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Quarterback 101


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I. The Problem


One of the things that's always intrigued me about football fans (in general) and recently Browns fans (in particular) is the absolute fervor with which quarterbacks are picked apart by the fans. It makes complete sense if you think about it; they're the leader of the offense and usually a team leader as well. They have the hardest job on the field. The leap from college to pro at this position is enormous. The ability to win a championship is severely limited without a good QB. They also tend to be the highest paid, the most vulnerable and the face of the franchise. Whereas a draft bust at any other position may be overcome, a miss at the QB position in the early rounds can cripple a team for years.


In the Anderson-Quinn debate, I will be honest and say that I never had my own horse in the race. I don't particularly care for either of them but there is something troublesome that I see. It seems that whenever there is talk of parting ways with a player (be it DA, Quinn, Rogers, D'Qwell Jackson, etc) there seems to be a significant amount of worry over "what if they go to another team and do well?!?!?!?".


I am here to tell you that I think this is not the correct viewpoint. You don't make decisions to keep someone because they might go and do well for another team under different circumstances. You could argue that the exception would be if you knew they'd wind up in your division but even that is something that we simply must get over. The fact here is that Derek Anderson could go to the Cardinals and throw 20 TDs to Larry Fitzgerald. I wouldn't lose sleep over that. This guy was here for five years and could not show us that kind of talent WHEN we needed it, if at all. The proper way to part ways with a player is to do so on YOUR (the team's) terms. You cut Derek Anderson for any one of a number of legitimate reasons, including the fact that he hasn't shown in two seasons that he can beat out Brady Quinn (outright) and that's simply not going to validate that paycheck that Phil Savage promised him. It's simply possible that the league has caught up with Derek Anderson and he's no longer going to sneak up on anyone with that sub-Scott Mitchell career passer rating. His pass completion percentage is 52% (Akili Smith was in the high 40s).


What I'm trying to say is no one will fault you for cutting him and before you argue that he should have been traded prior to last season, there wasn't a market then either. We aren't the Colts or the Vikings who are a couple of role players away from a Super Bowl. We have LOTS of needs and if retooling this team and building on what little success there was in 2009 means that we take money away from unproductive players (Anderson) and give it to productive ones (Cribbs) then I'm all for it. You can't be a GM in this league and be scared to cut an underperformer. That's just the nature of it.


If nothing else, I think that when Mike Holmgren who's coached some excellent QB's in this league came on board, I resigned myself to the fact that he knows a HELL of a lot more about QBs than most of us and I'd be willing to live with it if he chose to cut one or both of these guys. I stand by that.


II. The Approach


What SHOULD the approach be to finding an NFL QB? I suppose that no two NFL GM's are exactly alike. Holmgren used to take a QB every year in the middle rounds in hopes of hitting a jackpot. I'd say he was about 50% but notice he was never using a high first rounder on one. These guys (middle rounders) take a lot more scouting and a lot more vision to spot. They also take a lot of coaching. There are other guys who try to buy a QB who's been successful elsewhere. I think that the one truth about the QB position in my mind is that you should ALWAYS be looking for one. It's not a position that you can afford to have a legitimate starter and then nothing. You should constantly be in the market for a QB prospect to groom. That's just the nature of the league. There are some teams for instance that are "set" at a certain position who decide they can de-prioritize it this year. You cannot do that with QBs. You have to look at your depth at QB and always be on the lookout to make it better. It landed Steve Young to succeed Montana. It landed Brunell then Hasselbeck then Rodgers to succeed Favre. The best approach is certainly debatable but I think these ideas are a part of the philosophy somewhere. I've stated on this board multiple times that QB's in the NFL fall into several groups: Championship, Playoff Fringe, Developmental and "Stealing Money". People are so afraid to cut either of the last two that they're paralyzed into years of subpar football that wastes careers of the legitimate stars of the team.


III. The Talent


We can argue all day about the merits of each of the attributes that a QB is judged on and here is my take...


a)Height- The NFL loves for guys to be about 6'2"-6'5" and there's some diminishing returns as they get taller from that. Certainly we all love the short guys who make us feel like there's room for us at the table but let's be real; this is a game of freaks. I can live with 6'1" if I had to but short guys have to be special in just about every other attribute to make it in the NFL.


B) The Intellect- The QB has to be smart. He has to know what the defense is showing pre and post snap. He has to understand the coverage and blitz assignments to know where to go with the ball. Strong-armed stupid guys litter the history books of the NFL (Ryan Leaf, Jeff George) and that doesn't equate to wins. You don't need a Rhodes Scholar (like Chad Pennington) but he can't be easily overmatched by the defensive play-caller. Drew Brees doesn't have the biggest body but he's rarely fooled by the defense.


c) Footwork/Mechanics- it sounds silly but the whole offense depends on the QB being able to pull away from center and deliver a throw under pressure. Accuracy is determined by a consistent release point. If the mechanics are inconsistent, the accuracy will also be at risk.


d) Accuracy- The window for the pass is rarely wide-open in the NFL and there has to be some touch on the short to intermediate routes. This includes not only hitting the receiver but putting the ball where he won't get killed and also where he can maximize his ability to make a play after the catch.


e) Arm Strength- I don't think that everyone needs a rocket arm. Sure, it's sexy but the history of the NFL is littered with strong-armed guys who held franchises hostage while they failed to achieve any real NFL success (see Ryan Leaf, Jeff George). That said, you need to able to make all of the throws to some respectable degree. The particular one to pay attention to when the QB's in the draft throw is the deep out to the far side. The NFL hashes are closer together so that means that the throw to the sideline in college is much shorter on one side than the other. The throw to the far sideline is the one that really demonstrates the ability to make the throws at the next level.


f) Film Study/Leadership/Intangibles- The hardest workers in the film room really make the biggest impact. A lot of guys at this level can play. How will your guy set himself apart? There are times in the NFL when the defense shows you a look you've never seen and the coaches want you to run something you did three months before in training camp. You've got to be able to put in the time to be the best. I never got this impression from DA but I don't know that for a fact. There's also no underestimating the intangible ability to lead. Toughness, respect of one's peers. That all plays in. I think that Donovan McNabb may never be a championship QB but he's a hard worker and he's always going to score high in this area.

IV. Where To Go?


At this point, we have three QBs: Quinn, Wallace and Ratliff. I don't know where they'll settle out but Wallace's familiarity with the Holmgren model is going to give him an advantage. I would not be surprised to see Quinn on another roster on opening day. Perhaps we're going to let Wallace start and take a QB in round 3-5 to groom. I don't think that the organization is enamored with Quinn since Holmgren has spent two months dodging Quinn questions. Ratliff is replaceable. Could Quinn go to KC or Denver or some other team and do well? There's nothing to say he can't but if we want to wipe the QB slate clean....I'm not going to lose sleep over that. He's had chances to show that he's the real deal and if Holmgren thinks that was enough tape to watch then so be it.


It's a diatribe, I know; I, for one, remain excited about the possibility of a respected football mind (Holmgren) and a talented GM who really understands the draft and the front office (Heckert) working with a defensive coach who's pulled off some impressive wins in his career (Mangini) armed with 11 picks. The future is really bright and while I think that the team that finished 2009 was better than the one that started it...I would suggest that we're already better heading into 2010 and the draft hasn't even happened yet. It feels like the talent level is becoming more legitimate and there's accountability and professionalism.


My .02. Comment if I haven't bored you to tears.

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