Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

When a meme becomes a thing – and a modest proposal

Hey, this whole “the NFL ain’t buying what spread quarterbacks are selling” thing is gettin’ real.

Even though the NFL is more pass oriented than ever before, the seven signal callers selected in this year’s draft is the fewest since 1955, when only six QBs were taken.

For perspective: More wideouts were selected among the first 40 picks (eight), than quarterbacks taken in the entire seven-round, 256-pick draft.

Ouch.  That’s gonna leave a mark in somebody’s checkbook.  And it’s getting worse.

While the small number of quarterbacks selected this year is the fewest of the common draft era (since 1967), just four signal callers that came from spread offenses have been drafted each of the last two years.

The drastic difference in the draft numbers at the position over the last two years likely has a lot more to the systems the top quarterbacks came from.

Ten of the 14 quarterbacks that were drafted a year ago ran pro-style offenses in college, as compared to the three drafted QBs who were a product of a more NFL-friendly offense this year.

Now, two years is an admittedly small sample size.  But you know how these pesky memes work.  I figure just a couple of ESPN spots devoted to the subject, and the panic will set in.

Of course, David Wunderlich is right – the NFL could roll up its sleeves and put in the effort developing quarterbacks.  But patience isn’t so much a virtue when you’ve invested a draft pick (only seven rounds now, remember) and money in a guy for whom you have no clue from his background as to whether he can make the leap.  The clock is always ticking in the NFL.

So we’re back at the fundamental problem.  The NFL isn’t going to spend a bunch of money on a developmental league when it’s had a perfectly fine one that hasn’t cost it one red cent all these years.  Nor is it going to change the role of the quarterback in some fundamental way.  And college coaches aren’t in the business of delivering talent with a red bow around it for the League so much as they’re in the business of winning, which for many means relying on spread offensive attacks.  Sounds like they’re at loggerheads to me.

Is this an insurmountable problem?  Nah, I don’t think so.  At least not in a world where money talks.  For much less than the cost of a developmental league, the NFL could simply spend some seed money at certain schools to encourage them to support pro-style offenses.  There are already places where coaches’ salaries are endowed; how about the Roger Goodell Endowment for Quarterback Studies, thoughtfully provided as long as the program has its quarterbacks taking snaps under center?

Talk about your win-win.  Let a thousand pocket passers bloom!

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“The college game is killing us.”

I tell you what – if this is really a thing, any school out there running a pro-style offense that isn’t hyping the NFL to the skies to QB recruits is committing recruiting malpractice.

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What’s in a number?

Ian Boyd has another informative post up, this one about how defenses are shifting away from traditional 4-3 and 3-4 sets into a variety of sets allowing them to better face up against spread attacks, get their best athletes on the field, or both.

For example, this one should sound familiar to us:

The 2-4-5 is ultimately a defense of specialization as the main pass-rushers are going to be the two stand-up edge rushers. The defense deploys them on the edge because that’s the easiest way to utilize a pure pass-rusher and they aren’t asked to do a great deal other than control the edge and provide pressure. The defensive tackles will tend to specialize in clogging up the interior and helping collapse the pocket while the linebackers are running free as support players.

Without access to the kind of elite pass-rushers that can attack the edge and overcome an offense’s best efforts at pass protection, the 2-4-5 is not a superior nickel package. It can also struggle against the run if defensive tackles aren’t sturdy or the linebackers are deficient. However, it is the simplest and best way to allow big, fast, and powerful athletes to impact the game and attack the quarterback.

Having access to elite pass-rushers isn’t going to be something Jeremy Pruitt worries about this season.  Struggling against the run?  Well, we’ll just to wait and see.

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The spread spreads… to offensive coordinator jobs.

I watched this Bulldog Illustrated interview with Mark Richt…

…  out of interest about what changes are being made on offense (no surprise with regard to nomenclature, as it makes too much sense for the mountain – a forty-year old system that traces its roots back to Bobby Bowden – not to come to Mohammed, i.e., the guys who will be calling the plays this season), but the most interesting part comes at the clip’s end, starting at about the 2:25 point, when Richt talks about the search he underwent for Bobo’s successor.

“With so many people going to the spread, it’s hard to find a guy that truly wants to do it the way we want to do it…”

And that meant there was a bigger pool of candidates for Richt to sift through at the NFL level than in college.

I’m a fan of contrarian thinking as an offensive philosophy.  There are clear advantages to being able to run a power, pro-style offense in a world where college defenses gear up more and more to deal with the spread.  But in light of my earlier post today, you have to wonder if there’s a limit to going against the grain.  You’ve got fewer kids coming out of high school who can step right into a pro-style scheme in college.  And now you’ve got fewer college offenses running pro-style attacks. Georgia’s already doing its best to deal with that.  What happens if the paradigm shift at the NFL level I hypothesized about in my last post actually comes into play?

Obviously, I’m not predicting that.  But Richt has to stay nimble with what he’s doing on offense, because a lot of the surroundings have changed – and keep changing – on him.  And that’s not just a matter of terminology.

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The spread that breaks the camel’s back?

Confession time:  I pay more attention to the NFL Draft than I do to the NFL season.  Sure, some of that is just out of natural curiosity to see where former Georgia players go and how well they do, but there is the occasional bit of information to glean that may have some bearing on the college game.

Along those lines, one thing you may have noticed is that after the two obvious talents in Winston and Mariota came off the board, it hasn’t exactly been the Year of the Quarterback.  And maybe that says something bigger.

Not to be too dramatic, but it feels as if we are seeing the deterioration of the quarterback pipeline before our very eyes. In the past 15 years, there has only been one other occasion when fewer than four quarterbacks were drafted in the first three rounds. That came two years ago, in 2013, when every signal-caller except EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon remained on the board when the fourth round began.

It’s no secret that the spread offense has left NFL teams leery of college quarterbacks and clinging to their aging pocket passers. The average age of the top 10 quarterbacks last season, as measured by Total QBR, was 33. The 2013 and 2015 classes will do little to alleviate that imbalance, and the 2014 class — which includes Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr — can’t yet be counted on for salvation.

Once again, I’ll pass along the working theory of Steve Clarkson, one of the country’s top youth quarterback coaches. The NFL, Clarkson believes, is at a crossroads at the position. It must either find a better way to transition spread quarterbacks into pro schemes, or it will have to make a major philosophical change to account for the injuries caused when pro teams run the spread. At the NFL level, teams would probably have to rotate quarterbacks to run the spread full time.

That’s some crossroads you got there, fella.

It’s almost existential, if you think about it.  If the NFL can’t figure out how to train college quarterbacks coming out of spread offenses to play the NFL game, then the NFL game will have to come to the spread quarterbacks, because that’s what the pros will have to work with.  That means either a radical change in how the QB position is stocked at the NFL level, or quarterbacks being prepared differently than they are at the college level.

There’s one other possibility not mentioned:  taking quarterback preparation out of the hands of college football altogether. What if the NFL doesn’t want to change and college football doesn’t want to, either?  After all, as David Shaw said the other day, it’s not the business of a college head coach to develop the NFL’s players for the league.  If this trend continues and neither side is willing to move, is the spread what ultimately forces the NFL’s hand on creating a developmental league?

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Thursday morning buffet

Ready and steaming…

  • Here’s a look at the post-spring SEC quarterback situation.
  • Georgia’s incoming freshman Trent Thompson “becomes the team’s second biggest defensive lineman the minute he steps on campus.”  Yeah, he’s got a good chance of playing this season.
  • If you can’t get a second chance at Second Chance U, where can you?
  • Florida’s Dante Fowler, Jr., on Todd Gurley: “What gets me about him is how fast he is. He’s a big guy so you would think that he’s slow, but he’s even faster in person than what he looks like on TV. We had a mean defense. We had Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Matt Elam—three first-round draft picks—and we had a top-five defense in the country. To see what he was doing to us, as a freshman, I was like, man, this guy is going to be something else.” 
  • The New York Times has a great piece on what’s happened to the members of the NFL’s first round draft class of 1990.  It’s sad to see Ben Smith’s story.
  • Nick Saban explains what up-tempo offenses have done to Alabama’s secondary, and how he’s working to fix that.  (It’s been downhill since Jeremy Pruitt left.)
  • Ben Jones talks about his favorite memory at Georgia, Jacob Eason, Mark Richt and more here.
  • It’s insidious, but I fear I’m coming to like Jim McElwain.  Bastard.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Crime and Punishment, Gators Gators, Georgia Football, Life After Football, Nick Saban Rules, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“But all quarterbacks benefit from their offensive system, so assigning that label is lazy analysis.”

Chris Brown’s piece on how to evaluate quarterbacks for the NFL draft is as good as you might expect.  I really like this six-pronged test:

Accuracy: A quarterback who is not consistently accurate will never be able to survive in the NFL. While most top-tier college QBs rarely sail or one-hop throws to receivers, accuracy in the NFL is often a matter of inches, not feet.

• Arm Strength/Velocity: Evaluators should care very little about whether a QB can throw a ball 60 or 75 yards, but a great deal about whether he can throw a pass 30 yards on a line to the opposite sideline before a defender arrives. NFL defenses are fast and savvy, and while deep throws matter, the best way to stretch defenses is to make them guard the seams and deep outs in the 18-to-25-yard range.

• Anticipation/Timing: These concepts aren’t the same, but they are related. Anticipation refers to a quarterback’s innate ability to anticipate when receivers will be open and “to throw them open”; timing refers to his ability to precisely sync up his footwork and release with the receiver’s break. In other words, anticipation is what slingers hone in the backyard, while timing is what they perfect in practice drills. Great QBs possess both traits, but a passer who’s strong in one area can compensate for weakness in the other.

 Decision-making: Simply put, does the quarterback dependably know where to go with the ball, and does he avoid the killer mistake? Good decision-making requires knowledge and the ability to quickly process information while under fire, and it’s not enough to make the right decision some of the time: If the passer does the right thing four out of five times but throws a brutal pick-six on the fifth attempt, the mistake will mask the successes.

 Pocket Presence: All quarterbacks are less effective under pressure; the key is whether a given passer can hang in the pocket and hit open receivers or loses the ability to function when that pressure hits. Unlike college players, NFL quarterbacks rarely throw from an entirely clean pocket, so remaining poised is essential. And toughness means little if accuracy and decision-making falter under duress.

 Functional Athleticism: This is not the same as raw athleticism. A QB’s 40-yard dash time and max bench-press numbers matter far less than the athleticism he displays while doing QB things: Can he escape the pocket to avoid the rush and extend plays? Does he have the agility necessary to shuffle within the pocket? Is he big and bulky enough to brush off pass-rushers and withstand NFL punishment?

Sure, the NFL is a different beast than college, but that’s still a pretty good set of attributes to use for evaluation, even at the college level.  Brown analyzes four of the top QBs in the draft, but I wonder how the three contenders for the Georgia starting job fare with that list.  Obviously, this isn’t something we can answer at present, since we haven’t seen enough game action from Bauta, Park or Ramsey to fully judge.

And beyond that, keep in mind one other astute observation of Chris:

The knock on Mariota is that his immense college production stemmed from the crafty design of Oregon’s offense more than from his own ability — that he was that dreaded animal, the “system quarterback.” But all quarterbacks benefit from their offensive system, so assigning that label is lazy analysis. A QB prospect’s college system should merely be another factor in the evaluation, just like the quality of his competition or his supporting cast.

Which is why you don’t pick a starter purely on the basis of what he did in a G-Day game, QBR notwithstanding. :)

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