The QB battle has been the talk of the off season and the talk of camp. Can Luke get the job done or will he choke? Can Byron overcome his dreadfully slow release and lead the team? Will Josh (Freeman) be thrust intot he starting job too soon just to validate the *reach* to get him in the first round? Does Josh (Johnson) have a snowballs chance in hell of making this squad given the other three on the team?
Those are all good questions (I guess that is a little arrogant since I wrote them). This game will not answer all of them. It should allow us to start to arrive at smoe conclusions. In order to do that we have to look at how you evaluate (or I guess how I) a quarterback. I wrote some of this in a post at one of our supporter sites, www.BucsChat.com last year, but I think it bears repeating.
NOTE: There are other aspects to the position that I will not cover here. That is primarily because they are very difficult to pick up on from outside the huddle. I will focus on the ones you should be able to see as a fan if you pay attention.
Pre Snap Read
When the QB comes to the line, not only is he concerned with making sure his guys are int he right spots, but he also needs to start reading what the defense is putting in front of him . Are they ni their base defense or have they brought in an extra (or multiple extra) defensive backs. Down and distance will normally tip off the QB to what to expect but he should validate it at the line. Quite often, pre-snap motion is used to further flesh out what the defense has called. Are they in a Man 2 Man set or are they in Zone. If they are in Zone, where are the safeties and where do they shift (if at all) based on offensive motion. By processing this data, the QB can determine if the play called in the huddle has a high likelihood of success or if he should check to another play.
Check to see how the defenders are facing your receivers. Their position can tip off their responsibility. Are they on an inside position or outside? The answer to that question can strengthen yuo pre snap decision on the primary receiver for the play. This is especially true if you see that there is no safety help on a particular side of the field due to the alignment.
Identify the likely blitzers and make sure that the line has seen the same thing. The center should be doing this as well, but all information is good. If you suspect blitz, the location of hte blitzer should help you identify the appropriate “Hot Route” for that play. Blitzing is a risk and a QB who reads blitzes well and can make a defense pay for doing it will be very well paid.
A lot of pre-snap motion (as in Gruden’s offense) was used to try and confuse the defense. It was also an attempt to force desirable match ups for the offense. Get a speedy back with a linebacker covering him or one of our monsterous tight ends with a small cornerback on an island. You can do those things without tempting the delay of game penalty on every down and if you pay attention to this process, you can often get a feel for where the ball should be going. Each defensive set has particular weaknesses. This is just a PORTION of the data a good QB has to internalize and process in about 4 seconds.
I will disregard designed rollouts for the purpose of this article and focus on the core 3, 5, and 7 step drops. In your drop, you want to have good, clean and quick footwork. The goal is to get back to your ‘spot’ as quickly and cleanly as possible to give yourself more time in the designed pocket to make it through your progressions. Ideally, you are scanning the field IN your drop and already have your intended target picked before the end of the drop. The line is set up to provide you time in a PLANNED location. If a QB floats all over the place (ahem, Garcia, Ahem), the line can get abused (and so can the QB). So as you watch the QB, look for a clean drop, a plant on the back foot and eyes forward, scanning to check if what he saw pre snap is playing out. If it is, then the play he stuck with should be good and he can go to his primary receiver and deliver the ball. If not, he has to start progressing through the receivers trying to find an open man.
This is the part everyone sees. To be honest, this should be the easiest part of the process at the pro level. Most QB’s at that level can make all the throws. Basics still apply. If you need to zip the ball in, zip it in. If you need touch, use touch. I know that seems obvious, but if you watch almost ANY game, you will see QBs drill a back headed to the flat or make an open receiver wait for a duck.
There are a few general things you hear peolpe mention that bear description:
- Pocket Presence – An almost psychic ability to ‘feel’ pressure and move in the pocket just enoughto avoid being annoyed by the oncoming defenders. You do not have to be a scrambling QB for this. Simply feel pressure and slide to an open spot with your eyes always looking down field
- Release – Quick release or slow release. This really applies to mechanics. Some QB’s have had very quick releases (Marino). that allows the ball to get out of the hand, well, quickly and makes it very hard for defenders to read. Other QB’s (ahem, Byron) have slow releases. Sometimes they even do something like pat the ball. Slow releases and hitches in the motion give smart defenders things to watch and key on.
- Look off – This is the process by which a QB can force a defensive back (normally a safety but not limited to them) to adjust his read and potentially even his location by looking at a receiver on one side of the field, to create an opening on the other side.
- Staring down – The opposite of looking off. Since the QB can know where he wants to throw the ball before he even drops back, some very bad QB’s will stare at their primary from snap through delivery. This usually ends in ore pine time for that QB.
We have four very different QB’s on our roster right now. To be honest, I think Josh Johnson has the best mechanics of the bunch. I simply do not know if he will get a chance to show them. The worst mechanics are definitely those of Byron Leftwich. Tonight, while you are watching the game, keep an eye on some of these things and remember then as you evaluate our QB Battle.
If that is too much effort, grab another drink and simply pull for our Buccaneers!