Right now I feel like a second string corner trying to make the roster on special teams play and limited snaps in the defence. Whilst I’m on top of things in terms of following news, I have not watched as many games as I would have like to and we’re already getting into the first wave of cuts, the third week dress rehearsal games are over, but never the less I shall make the most of the reps that have been given to me. Torturous metaphor now over…
I’m writing about a big focus in football, although one that I’m not as obsessed with as most, namely quarterbacks. Everybody tends to agree that the quarterback is the most important player on a football team, and I am no different. But people do seem to give too much praise to a quarterback when the team wins and too much blame when the team loses. There’s no guaranteed way to find a quarterback, if we look at three of the marquee QBs in the league, Peyton Manning was the archetypal first pick of the draft, Drew Brees was picked at the start of the second round (overall 32), and famously Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round as the 199th player selected. It is easier to pick one early, but you don’t have to and last years Super Bowl winner was found in the third round. The trick is not just to pick the right player, but to develop them as well because apart from the tangibles of arm strength and size, a quarterback needs the study habits, familiarity with the offence, and the ability to find a way to be successful in the NFL. He has to anticipate what the defence the is doing, throw the ball through and incredibly tight window to a receiver who is not there yet and if he is just a beat slow, the ball gets intercepted and possible returned for points.
This preseason we’ve seen a couple of different approaches by teams trying to solve their quarterback conundrums. The Cleveland Browns took the step of picking the incredibly popular college star Johnny Manziel and announced that there was camp competition with their existing player Brian Hoyer. The Jaguars also picked a first round quarterback in Blake Bortles and immediately announced that he was going to sit behind veteran Chad Henne for the year.
I’m not one for absolutism, and whilst I agree with the idea that there is so much to learn that it is a good idea for a rookie QB to sit for a while, I’m not going to state that they should sit for a preset amount of time. When they’re ready they are ready, but the different approaches above highlight what can go wrong if a team doesn’t handle its quarterback situation well.
I don’t follow college football as there is only so much time in the world, I don’t really get the conference system, and there’s enough ethical questions around paying NFL players to endanger their long term health, without being fanatical about a feeder league that makes it a point of pride that their players aren’t paid. But even I had heard about some of Manziel antics in college, both on the field and off it. I dread to think how many words have been written about his offseason and I don’t want to go into it again in great detail, but the thing that’s interesting to me is this.
I don’t know how I would have reacted to being given a four year, 8.25 million dollar contract with roughly 7.9 million dollars guaranteed when I was twenty-one, but I suspect there might have had some bumps. The problem is, when you’re a key part of business that is worth somewhere between five hundred million and billion dollars, if not more, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room for poor results and bad decisions. The first few months of Manziel’s NFL career has not been a success, and in having a camp competition with no clear winner, but with Hoyer being getting the starter job through being the least bad option, the team do not have a clear leader of the team.
Now there’s nothing to say that being sat for the year would have prevented Manziel from giving Washington’s sideline the finger in the Browns’ second preseason game, but it might have helped. The Browns are in a mess and I think that between management and coaching, they have contributed to their own problems.
In Jacksonville however, we have the opposite problem as the good play of the rookie Bortles has some already suggesting he should be starting. However, Henne has also being playing well and the idea of throwing a rookie quarterback out into an NFL season behind a what is thought to be a shaky line seems like short term thinking. A good quarterback needs time to develop if they’re to have the long career that a team is hoping for when they invest a first round pick on a player. The problem is that the situation is still more complicated than that.
I’ve talked before about the importance of depth in the NFL, and the quarterback position is hardest nut to crack for this. You don’t have to have a top five quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but you do need a certain level of competency and there are not enough of this calibre of players for thirty two teams. That should give you an idea of how hard it is to play the position at the NFL level, but also shows why getting your quarterback situation set is so important, as it is unlikely that you will have a quality backup just waiting behind your starter ready to go.
So, you have to balance the risk of exposure to injury and the needs of the coach to win, against the development of your young quarterback, but you can do all of that and still not guarantee your player will turn out how you hope. We have just lost the Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending injury as he re-tore the ACL in his left knee. This could well be the end of Bradford’s tenure in St Louis as his cap figure for next year is too big given that he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. I feel so sorry for him as he clearly has a lot of talent and potential, but you can’t realise that if you can’t stay on the field.
So we’ve establishing that the quarterback position is complicated, but we haven’t got to a commonality with evaluating any player, which is scheme fit. One team’s star can be another player’s dud. I wrote earlier in my things to watch that I was interested to see how Robert Griffin was going to do playing for Jay Gruden, who at times seemed to ask Andy Dalton to do too much to win games last year with the Bengals. But although RG3 has the strong arm, he has not played as pocket passer before and the skills are different than being the dynamic dual threat that he was in his rookie year. Having been derailed by injury last year, we shall see how he fairs over the coming year.
So having distracted you with quarterbacks, and established that there is no simple answer in how to get one, I’m going back to games. Coming up next, a review of my preseason teams, cuts day is round the corner, we’re a week away from the season starting, and I for one can’t wait.