Monday, January 28, 2008

Developing A Championship Quarterback

By John Bond Offensive Coordinator/QB’s Coach
Northern Illinois University

I have been a collegiate football coach since 1986 and have been coaching quarterbacks since 1991. During that entire period of time, I have never been at a place where we had our pick of the “blue chip” or top quarterbacks. Whether you are in the NFL, college, or high school, I feel that there are certain processes you must put your quarterback through daily in order to bring him to a point where he can help you compete for your conference championship. We all know that from Pop Warner to the pros, you must have a quarterback in order to have a chance to win championships.

Developing a quarterback starts during the evaluation process. There are two musts that we look for when trying to find our difference maker. There is one thing that some people overlook when recruiting a quarterback, but I feel is the most important factor when evaluating one. That factor is toughness. I want our quarterback to be the toughest guy on the field, both physically and mentally. When you start talking about the greatest quarterbacks ever, you think of Unitas, Marino, Montana, Staubach, etc. Every single one of those guys are tough. They are men who can “rally the troops.” They are guys who can will their teammates to victory just by their sheer presence. The second factor that is of paramount importance is that we want a guy who is competitive. I want a guy who wants to win at cards, pick-up basketball, or tiddly-winks. Get a guy who has to win and can't accept anything else.

When you start talking about the physical skills we look for, I think we must all understand and appreciate that there are many ways to “skin a cat.” I feel that as fast and as athletic as today's brand of football has become, athleticism is the first and most crucial factor when recruiting a quarterback. Michael Vick has and will continue to revolutionize the game. In my mind, this trend to a more athletic quarterback has been going on now for the last several years. We want a guy who can create. Defensive linemen are so fast and athletic that when the pocket collapses, we need a guy who can pull it down and go. I know that defensive coordinators lay awake at night when they face a guy who can beat them with both his arm and his legs.

Another factor in a championship quarterback is vision. The ability to see the field is so under appreciated and yet so critical. A guy with great vision can see a vertical route out of the corner of his eye and turn an incompletion or short gain into a touchdown. The ability to see is innate, in my opinion. I don't think you can coach a guy to be able to see. It is the same thing with great runners. The superstars can see the next cut before it happens. In the same sense, a great quarterback can see and visualize the play and defensive structure and be able to turn the routine play into the spectacular.

The last thing I look for is a quick release. I like a player who can get it out of there. There are drills one can do to enhance a quick delivery and I use them all. If you have a guy who can flat get rid of the football, you have just reduced the number of sacks and negative yardage plays, gaining hidden field position yards.

The things that I have just mentioned are things that in my mind are easily detected during the evaluation and recruiting process. If you watch enough tape of a guy, you will be able to tell if he is tough and competitive. You will also be able to see if he is spreading the ball around and finding people in seams making you say “Holy Cow, how did he see that?” Lastly, you can tell if a guy has one of those long, slow releases or one that just explodes out of his hand.

Now, for you guys who are not in the NFL or a top 10 program in college, you might have noticed that I did not mention a 40 time. I did not mention a strong arm. I did not say anything about being 6'4.” High school stats are not important, either, and you certainly do not need a recruiting guru to tell you he is the next Joe Namath. The best quarterback I have ever coached or seen in person was 5'9” on a good day. He ran a 4.8 forty, but boy he sure could create. If anybody was open, he would find them and he could get that ball out of there in a hurry. He made play after play after play.

After we get our quarterback to campus, there are certain things we teach that are of critical importance to the development of your championship quarterback. I will list them point-by-point:

1. We tell them to never take a sack.
2. Never say: “Don’t throw an interception.”
3. Scramble to throw.
4. Throw against the blitz every day.
5. Protect your quarterback inside out.
6. Know who to throw to on the blitz.
7. Teach the quarterback to deceive with his eyes and actions.
8. Demand that your quarterback coach the wide receivers.
9. Put him in adverse situations in practice.
10. Force him to make throws in practice.

One thing that we do that I feel is somewhat unique, is script one scramble situation a day in our pass skel or 7-on-7 drills. We force our players to understand the importance of this situation daily, as you can gain huge chunks of yards. When this occurs, I think it is the best play in college football.

Another thing that has helped me tremendously over the years is the fact that my head coach does not make me coach special teams. When it is time to work that group, I get an extra 10 or 20 minutes a day with the quarterbacks to work on things like off-balance throws or looking defenders off. It allows me the time to make him completely aware of his progress. I feel this extra time really helps me prepare our quarterbacks to the maximum of their abilities.

Lastly, I do not think I can overstate the importance of a great relationship with your quarterback. If he knows that you really care about him off the field as well as on, that will go a long way toward building the trust that is necessary for you both to succeed. You must be able to be 100% honest with each other. When I ask him: “What did you see?” I need an honest answer. He also has to know that you will always have his best interests at heart, no matter what the situation or circumstances. To sum up a great quarterback-coach relationship, he has to know that 1) you really care about him, 2) you must have a mutual trust with each other, 3) you both have to know that you are always going to be honest with each other, and 4) he has to believe that you always have his best interest at heart.

Developing a championship quarterback is an on-going process. You must “believe what you see” when recruiting. Then you have to not only work the physical skills that are necessary, but you have to make sure that your relationship with your quarterback is rock solid. Make no mistake about it: if there is not a mutual affection at that critical position, it is tough to make your player as good as he can be over the long haul.

Best of luck in your quest to develop your championship quarterback.