INDIANAPOLIS -- Press conferences at the Combine are a relatively safe place for players. Questions come prepackaged for players. Queries about pot, DUIs, illegitimate children, and even social media hoaxes are easily fielded with a practiced answer. Like the others, Matt Barkley's press conference started out like the rest. He measured in at 6-foot-2 and, of course, he has something to prove.
Unfortunately for Barkley, he also has to shake off his past, putting to rest lingering doubts generated by not finishing his unfinished business. He missed what should have been an easy checkdown throw in his Friday press conference at the Combine.
Past frustrations poked tiny holes in Barkley's poise soon after that. Barkley could have been a part of last year's quarterback class, with rookie superstars Andrew Luck and RGIII. Things went down hill from there.
When the subject of a reported locker room brawl after this year's Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech came up, Barkley got downright testy.
"There's always going to be reports when things don't go as planned," Barkley responded. "We expect better. It was just a normal football locker-room environment. That happens all the time. It was nothing out of hand. It was guys exchanging words and wanting to set the record straight."
Watch for yourself:
The story of the brawl centers on Barkley; it reportedly started when one of the Trojans' younger players questioned Barkley being out for the game along with his and the other seniors' leadership ability.
Head coach Lane Kiffin, Barkley and others denied the reports of punches being thrown. At the Combine, Barkley issued the same denial and explanation he offered in January for the reported brawl, almost to the letter. This is what he said at the time:
"It's an emotional game, and when you end your season on a negative note like that, emotions are going to be high. Guys were expressing their opinions, for better or worse, but we had it under control. It was nothing to be alarmed about."
That explanation was, in part, an attempt to explain and move on from USC's dumpster fire season. As an attempt to put his own disappointing senior year into a more palatable context for NFL personnel men, Barkley's words left something to be desired on Friday in Indianapolis.
Barkley has always been a representation of the past, as Spencer Hall pointed out last June. His Jim McMahon headband and sweat towel looked like the accessories of success, essential tools for finishing said business.
Unfortunately for Barkley, football was ready to face its future in 2012. Johnny Manziel ran and threw his way to the Heisman. Even the NFL, a place notoriously suspicious of the future and hostile to change, embraced concepts like the read option and the pistol. Colin Kaepernick helped lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance. Russell Wilson, too short to be successful, tied Peyton Manning's rookie record for touchdown passes. RGIII, who won the Heisman in a year when Barkley didn't even make the list of finalists, replicated his success in the NFL without missing a step.
Those quarterbacks are Barkley's peers, but there's another legacy that dogs him these days. Comparisons to Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez were inevitable. As Jason Cole from Yahoo Sports pointed out last week, Barkley's fellow USC alums have given him yet another hurdle to clear.
Barkley was asked about his fellow Trojans on Friday.
"They've done great things," Barkley answered. "I know my case, my situation and my story is different than all those other guys. I don't think you can put everyone in the same mold. I know what I'm capable of, and I wouldn't be so quick to put a mold around me."
Sanchez and Barkley stay in touch. They also work out together, but the sessions have gone beyond mere throwing.
"That's kind of opened my eyes, seeing all these players go before me from USC, and even other programs, how they handled things, the great things that they did," Barkley said, possibly confused by the definition of "great."
Barkley was on the defensive when it came to comparisons to the NFL's latest crop of young quarterbacks, the ones who have made a reputation on the ability to run as well as they can throw. Fair or not, every quarterback in this year's draft is being held up against that standard. The problem Barkley has with the class of 2012 is his direct link to that group.
"I don't feel like there's any pressure on my part to live up to them," he said. "I know every situation's different. Whatever a player's going into is going to be different than what they went into last year. I don't feel there's any need to live up to what they lived up to. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough."
He is right, he doesn't have to be RGIII or Andrew Luck. However, he missed an opportunity to discuss those standards, but he did leave the audience with room to wonder about his standards when discussing his own drop off from 2011 to 2012.
"Every year is not going to be the same," he said. "Think about it: You can't get better every single year. It's physically impossible to throw for more yards and more yards and more yards every year. There's going to be some years when it just doesn't click and things don't go as planned. This was just one of those years."
Standardized answers have their place at the podium in Indianapolis. Manti Te'o bored everyone with practiced answers to the expected round of questioning at his sell-out presser. Like Barkley, he's been answering the same questions about his past since January.
Accounting for an internet hoax, like a DUI or pot charge, is a fairly straight forward process. Admit the mistake, explain why it happened and will never happen again, then tell the world you're ready to move on. Barkley's challenge is different, and a canned set of answers might not be enough.
The USC quarterback hung his hat on his ability to run an offense and lead a team. His last season at USC left us all, from fans and the media to NFL coaches and personnel men, with questions about his ability to do that. A more thorough explanation of his role in the Trojans' 7-6 season and all the ugliness that accompanied it will be just as essential as easing concerns about his shoulder and ability to throw down the field at his March pro day.
Just more unfinished business for Matt Barkley.