METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Tyler Palko sees an upside to being passed over in the NFL draft.
The former Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback got to choose the NFL team he would attempt to make as a rookie free agent - and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton made that decision an easy one.
``He talked to me and said the things I wanted to hear as far as being honest,'' Palko said Sunday between practices at the Saints' rookie camp. ``He didn't care about how tall I was. He didn't care about all those other things. He felt that I could play football and, I mean, that's all I cared about. ... If you have someone that believes in you, that's really what you're looking for.''
That's especially true for someone like Palko, who lacks the ``measurables'' NFL coaches and scouts talk about before each draft. At 6-foot-1, he is on the short side for an NFL quarterback. And while the lefty can throw a decent pass, his mechanics and arm strength never set him apart from other prospects.
When the Pittsburgh-area native won a state championship for West Allegheny High School and won the Associated Press Pennsylvania Big School Player of the Year honors in 2001, he heard skeptics say he should try to become a safety in college.
``If there was a pill I could take to get taller, or ... make me more flashy and all that other stuff that (scouts) look for, I'd take it,'' Palko said. ``But sometimes there's things you measure, like height and weight and all that stuff, and there's things you can't measure and you just deal with them. That doesn't bother me. It's not like the first time I've ever heard it. When I came out of high school it was the same thing.''
So he went to the local university, where he got a chance to play quarterback, and ended up leading the Panthers to the Fiesta Bowl in his sophomore season. When his career ended, he had 8,343 passing yards and 66 touchdowns. Only Alex Van Pelt and Dan Marino threw for more yards at Pitt, and only Marino threw for more touchdowns.
He met with numerous teams when he worked out at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, including the Saints, and said many told him that this time he had won over the skeptics and likely would be drafted in the middle rounds.
When the fifth round arrived, Payton called with a mixed message. He told Palko the Saints were not going to pick quarterbacks or any other offensive players in the late rounds. But Payton also said the Saints still wanted to sign Palko should he go undrafted.
Players often hear that on draft day though rarely from a head coach. And Payton had the credibility that comes with a track record of extending opportunities to players such as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, once a little-known prospect out of Eastern Illinois.
A year ago, Payton believed in Drew Brees when others doubted whether Brees could recover from surgery on his throwing shoulder. Brees went on to have a Pro Bowl season in which he led the NFL in passing and helped the Saints reach their first ever NFC championship game.
``He told me about his track record with Tony, with Drew and obviously how Drew was an undersized guy and he doesn't really look at stuff like that,'' Palko said.
When Palko still hadn't been drafted by the seventh round, other teams began to call, including Carolina and Arizona, but Palko already had begun to sense he would be heading to New Orleans.
Payton said Palko has handled the first few practices of rookie camp well, though his footwork and throwing need work.
``You see some intangibles with him. I think he's a pretty good leader,'' Payton said. ``He's a coach's kid and a guy with a pretty quick release. He enjoys football. He likes being around it. So those are all things that are positives. He's a long ways away and he'd be the first one to tell you that, but we're anxious to work with him and we'll see what we have.''
Palko said growing up around football, with his father, Bob, being his high school coach, helped him realize that being a student of the game and minimizing mistakes can compensate for a lack of physical attributes.
``I like to think first and foremost I have a high football IQ,'' Palko said. ``I know how to play quarterback. I know what it takes to win, what it takes to lose, what it takes to get you beat. ... I pride myself on being tough and being in there and being a competitor and being a good team guy.''
Palko credited his ``blue-collar'' upbringing in Pittsburgh for some of those attributes, as well as his belief that he doesn't need a lot of money to be happy. If he were more worried about money, he said, he might have been more upset about not being drafted. But all he really wanted was a chance to play pro football and to show those who doubted him that they were wrong - again.
``I was told once, 'Don't ask for anything and don't expect anything. You go and do your job and you've got to earn it and do it the hard way,''' Palko said. ``That's the way I've done it all my life.''
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