Bill Walsh and Joe Montana on the fundamentals of quarterbacking

Old but good stuff from the master:


Why being an NFL quarterback is not easy

Because you have to do things like this, even though this guy (some guy named Manning) makes it look pretty simple:


Can a quarterback’s throwing motion be improved?

The following was written by Dub Maddox, coach at Jenks High School (Oklahoma). Dub has also co-authored a fantastic book on quarterbacking, From Headset To Helmet – Coaching the R4 Expert System: Accelerating Quarterback Decision-Making under pressure. – Ed. Note.

I use these techniques

From recruiting, to the NFL draft, to just day-to-day coaching, no position gets more scrutiny than the quarterback and no aspect of being a good quarterback is more difficult — or mystifying — than the quarterback’s throwing motion. the question remains: Can a quarterback’s throwing motion be improved?

While reading the article, The Pursuit of the Perfect Throwing Motion by David Flemming,  I was intrigued by some of the things he learned from his study.  In particular, he discovered throwing the football is the most complex motor skill in all of sports.  With most exercise scientists and kinesiologists agreeing, more people are finding out what most coaches have known for quite some time.  Changing a quarterbacks throwing motion is challenging and can be flat out intimidating.

Once most people come to this conclusion there tends to be two schools of thought as it relates to changing quarterback throwing mechanics.

  1. It’s all about the footwork (the feet are what throw the ball)
  2. You can’t change a quarterbacks mechanics (he can either throw or he can’t)

This is the dilemma I found myself in as a coach five years ago after getting upset in the first round of the playoffs.   Having to watch a very talented sophomore quarterback struggle with his mechanics that season pushed me to a path of pursuit on how to teach the perfect throwing motion.  As I began my research through clinics, DVD’s, books, college visits, and local guru’s, I had compiled a list of coaching points like, “Stand tall, step small”; “Flick the booger of the finger”;  “Pick the dollar out of the left pocket”;  “Turn the key”; “Answer the phone with ball”; “Crush pebbles with your feet” ; “Slap the wall”; “ watch how Brady, Montana, or Elway throw” and the list goes on and on.  At the end of it all I was left with a myriad of different philosophies and techniques and the same conclusions that Flemming had in his article.  As a result, I had almost submitted my belief on throwing mechanics to one of the two prevailing schools of thought.  It wasn’t until I came across a 3 DVD set on Passing Mechanics by Darin Slack that I knew that I had finally found someone who had cracked the code on how to teach and train the most complex motor skill in all of sports.   He was explaining the “Why” behind every motion and drill.  He was backing every movement up with science and biomechanics.  I felt like I had just discovered gold.

I no longer had to submit to the two schools of thought on mechanics and what I didn’t believe to be true.  After 5 years of coaching quarterbacks at Jenks High School and working for the Darin Slack Quarterback Academy here is what I have learned as it relates to the two prevailing schools of thought:

Did Cam Newton flunk the Jon Gruden test?

Setting aside whether there is (or should be) a Jon Gruden test, many on the interwebs have pointed to this video and decided Newton can’t make it:

The argument is that Newton just passes on the long verbiage call and, in not answering, fails the question. Now, it’s clear that Newton’s offense in college was not as complicated as what the pros do, I think the conclusion that Cam is automatically unfit is unfair. He didn’t forget his own plays; he says they did not have it in his offense because everything had to be done from the no-huddle. He says “36” might be the play name, and they call 36 and up and go. (For what it’s worth, in his book Finding the Winning Edge, put out in 1997, Bill Walsh said the future of football was in no-huddle offenses where the plays were called with single words.)

In the full segment, Cam diagrams a couple of plays and a couple of things were clear to me: (a) he’s a freak athlete, (b) he actually internalized his coaching quite well, as he remembered all the coaching points and axioms from Malzahn (and Gruden said he retained everything in their meeting quite well), and (c) he really does have a long way to go in terms of mastering a complicated NFL system. The upshot is that, while I like Cam’s potential, drafting him number one is risky. But he’s not incapable of mastering an NFL system.

But a final thought. Gruden — rightly, I think — emphasizes to Newton that he is going to have to prepare himself for complicated NFL playbooks and verbiage, because he will be a new employee and that’s what they do. Yet it’s not clear to me that all that verbiage goes to good use; I’m curious if Gruden, if he goes back into coaching, will choose to deluge kids with those insane playcalls or will instead do as Walsh predicted and as Malzahn does, and find a simpler way of doing business. As Cam says in the clip, “simple equals fast,” and as Holgorsen likes to remind his team, “if you’re thinking, you’re not playing.”

Did Cam Newton play in a “one read” passing offense at Auburn?

Trackemtigers asks whether Cam Newton played in a “one-read passing offense” at Auburn, something you keep hearing from the media. Most of the talking heads vaguely use this term, usually implying that Newton literally would look at one receiver and, if he was covered, instantly start running. This kind of confusion is understandable given that teaching quarterbacks where to throw the football both seems like a bit of an inscrutable black art — which takes years to master the often subconscious subtleties necessary to do well  — but also because there are simply many different ways to do it.

In the NFL, less running, more of this

Compounding this in Newton’s case is that almost all the attention on his offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s offense has been on the running game, while the passing game has received very little attention. This is not a surprise, given the dynamic and multifaceted run game Malzahn employs, and given that, especially with Cam, the run set up the pass. But it ignores the fact that Auburn led the nation in passing efficiency and threw for over 3,000 yards last season — we’re not talking about Paul Johnson’s flexbone here.

Indeed, Malzahn’s reputation as a high school coach was as an air-it-out guy, and in his first season at Tulsa in 2007, the Golden Hurricane were second in the country in passing yards with over 5,000, behind only pass-happy attacks from June Jones at Hawai’i and Mike Leach at Texas Tech. (They were also second in the nation in yards per attempt, behind only the Tebow-led Florida Gators.)

So Malzahn knows the pass, and Newton was obviously good at what he was asked to do. But what was that? I can only speculate on what specifics Cam was given, but I am familiar with Gus’s passing game and have a strong idea of how it was tailored to Cam Newton.

Gus, going back to Tulsa, uses progression reads, meaning his quarterbacks read the first receiver, to the second receiver, to the third receiver, and so on. That means that there’s no way Cam was given a “single read” — a single receiver to look at — or did Malzahn literally tell him to only look at one guy and to ignore everyone else? No to the first but, at least sometimes, yes to the second. This is because if there was one read it was not a single receiver, but a single defender.

For example, take the smash concept, a play that Gus has in his arsenal. The progression on the play is: corner route to hitch/underneath route, making it a two receiver progression (and a third if you have the runningback checking down over the middle). But you can also teach the play as a single receiver “key” read: Read the corner — if he stays with the hitch, throw the corner; if he drops for the corner, throw the hitch.

Thus in this case, it might not actually be inaccurate to say that Newton had only a “single read,” but it’s also a bit misleading. Indeed, many NFL quarterbacks only have a “single read” if this is the definition, though they might have some other read or key telling them which single read to focus on. But, while I think this “single read” was sometimes the case, I think more likely Gus used the progression read, giving Cam the typical suite of “reads”: one, two, three, throw-it-away/run.

Chris Petersen of Boise State once set forth his view of a quarterback’s development as follows:

Quarterback drills with Missouri’s Dave Yost, guru, dude

Let’s play a little pitch and catch with Mizzou offensive coordinator, Dave Yost (h/t Spreadoffense):

When asked how he felt about losing Blaine Gabbert early to the NFL, Yost shrugged his shoulders and recalled an earlier time in his life when things got tough and how he resiliently bounced back.

In seriousness, I once referred to the title of Missouri quarterback as a “glamour position” in college football, and it’s proven to be that, with each of the past three signal-callers (including potential number one overall pick, Blaine Gabbert), making it to the NFL. Whoever Missouri chooses as quarterback for this fall will do well, not least of all because of Yost’s tutelage. They should just use a little more play-action to boost that average yards per attempt.

Coach on the field

Rex Ryan, Jets head coach:

It’s not just a coach on the field. You give the coaching community too much credit. This guy is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. He is one of the smartest guys. It’s not just a coach dialing up plays, he dials his own plays up. Each play has three options. He comes up and takes option one, whatever it is. Or “Forget those options, I’m going to go to option four.”

This is who he is. The guy is tremendous. There is no one else like this guy in the league. Nobody studies like him. I know [Tom] Brady thinks he does. I think there’s probably a little more help from [Bill] Belichick with Brady than there is with Peyton Manning. Tom Moore has done a great job with him for forever, and [Jim] Caldwell and Tony Dungy. It’s Peyton Manning. That’s who it is.

Read the rest of the transcript here (h/t Fifth Down).

Teaching a quarterback where to throw the football

If your quarterback can’t deliver the ball to the open receiver, it doesn’t matter how well designed, well protected, or otherwise well executed your pass plays are. Surprisingly, however, this supposedly natural skill — the ability to locate and throw the ball to an open receiver — is taught in a variety of ways, some more effective than others. To my mind, there are really essentially two legitimate methods: the progression read and the coverage read. (The illegitimate way is to simply “scan” across — the most common tactic when a quarterback who gets in trouble — but this should never be taught to a young quarterback as an every down technique.)

Progression Reads: A progression read is designed to have two, three, four, or five sequential choices of where to throw the ball. It is important for the quarterback to pre-read the coverage to get an indication of the coverage, but, more importantly, a progression read requires the quarterback to know where each of the receivers will be given the pattern called. This kind of read calls for throwing the ball with rhythm drops — i.e. on a five-step drop, the ball is thrown to the first receiver when the fifth step hits (the “rhythm” throw), the second receiver after a hitch-up or gather step (the “read” or “gather” throw), and the third receiver after resetting the feet.

Limitations of progression reads:

  • A tendency to stare at the receiver that is first in the progression, which attracts other defenders.
  • It is frustrating for coaches to watch because they can see that a receiver who is later in the progression is wide open. Thus coaches need to know the progression as well as the quarterback — the QB’s job is to throw it to the first open receiver in the progression.
  • Quarterbacks will lose patience or think that because the first receiver in the progression was thrown to the first time that he won’t be there when the play is called again. Progression reads require the coach/quarterback not have their mind made up ahead of time.

Coverage reads: The simple form of this requires that a pass concept be called and the quarterback is told to “throw it to this guy if the defender does this; throw it to that guy if the defender does that.” To make this work, the coaches and quarterback must understand the exact coverage called; there might be five receivers deployed but the coverage determines which two or three are “live” for the quarterback. In essence, the quarterback reads defenders, who dictate where the ball will go.

Sentences to ponder

From the Pro-Football Reference Blog:

[Imagine w]e have two teams that both average a whopping 14 yards per attempt. One team completes 100% of its passes; the other 50% (for 28 yards per completion). If I were to model those two, it seems pretty clear that the team that completes 100% would score more. They would score on virtually every possession, only failing to score in limited cases where their 3 consecutive completions net 9 or fewer yards. The 50% team would also score a lot, but string together a few more droughts. I suspect my 100% completion team with 14 yards per attempt would average about 60 points a game, while the 50% completion team would average closer to 50.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have two teams that average 3 yards per [pass] attempt. If one of those teams completed 100% of their passes, they would struggle to maintain drives or even get them started [or would routinely end on 4th and 1…], while a 25% completion team would occasionally string together first downs and get into scoring range. Neither would score much at all, but if I were forced to watch both teams for 24 hours straight as punishment for all my transgressions, I’d take the team with the yards per completion to win in a non-shootout.


And later in the piece:

[I]t is pretty clear that the QB’s in a Don Coryell-based offense (Fouts, all of the Redskins QBs of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the Rams and Chiefs recently) are undersold by passer rating relative to adjusted net yards per attempt in terms of the value they provided, and the West Coast passers are oversold, and its because of the different philosophies as they affect completion percentage.

Bill Parcells’ four rules for drafting a quarterback

As announced on Monday Night Football, via Blatant Homerism:

  1. He must be a senior, because you need time and maturity to develop into a good professional quarterback.
  2. He must be a graduate, because you want someone who takes his responsibilities seriously.
  3. He must be a three-year starter, because you need to make sure his success wasn’t ephemeral and that he has lived as “the guy” for some period of time.
  4. He must have at least 23 wins, because the big passing numbers must come in the context of winning games.

Blatant Homerism also notes that, of the seven quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in the 2000s, five — Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Trent Dilfer — met all four requirements when drafted.

So readers, discuss: When drafting a quarterback are these non-negotiables, helpful guideposts, or completely irrelevant?