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:

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Smart Links – Purdue QBs, Graham Harrell, Apple and Auburn – 8/25/2011

Purdue quarterbacks’ lifespan nasty, brutish and short, from Holly at her new home at SI (with some additions from myself). But despite 5,000 ACL injuries to current and former players, there may be some room for optimism: “What the Boilermakers do have on their side, sort of, is time: a home opener against Middle Tennessee State, a road trip to Rice, a visit from Southeast Missouri State and a bye week give more cushion than most teams could reasonably expect to enjoy between what remains of fall camp and the meat of the schedule. That meat, when it arrives, will be a tough cut: Notre Dame comes to town in Week 5, and subsequent conference games include Ohio State, Iowa, and road trips to Penn State and Wisconsin.”

Watch this on your iPad: Steve Jobs in 1984:

Relatedly, new Apple CEO Tim Cook is an Auburn grad:

“I have so much Auburn memorabilia, you might think it’s the Auburn outpost of J&M and Anders.”

Also: “When I was in high school, some teachers advised me to attend Auburn. Some teachers advised me to attend the University of Alabama,” Cook said in his address. “And, well, like I said, some decision are pretty obvious.”

Graham Harrell is making a run at it. Does anyone else see coaching in this guy’s future? Lots of interesting tidbits from the article:

So Harrell headed to the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was on their injured list, the CFL’s weird way of keeping players, especially American players, on the payroll so they aren’t claimed elsewhere. But he was healthy and practiced all season and said the bigger field helped expand his range. “It forced you to make bigger throws,” said Harrell. “One of the knocks of Texas Tech quarterbacks – me or anyone out of there – is that we don’t make big throws, don’t want to go deep. You go to Canada with a 65-yard wide field, you have to make the big throw.”

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Game planning (and game theory) wisdom from . . . Lane Kiffin

From the 2011 Nike Coach of the Year Clinic:

Each year we do a self-scout at the end of the year…. After the review, we could see where we made mistakes of adding plays that we did not have time to perfect. We have decided to stop running plays we add late in the week, and we do not have enough reps where our players feel comfortable running them. We may add a play to take advantage of a team that widens their 3-technique. We work on that all week, and when we get into the game, the opponent does not widen the 3-technique, and we have wasted a lot of time working on something we did not need.

I want to encourage you to stay away from doing that next season…. You will see something you think will work, and you think it will help you in the next game. You get to the game, and you see it does not work. You need to go back and call the plays the players know; just call them from a different formation.

The simple, wonderful, inexpensive speed option

The speed option may be the best run play in football. The pro guys don’t like it because your quarterback can be hit, but, whether under center or from the shotgun, it’s an exceptionally useful play to have in your arsenal. There are three basic reasons why the play is so effective and useful:

  • Simple: Both the concept and the schemes are simple. Unlike the true triple options, there are not multiple reads and the one read that is there is a simple one of a defender often stuck in space.

Wish they called this more in Denver

  • Inexpensive. What I mean by inexpensive is that the play requires very little teaching for any offensive players as the blocking scheme should be one already used for a traditional play. Typically, this will be outside zone blocking.
  • Speed in space. This is tied to #1 and #2, but the play works most of all because it is a simple and inexpensive way to get athletes on the perimeter of the defense in space. The option threat by the quarterback — and the numbers advantage gained by reading a defender instead of blocking him — keeps the defense inside, but the point of the play is to pitch the ball to the runningback on the perimeter where he can burst upfield to do maximum damage.

What further makes the play so good is that these concepts are universal; they are not tethered to a single offense or system. The play works from under center or shotgun, and has been effectively used by teams with great running quarterbacks and it has been used by teams with more pedestrian quarterbacks as just a cheap way to get the ball to the outside.

In modern form, the play is simple. The line outside zone blocks, which means they step playside seeking to cut off the defense and to even reach them as they can. The linemen work together to double-team the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers, and the idea is to create a vertical crease somewhere between a spot outside the tight-end and the sideline. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically either the defensive end or the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts up the inside crease (and typically looks to cut back against the grain). If the defender attacks the quarterback or simply stays inside, the QB pitches it. The outside receivers block the outside run support, being more focused on being in their way than pancaking anyone. Below is a modern example of the speed option from gun:

For a little more historical perspective, Tom Osborne’s great Nebraska teams used the speed option as one of its chief weapons.
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Run and Shoot “Go” Concept

The Run and Shoot is one of my favorite offenses, and I’ve long believed that it still has a lot to teach us, even if it was supposedly “discredited” or is defunct. It’s foundational play was and remains the “Go” concept, which I’ve previously described:

[“Go”] is a “trips” formation play — in the ‘shoot, the concepts are typically designed around whether you are in “doubles” (two receivers to each side) or trips, three to one side and a single receiver on the other. The routes are fairly simple. The outside man to the trips side runs a mandatory “go” or “streak” — he releases outside and takes his man deep. It’s important that the receiver take a “mandatory outside release” — i.e. if the corner is rolled up and tries to force the receiver inside, he still must do all he can to release outside and get up the sideline. This is imperative for many reasons, among them to keep the near safety stretched and to widen the defenders to open the flat route.)

The middle slot runs the seam read, outlined above. The inside receiver runs a quick flat or “sweep” route: he takes a jab step upfield and then rolls his route to five yards in the flat. An important coaching point is that this player must come right off the seam reader’s hip; you’re looking for a rub against man to man.

On the backside, the receiver runs a streak but if he cannot beat the defender deep, he will stop at 15-16 yards and come back down the line of his route to the outside. The runningback is usually in the protection, but if not needed, he will leak out to the weakside.

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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:
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What impact will (or should) Tom Moore have on the New York Jets offense?

Jets coach Rex Ryan, more comfortable with a more experienced Mark Sanchez, has promised to open up the Jets offense to throw the ball more this season. And there was some (meager) evidence of this in the Jets first preseason game, as George Bretherton writes over at the NYT Fifth Down:

Even if you took Rex Ryan at his word when he said the ground-and-pound Jets were going to throw the ball more this season, there were plenty of reasons to believe it wasn’t going to start with last night’s preseason opener against Houston . . .

[But t]he most notable outcome from the Jets’ 20-16 loss to the Texans was the quick pace set by Sanchez (6 of 7, 43 yards), who came out firing in his one-quarter cameo.

The move to throwing the ball more is one possible change for the Jets. The other is shrouded in a bit more mystery: In the offseason, the Jets hired longtime Colts assistant and Peyton Manning mentor, Tom Moore. Everyone involved insists it was not a vote of no confidence for current Jets offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer. Moore is 72 and will often not travel with the team this season, and Schottenheimer is a good coordinator who has done good things with both the Jets offense as a whole but also Sanchez in particular.

I've seen your playbook, and it's too big.

But there is lots of room for improvement, and Moore could be a key to that. Although Schottenheimer is a good young offensive coordinator, he suffers to some extent from good young offensive coordinator disease, which is a specific strain of a larger disease that affects large portions of the NFL: his offense often suffers from needless complexity. As I’ve previously explained, NFL offenses are typically cut from the same cloth and seek to do essentially the same things: the inside and outside zone runs, along with the power play and some counters, while the passing gameinvolves the quick game, some dropback concepts, plenty of play-action and a sprinkling of screens.

All that is fine, and there is a necessary layer of “micro” complexity where coaches must tinker with pass protections, route structures, and personnel and formations to get both the “matchup” they want (an overused term, as what you really want is not a particular one-on-one matchup but a numbers advantage of three on two or two on one, whether it is blocking or a pass route combination). Contrast this with college systems where more of the focus is on “macro” complexity in that you might face a pro-style team one week, a spread offense the next and then a triple option team after that. But the problem for pro coaches is that they often fall into the trap of complexity for its own sake, thinking that they must give a new look to the defense while forgetting that every time you add something new you make it just as hard on your own players as you do on your opponents. This is a trap I often see with Brian Schottenheimer’s offense, which, while generally very effective, often results in too many mistakes and breakdowns — all blamed on the players not getting it — when all they are doing is trying the fifth different way to throw it to the flat or to run yet another new play that hits in the same defensive gap as four others the players are more comfortable with. (Indeed, Rex Ryan recently went off on his players for their mental mistakes in that first preseason game.)

This issue, however, is solvable, and Tom Moore long ago figured it out.
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Smart Links – Finebaum, Mazzone, Clemson, high-fives – 8/18/2011

An EDSBS commenter called in to the Paul Finebaum show multiple times, thus joining two of football’s greatest communities.

Hemlock on Noel Mazzone’s slide protection.

Will Leitch’s interview with Michael Vick.

And the Valley Shook prepares for LSU to play Oregon.

Coach Hoover on ball security.

Dacoachmo on sprint-out passing.

– Three from Shakin the Southland: New OC Chad Morris believes in guys earning their spots; review of Clemson’s second-scrimmage; and on the 3-4 switch and multiple fronts.

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The crack toss sweep and the double crack screen against an overloaded defense

No matter what offense you run, it’s important to have counters. In the video clip below, legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs shows his “crack toss sweep” counter to an overloaded defense. The idea is that, if you’re successful running to the power side of the formation, defenses will often overload that side, specifically by playing man coverage and flopping their cornerbacks to cover your two split receivers, thus keeping both the numbers as well as the better run support defenders to the strong side. One possible counter is the old counter trey play, which has the advantage of getting extra linemen at the point of attack but has the disadvantage of being slow. Gibbs shows (flip to the end for the film cut-ups) a “crack” toss where one of the wide receivers cracks down on the defensive end while the playside linemen pull and lead to the outside. It’s a great, easy to install changeup.

But as Coach Gibbs notes, it’s not quite as good against zone, a primary reason being that it doesn’t necessarily account for the linebackers as opposed to just the defensive end to the pitch side. Moreover, as fast as the toss is it’s not that quick. That’s why I prefer, instead of the crack toss, a “crack screen” play. This play is faster, which then has the added benefit of better numbers at the point of attack because the offense shouldn’t need to block the defensive end as he will be outflanked.

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NFL Team to Watch – Sam Bradford’s St. Louis Rams

When it comes to football as stimulating entertainment, not all teams are created equal. This is part of my pre-season series on Teams to Watch, which literally means to “watch their game,” not necessarily to “watch out for” (though it can mean that too)

The St. Louis Rams, who went 7-9 in 2010, were not a great team last season and are unlikely to be a great one this year. But there is reason for optimism. First, Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams’ second-year head coach, has been reshaping the defense in his image, and appears to be the steady hand on the wheel the team lacked under Scott Linehan. Second, the offensive line should improve and the backfield looks better and deeper than it is has been since Marshall Faulk manned it alone in his heyday: The great Steven Jackson returns, this time with some assistance from new additions Cadillac Williams and the quick Jerious Norwood. And, of course, Sam Bradford had a magnificent rookie season, where he undoubtedly showed that he is a future NFL great. Or did he? As Chase explains:

Sam Bradford’s rookie season has been incredibly overrated by nearly every football writer and talking head. . . The problem when it comes to evaluationg Bradford is that too many people are paying too much attention to the wrong stats. Bradford’s 2010 performance wasn’t very good, even for a rookie. Over the past 20 seasons, there have been 37 quarterbacks to throw at least 224 passes in their rookie season. According to the Net Yards per Attempt Index, which grades each quarterback by his average net yards per pass attempt adjusted for era, Bradford ranks just 22nd out of 37 quarterbacks. That puts him just behind Tony Banks and Trent Edwards, and right ahead of Joey Harrington and Matt Stafford. Bradford ranked 31st in NY/A last season, only topping Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen; he ranked just 29th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. Does that scream superstar to you?

I am a bit more hopeful, and that is why I’ll be catching Rams games this fall. Specifically, although I agree that Bradford’s rookie season should not be exalted as one of the all-time greats, I am willing to go beyond the stats in this case and apply some of that good ol’ fashioned “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” type of analysis. And what I saw was a smart young quarterback on a bad-to-mediocre team with a horrendous supporting cast, who managed to get himself through a lot of ballgames by taking the conservative option, dumping it off, and picking spots to throw downfield. I saw a quarterback who didn’t fall on his face, but, along with developing those downfield weapons, will have to learn to push the ball downfield. Most telling in this regard was St. Louis’s most important game, against Seattle late in the season. Had the Rams won that game, they would have been in the playoffs, but Bradford struggled against Pete Carroll’s blitz schemes, managing only roughly four yards per pass attempt and an interception. But I saw a guy who, with another year of maturity and a better supporting cast, could develop into a good NFL starter (with the added benefit of a generally weak division).

Moreover, the statistics are not all bad. Bradford’s 5.4 Adjusted Yards Per Pass Attempt (Pro Football Reference’s vaunted quarterback stat), although not great, was better than the rookie number for another highly touted rookie: Peyton Manning only had a 5.2 AY/A in 1998, his rookie season. My point is not that Bradford was 0.2 better than Manning, but instead simply that with young quarterbacks it’s a guessing game. Remember too that Bradford was coming off a college season where he barely registered any snaps due to injuries, and logic indicates that he’s at least on the right direction.

But the point is well taken: Bradford will not be Tom Brady this season, and his progress will be as dependent on his supporting cast as it will be on himself. Most specifically, Bradford needs his receiving corps to step up and improve. The only sure thing returning is former undrafted received Danny Amendola, referred to as a Welker clone for many reasons, some more obvious than others, but not least of all because they both were slot receivers at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. Amendola will roam the undercoverage, but from there it’s anyone’s guess: rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas look promising but are unknowns, Donnie Avery returns from injury, veterans Mike Sims-Walker, Danario Alexander, and Brandon Gibson have done some good things; no one really knows. Yet it’s not necessary in modern football to have two great gamebreakers outside, like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, to have an effective passing attack. And no one knows this better than new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

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