[W]ith a pile of passing yards and a bucket of collegiate touchdowns in tow, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel believes the wide-open, receivers-all-over-the-field offense now dominating leagues like the Big 12 would work just fine in the NFL. "I've been telling some coaches I think that's the way the game's going,'' Daniel said. " ... And that I'm already there."
Trouble is not many folks calling the shots in the NFL are ready to agree because "there" is deep in the backfield, lined up in the shotgun, several yards behind the center, taking the snap and slinging the ball around. Not once in a while. Not in just certain situations. No, all the time, every time and Daniel has done it in the same type of offense since he was in eighth grade. . . .
[Spread quarterbacks] finish college, try to move on to professional football and ...
"They find a little trouble in our league," said Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn, a former quarterback. "They find, I think, they've got a portion of their game down and they're pretty good at it, very talented at it. They know how to get the ball out quick, they know how to avoid, they learn how to make decisions with the ball, pulling it back, and make lots of plays.
"But they also find the whole game is not played that way at this level. It's just not, maybe once a year and there's the rub." . . . .
"The biggest challenge for guys who have spent pretty much their whole college careers — and even nowadays, their whole high school careers — lined up in the shotgun and now they've got to learn to get up underneath center, they've got to learn to take a snap, learn to take a full drop,'' said Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, a former NFL quarterbacks coach. "I think that's, fundamentally, one of those simple skills that just got skipped over to go play college football.
"And then they find it's tough to take that full drop behind center, a five- or seven-step drop, because at that level, in the NFL, the ball has to be released immediately without taking a gather or a hitch step. Guys just aren't able to get the ball out when it has to be released."
It's that timing, timing with receivers, timing in offenses built around getting the ball to a certain spot in a given amount of time that is the biggest issue.
NFL quarterbacks are asked to do that in a traditional behind-center posture where they take the snap, drop back three, five or seven steps, survey the defense and deliver the ball. In the shotgun, quarterbacks stand deep in the backfield, often taking the snap and simply throwing from that spot. And it's the pocket passers, like Georgia's Matthew Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez who are at the top of most teams quarterback ratings in this year's draft.
"And the difference is the other guys, the guys who played in the spread, just played the game different back there with so much space, they play deeper in the pocket,'' said Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, a long-time NFL quarterback. "Quarterbacks in this league don't play that deep (in the backfield) so it's an adjustment and one that can take some time. They have to see it more quickly and they have to do while having the footwork to get back from center, set up and throw.''
"If he's never played under center and never taken snaps, that's different ... it's a different skill to do all the things you do from the gun from under center,'' said Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who coached the Patriots quarterbacks and was the team's offensive coordinator before taking the Broncos job. "Your footwork in the running game is awkward, your takeaway from center, your drops are shorter than you're used to. Now the line is right in your face, or that's your perception because you've played back for so long, now your reads are cloudier. Instead of looking downfield, you're looking at the guys right in front of you."
There's a lot going on here so far, but obviously Mike Leach disagrees with this. Leach is exaggerating, but it does seem to blink reality that you can dismiss a guy based on dropbacks. Especially considering that the consensus among most is that, with a few exceptions like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, quarterback footwork in the NFL is pretty bad.
"I was in the gun about 90 percent of the time when I was at Purdue,'' said former Bears and current Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton. "And I went into a power running game, two-back, seven-step drop system in Chicago when I got to the NFL and it took a while to get accustomed to that. It's not an excuse, but you're going from what was your comfort zone to something else while trying to do the right thing with the ball. There's an adjustment there and probably bigger than you think as a player.''
Then again, if Orton said it, I tend to believe him since he has had to do it.
"But you want to see how a guy gets back there and how he makes the throws he needs to make," Kubiak said. "If he's got a good enough arm and is a good enough athlete to make the changes he has to with his feet, then he's got a chance. It may take more time and a lot of work, and maybe he doesn't play as quickly as people expect, but that's why they call us coach, to figure out a way to get them to do it. If he has the tools, if he can do it, we have to figure out a way to get it done."
I think this is right. College coaches' jobs are to win football games and succeed in college, not to run an offense the pro guys like. And, while some scouts might chafe at having to evaluate a guy who stands in the gun all the time with four or five wide, Kubiak at least recognizes that it is their job to succeed with whatever colleges are being produced. But all this -- and the whole article -- assumes an answer to Chase Daniel's question:
"I've been telling some coaches I think that's the way the game's going," Daniel said.
Is Daniel right? Or are these pro guys right? The best you get is Jim Zorn saying, "But they also find the whole game is not played that way at this level. It's just not." "It's just not," of course, is not an argument (it's just not). But let's assume that he is right that the all-spread (and this article is about the pass-first spread, not just the spread-to-run) is inappropriate for the pros: why? Is it the speed? The specialization of talent?
One of the complaints about spread QBs is their lack of footwork, and one of the reasons for that -- which is also a reason that college and high schools go to it -- is that there is simply less footwork in the gun. That isn't necessarily a bad thing: maybe it'd be good for pro offenses? (Think about pick-up football: nobody lines up and takes a seven-step drop in their back yard.) So that's ambiguous.
And then is there just so much more benefit by being extra multiple? In college practice time is quite limited, often more than high school. So that could be a factor too. Or, maybe, the pro guys are just whiffing, just missing the boat. I don't have an answer.
I end with this: I just watched a special about Joe Montana, who at Notre Dame had been running the triple-option; Bill Walsh, who knows a thing or two about coaching quarterbacks, wasn't scared away.
Comments are welcome.