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NFL

Pitt quarterback Savage shooting up the board as NFL draft approaches

| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 9:39 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage plays against North Carolina Saturday Nov.16, 2013 at Heinz Field.

He left the Virginia game with what Pitt officials called “concussion symptoms.” A frighteningly vague diagnosis teammate Devin Street later explained in a more descriptive way: “He was gagging. He wanted to throw up.”

But there was Tom Savage back for more in the next game at Virginia Tech.

Later, at Syracuse, his already damaged ribs took an additional beating with three more sacks on top of the seven delivered by North Carolina the previous week. At one point, Savage had trouble getting to his feet, but he remained in the game, helping Pitt beat the Orange, 17-16. That prompted this response from awe-struck wide receiver Tyler Boyd, commenting on his quarterback's courage: “He brought out all the dog that was in him.”

Finally, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Savage's body said, “Enough.” There was blood in his urine at halftime, the result of a bruised kidney, and he shut it down for the rest of the night.

“He took an absolute beating and didn't blink under pressure,” said ESPN.com draft analyst Kevin Weidl, who watched video or attended most of Pitt's games last season.

Savage, who attended three schools, said he lost his job at Rutgers due to injury, and he had no intention of repeating that scenario at Pitt.

“It's part of the game,” he said Thursday from his home in Philadelphia. “It helps you develop a lot as a quarterback, taking those shots. Unless my leg is hanging off, I'm going back in.”That attitude and what many scouts believe is the strongest arm in the draft have turned Savage into the fastest-rising quarterback prospect.

“Savage is the hottest player going right now,” NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said. “At the combine, everybody said, 'Who is this guy?' ”

In Brandt's most recent rankings, Savage is the 40th overall prospect and the sixth quarterback in a deep class.

Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys executive, said Savage's throws had the most velocity at the NFL Combine in February.

“He is like (Troy) Aikman,” Brandt said, referencing the Cowboys Hall of Famer. “Aikman had a lot of mustard on the ball.”

Brandt said he enjoyed his conversations with Savage, calling him “a really quick learner.”

“Learning quickness is one of the big un-talked about things that separate quarterbacks today.”

Savage played only one season at Pitt after transferring from Arizona and Rutgers, but Brandt said those two years working under coach Paul Chryst — he was ineligible in 2012 — will pay dividends.

“I've known Paul Chryst forever,” Brandt said. “We don't have many true quarterback coaches anymore. Paul is as good as any. Whatever signing bonus Savage gets, Chryst should get half of it.”

Maybe Savage won't go that far, but he did say, “(Chryst) made me love the game again.”

ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay has projected Savage, 6-foot-3 12, 228 pounds, going to the Houston Texans with the first choice in the second round. Brandt said a second-round landing for Savage wouldn't surprise him, especially if he is picked by a team that plays outdoors because he has an arm that can “cut through the wind.”

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said Savage could go in the late third or fourth round and needs work in regard to taking too many sacks.

“But from an arm strength perspective, it doesn't get much better than Tom Savage,” Mayock said.

Meanwhile, Mayock's colleague at the NFL Network, Charles Davis, said Savage could be “that surprise guy in the first round.”

Savage said he worked out for 12 NFL teams in Pittsburgh and visited another 12.

“You can get a little sidetracked with all the draft talk,” he said. “Once the commissioner calls your name, everyone is on a level playing field.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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