthy prior to his March 27th pro day date.
"I've thrown with great velocity, deep balls, already," he said. "I wouldn't say I'd be able to play a complete game right now, but I feel confident that everything's going to be fine, if not better than normal."
Barkley's pro day will be heavily attended by NFL personnel evaluators and scouts. It's the last big opportunity for him to prove his arm is fully healed and ready for the NFL game. And in the interviews with NFL clubs at the Combine he'll be encouraging them to attend his workout in Los Angeles.
"I believe the meetings that I'll be having and who I'll be able to come in contact with will set a good foundation," he said. "Then come my pro day. I'll be ready to go and I won't miss a beat."