After a prolific high school career in Texas, the Arkansas-born Ryan Mallett decided that Michigan was the right fit for him to take his game to the next level. As a true freshman, Mallett received unexpected playing time when starter Chad Henne went down with an injury. In Henne's absence, Michigan got a glimpse of the future with Mallett at the helm, and visions of National Championship glory played wildly in the minds of the assembled at the Big House. But, when Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr decided to retire after Mallett's first year, and former West Virginia head man Rich Rodriguez and his spread option offense embarked on Ann Arbor, Mallett knew that the once promising beginning had concluded and a fresh start was needed.
That fresh start would lead Mallett back to Arkansas, a move that forced him to sit out the entire 2008 season due to the NCAA transfer policy. After building a strong relationship with his coaching staff and teammates and getting comfortable with the playbook, the 6-foot-7, 238-pound signal caller had an impressive redshirt sophomore campaign completing 55.8-percent of his passes for 3,627 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Even though he had two years of eligibility left following the '09 season, Mallett considered leaving school early for NFL riches. But, he decided to return for his junior year and contend for the SEC crown this season. A few weeks after he announced his intentions to stay in school, Mallett suffered a broken left foot during a conditioning drill that required surgery. He's spent most of the offseason in a protective boot, but has been able to throw and work on his mechanics.
In this Scout.com exclusive, NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber asked Mallett about his decision to leave Ann Arbor, what it was like to sit out a full year, his outstanding 2009 season, the injuries he's endured and much more.
Chris Steuber: Before we get into things and start talking about a variety of topics, what's the progress of your broken foot?
Ryan Mallett: We're on schedule. We're gradually building up on things. I'm running on the elliptical and in the pool; we're going to hold off running on a real surface for a little bit just to be safe. We want to make sure everything heals correctly, make sure there are no problems. The training staff and Coach Petrino have a great plan in place.
CS: Do you view the injury as a setback, or are you just happy it happened when it did and not during the season?
Mallett: I definitely don't see it as a setback, because of how I prepared myself this spring. I've watched a lot of film, and I got to see some things that you don't normally see when you're practicing. I've been able to tweak a few things with my mechanics, and it's made me more accurate. I can't wait to get back out there. It was frustrating to watch my teammates out there [this spring], but I have to move on; I can't dwell on that. I'm looking forward to the summer and fall camps.
What’s your nickname: Big Tex.
What was your first job: I mowed lawns from when I was seven years old until I graduated high school.
What's your dream date and who would it be with: Wow, there's a couple of women that I like, Minka Kelly and Carrie Underwood. I'd take them out to dinner.
CS: I'm glad to hear that everything is on schedule and that you will be ready for the season. But before we look ahead, I want to rewind and discuss your time at Michigan. Obviously when Lloyd Carr retired and Rich Rodriguez and his spread option offense were brought into Michigan that triggered your decision to leave Ann Arbor. Was that the only reason why you left?
Mallett: No, I wouldn't say that; I just felt like it wasn't the right situation. As far as the system, I'm obviously not the running quarterback he would like to have, and I didn't know how it was going to be with all that was changing. I guess you could say that I didn't want to take a chance and get lost in the shuffle. I wanted to play, and I didn't know what was going to happen at Michigan. I had a great relationship with the coaching staff that recruited me, and seeing them leave was tough; that did factor into my decision to leave. I had a great experience there, and I wouldn't change it for the world. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the real world. I wouldn't change anything.
CS: I know you wouldn't change going to Michigan for anything in the world. But, is there a part of you that wishes you just decided to stay home and played at Arkansas from the beginning?
Mallett: When I was coming out of high school, it wasn't the right fit for me. It was tough to make that decision, because I was a fan of Arkansas football since I was born. But, I also knew that I had to make a decision that would help me get to the next level [NFL], because that was my ultimate goal. And, I felt like the coaching staff at Michigan was going to help me realize that goal.
CS: When you left Michigan and decided to enroll at Arkansas, NCAA rules prohibited you from playing the 2008 season, because you transferred to another Division I school. How tough was that to sit out an entire year?
Mallett: That was probably one of the toughest things I ever had to go through, which is a blessing if that's the toughest thing I ever have to go through. But, yeah, it was really tough, because it's the sport I love, and to have to sit out and watch the guys play without me was tough. Although, it did give me a chance to learn a lot about the coaches and the team, and it gave me an opportunity to study the playbook, so that I would be ready for the next season.
CS: Do you think that year off was to your benefit?
Mallett: I definitely do. Anytime you have to learn a new system, it's going to take time. Even though I sat out that year, I was still practicing, getting reps and got cut up. I watched every cut up - all 400 of them. It really helped me.
CS: As great as you were last year, I'd like to see you be more consistent with your accuracy this season. Last year, there was a three-game stretch where you completed over 80-percent of your passes, but in between those games you had one good game and then you would follow it up with a bad performance. How can you become more consistent throwing the ball?
Mallett: I think it all starts with that fact that I get so excited to play, and I have to find a way to relax. But, I'm not going to lose that fire and intensity. I know I have to hold it back, and I will find a way to do so that benefits me and the team.
CS: There were two games last year - the one at Florida and the other at LSU - that I thought you guys had a chance to win. But, you guys ended up losing both of those games by a total of six points. I watched those games at least three times each, and I felt that if you were a little more patient and more accurate with your passes early on in those contests that the outcome would have been different. What are your thoughts?
Mallett: I totally agree with you. I've watched both of those games a million times, and I felt like the first half is where I really struggled. But, in the second half, I thought I really turned it on. I wish I had played the first half like I did the second half. I can't have slow starts like that if we're going to win.
CS: If you had to pick one of those two games, which one was more heart breaking to lose on a personal level, Florida or LSU?
Mallett: Both of them, I hate losing. They're good football teams, and things happen. Not to take anything away from Florida or LSU, because they're great programs, but I don't think we got beat in those games; we beat ourselves. We probably should have finished 10 – 3 last year.
CS: In addition to the Florida and LSU games, the last three games of the season against Mississippi State, LSU and East Carolina (Liberty Bowl) you struggled considerably, especially with your accuracy. It seemed like your timing was off or you were compensating for an injury. Were you hurt, or did the other teams just play well against you?
Mallett: No, I wasn't hurt, not at all. Those teams did a great job of scouting us, and I didn't play my best football. We had a lot of guys stepping up and making plays, but I missed some throws that I should have made. I overthrew a lot of guys in the first half of the LSU game. I overthrew them because I was so jacked up ready to play. Again, I just have to calm down, and those misreads will turn into positives.
CS: Speaking of Florida, they enter the 2010 season without Tim Tebow, who was the main attraction in the SEC for three years. You're now the big man in the conference. Are you ready for that pressure and spotlight?
Mallett: Of course I'm ready; I've had that pressure since I was a freshman in high school. I had to step into the spotlight and play in the state semifinals as a freshman. But, I'm not the kind of guy that likes all of the attention on me; there are a lot of great players in the SEC. There are a lot of great players on my team that don't get the attention they deserve. I think they will get more attention this year, especially if we get going and play the way I know we can.
CS: I understand that you're a team player, but you do realize that with Tebow no longer in the SEC, that you will be the guy fans and scouts will focus on this season.
Mallett: I wouldn't consider myself the main guy, because you've got receivers like A.J. Green (Georgia) and Julio Jones (Alabama), and you also have the Heisman Trophy winner (Mark Ingram) sitting down there in Alabama. They all play in this conference and we're talking about me right now. So, I don't know if it's really fair to say that I'm the big man in the SEC.
CS: Well, you're the quarterback, and as good as those skill position players are, the quarterback dominates the headlines and receives the most attention.
Mallett: You're right, and that comes with the territory. I knew that when I decided to become a quarterback when I was a kid. As a quarterback, you get more glory when you win and more ridicule when you lose. But, that's part of the game, especially if you're a quarterback.
CS: There were rumors that you considered leaving Arkansas this offseason for the NFL. How close did you come to leaving, and why did you decide to return?
Mallett: I thought about it, but I promised my mom - she's a teacher - that I would get my degree; I'm on track to do that in December. Also, the team we have coming back has a chance to be great, not good, but great. I felt like it would be unfair to the fans, to the school and to the state if I played just one year [at Arkansas] and left. I still had two years of eligibility, and to leave after one year just didn't feel right.
CS: Your path in college football has been different from most players. You spent one year at Michigan, sat out an entire year after you transferred and just completed your first year at Arkansas. If you declared for the draft, you would have suited up for your third team in four years. How do you view your collegiate timeline?
Mallett: Well, I felt like I helped a little bit at Michigan. I played in a few games, and I won some big games that I played in. I decided to come here, and I wanted to be a part of something special. We have a chance to be special. That's part of the reason why I came here, because I knew Coach Petrino was a great coach, and I knew he would get great players. He did that at Louisville. There were a lot of factors in why I decided to stay in school, and the chance to do something special was too great to pass up.
CS: During Coach Petrino's time at Louisville, you're right, he coached a lot of great players. One of those players was quarterback Brian Brohm. Does Petrino ever compare you to Brohm, and have you ever reached out to him?
Mallett: Before I decided to come to Arkansas, I talked to Brian, and my parents talked to his parents about Coach Petrino. When I talked to Brian, he said that he wouldn't trade his experience with Coach for the world. I know what kind of guy Brian is, and I trusted what he had to say. Coach Petrino doesn't compare me to him, but I watched a lot of film on Brian when I first got here to get a sense of how the offense was run.
CS: Just like you, Brohm suffered a few injuries during his collegiate career. But, the injuries that you sustained over the last two years were freak injuries, a dislocated thumb and a broken foot. Even though they're freak injuries, they still occurred and some may label you as being injury prone. Are you worried about possibly having the perception of being soft?
Mallett: I'm not worried about that, because I've never been hurt during the season - knock on wood. Like you said, the injuries that I had were freak injuries. I hit my thumb on a guy's helmet and it was dislocated. Before last season started, I had a stress fracture in my foot, played on it the entire year and a couple of days before the Liberty Bowl I tweaked it. I never said much about that incident, and in February we were doing drills where we cut, and I kind of cut on my left foot, and it just broke. I don't feel like my injuries will be a problem.
CS: Earlier I asked you if you were compensating for an injury during the last three games of the year last season and you said you weren't hurt at all. But, you just stated that you played on a stress fracture the entire season and that you tweaked it prior to the Liberty Bowl. So, you were hurt?
Mallett: Everybody plays through pain towards the end of the season.
CS: The injuries that occurred were out of your hands, but an incident that happened prior to the 2009 season was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What did you learn from being arrested for public intoxication, an incident that took place before you even took an official snap at Arkansas?
Mallett: It's really helped me mature; it was a blessing in disguise. I learned that people are watching me at all times. I really didn't understand that at the time. From that incident until now, I feel like I've matured greatly as a person. I know that I made a mistake. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, I was doing the wrong things. It made me learn that you can't do those things and be a great football player.
CS: What did Coach Petrino say to you after the incident?
Mallett: We had a meeting and he said you can't do those things. He told me that this is the University of Arkansas, and it's the main university in the state; you're in a fish bowl and you're always being looked at. He was disappointed in me; I was disappointed in myself. I paid the price with a punishment and I did everything I was asked to do. We just moved on from it.
CS: Being new to the program, how did your teammates react to the situation, and was anyone skeptical about you as a person or a leader?
Mallett: I don't think anyone was skeptical about me. I'm a fun loving guy and they know I messed up. Everybody has messed up at some point, and I don't think I lost any respect. They know I wasn't doing the right things, but they also know that I'm not a bad kid. If you get to know me, you will understand that. I like to have fun, and I like to be around the guys. I talked to a couple of the seniors, and they said you can't do that stuff, and I told them that I understand and that I messed up. Again, we moved on and looked forward to the next day.
CS: I'm sure that being back in Arkansas and being the starting quarterback for the Razorbacks makes it tough for you to go out and just have fun in the technology age we live in. I can only imagine the rock star status that you have and the amount of attention you receive wherever you go.
Mallett: It can be tough, but I've learned how to handle that, especially since the incident happened. Everybody makes mistakes, and that's the mistake I made. I really learned from that incident, as minor as it was that I messed up, it was nobody else's fault and I had to correct it.
CS: Looking ahead, what are your individual and team goals for this season?Mallett: I don't worry about individual goals; I only care about the win-loss column. You play to be at the top, and if you don't play to be at the top, I don't want you on my team. And, I think that's how the rest of my teammates feel about that. We're trying to be at the top, but there's a lot of competition, and it's going to be tough. I think we can handle it, but we can't hurt ourselves with penalties and bad decisions. We have a chance to do great things if we play to our potential.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.