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QB Vernon Adams to use CFL as a launchpad

The biggest knock NFL teams had against Vernon Adams was his height, but the undrafted quarterback says he's "all good" with working on his game in the CFL for now. Courtesy of Montreal Alouettes

Vernon Adams has heard the assessment. The ideal CFL quarterback. He laughs, lets out a deep breath over the phone and reveals the code.

"It's just because there are a lot of shorter quarterbacks up here," he said. "That's why they say that."

After a pause, he adds: "But I do fit well here. I'm working and grinding and just glad there is a team that wanted me."

Indeed, Adams was one of the best players during last year's college football season while at Oregon in 2015. But his NFL prospects seemed scuttled the moment he measured 5-foot-10 7/8ths at the February scouting combine. Any comparisons to the Seattle Seahawks' 5-foot-10 Russell Wilson ended with Adams' 4.83 time in the 40-yard dash. (Wilson clocked 4.55 at the 2012 combine.)

And so after failed tryouts with the Seahawks and Washington Redskins, the player who once declared himself the second-best quarterback in the 2016 draft signed with the CFL's British Columbia Lions. He was then traded to the Montreal Alouettes in exchange for a first-round draft choice, and he is likely to spend this summer learning the Canadian brand of football as a reserve.

Adams signed a three-year deal with Montreal. For comparison's sake, the CFL minimum salary is $52,000 Canadian this year, or just under $40,000 U.S., and the NFL minimum salary is $450,000 for a player on the 53-man roster. The minimum salary for NFL practice squad players in 2016 is $6,900 per week. The Alouettes' regular season begins Friday against the Winnipeg Blue Blombers (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

"I know some of the measureables aren't there," said Montreal general manager/coach Jim Popp. "He's not quite the height that people are looking for. But he sees the field tremendously, is a great competitor and someone we think is worth an investment for our future.

"The way it is, is this: The NFL can have who they want, and the CFL has to adjust," he added. "We don't get every measurable. We take football players. We take football players that have performed in the past, no matter what the measureables. That applies to most of the guys in the CFL that you play with and win with."

Adams had considered signing with the CFL last summer rather than completing the process of transferring from Eastern Washington to Oregon, where he planned to play one post-graduate season. Still, he has spent much of his first month in Canada adjusting to structural differences that catch most American-born players off guard.

As a quarterback, especially one who threw deep often and well at Oregon, the size of the field is a significant factor. CFL playing fields are 65 yards wide --11.5 yards wider than in the NFL -- and the dimensions mean that timely decisions and accurate throws grow more important with each yard the ball travels.

"Those long throws, you have to get them out early and be careful on them," he said. "The field is so wide that the DBs can get there quickly. So it's something you have to adjust to."

Adams recorded the NCAA's second-best pass efficiency rating (264.7) and Total Quarterback Rating (99.2) on throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air last season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. He completed 32 of 62 such throws for 1,079 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he ranked second in the nation with an average per attempt on all throws of 10.2 yards. And while his 40 time didn't impress NFL scouts, his ability to buy time -- if only to find open lanes to see downfield -- spurs optimism for his CFL future.

"The key here is to be able to move around when you need to," Popp said. "The NFL game is so much more compact than it is here. The NFL is taking more of the guys that can and do run around, people like Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, because that's what the colleges have moved to and that's what they're giving them. But here, it's always been the case. You have to be able to make all throws, but you have a chance to be able to see the field here no matter what your height is."

The CFL's wider field provides a quarterback more space to create vision lanes if he chooses. Matt Dunigan, a former CFL quarterback and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame who is now a broadcaster, noted that the patron saint of short CFL quarterbacks expertly drifted until he saw what he needed to see.

"Doug Flutie would drift according to the protection to one side or the other," Dunigan said. "Then he would plant that foot in the ground and it was magic. I'm 5-11 and I had to do the same thing when I played. I always tell guys to get depth and space for vision. There's a fine line between doing it too much, but it's important for smaller guys here. Doug did it naturally and it worked, and he might have been the best player in the history of this league. Vernon is going to have to learn those things."

Adams played minimally this preseason for the Alouettes, completing four of eight passes for 35 yards, one touchdown and one interception in two games. Kevin Glenn, a 37-year-old veteran of 12 CFL seasons who is also 5-foot-10, is expected to be their starter. Speaking last week, Popp had no plans to push Adams onto the field anytime soon. "Anyone who comes into the CFL, whether after four years NFL experience or if they were a great NCAA quarterback, most of them don't have instant success in the CFL," Popp said.

All of which seems fine to Adams, who knows he has no other North American options at the moment.

"I can tell you I am not worried about the NFL," Adams said, "and they're not worried about me. I'm not even starting here. I want to get bigger and faster and play here. If the NFL comes calling in five or 10 years or whatever, then maybe I might consider it. But as of right now. I'm fine."

He repeated the last two words for emphasis.

"I'm fine. I'm fine. Really, I'm fine. This is all good."