The Quarterback: Past, Present & Future
The Quarterback: Past, Present & Future
By: Tony DeMeo
In my lifetime I have witnessed the evolution of the quarterback position at all levels of football. The quarterback position used to be a guy who either handed the ball to a talented running back or stood like a telephone pole in the pocket looking make a laser throw to a receiver. But as the game evolved so did the QB position.
The coming of Bill Yeomen’s Split Back Veer & Darrell Royal’s Wishbone turned the College QB into a point guard & runner. This opened the door for the athletic QB guys like James Street, Jack Mildren &Thomas Lott etc. These guys didn’t move onto the NFL but were outstanding QBs leading their teams to National Championships. Bear Bryant adopted The Wishbone & won three National Championships. The Bear, however, added more passing to the ‘Bama Bone and produced Richard Todd & Gary Rutledge who went on to successful NFL careers. Homer Rice was successful passing from the Split Back Veer with Greg Cook who was Rookie of the Year with the NFL Bengals.
The Gun & the Option
Running the Option from the Gun broke new ground because now athletic QBs had an easier time throwing from the Gun & still be productive as runners. This was revolutionary & opened an entire new world of offensive football. College teams like Florida added QB power runs with Tim Tebow similar to the old Single Wing. Then teams combined the Zone Read & the Power Runs to make Power Reads. Rich Rodriguez turned WVU into a National Power with Pat White & the Zone Read & Urban Meyer won a couple National Championships with Tim Tebow. Auburn won a National Championship with the QB run game as well. Even The Ol’ ball coach Steve Spurrier went with a running QB, Connor Shaw, in his last few years at South Carolina. This development has been a nightmare for the NFL
The Problem for the NFL
The evolution of College Football’s diverse offenses are both entertaining and productive. The problem for the NFL is that these college magicians do not fit in the NFL, so there is not a steady flow of NFL prospects coming from college football. There’s not even a trickle. Why? The NFL is clinging to fading stars & retreads rather than play the new wave of QB. Why? Let’s take a look:
1. The College Game has a different set of rules and is a different game. One huge rule difference is the Screen Rule. In College Football, the offense can block downfield as long as the ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage. But in the NFL the offense can only block behind the line of scrimmage until the ball is caught. This skews College QB’s passing stats & increases their completion % etc. The Screen Game is far more effective in CFB than it is in the NFL. The Bubble Screen is a major part of college football but rarely seen in the NFL.
2. The Dana Holgarson Factor further skews pass stats. Dana, the head coach at WVU, pitches the ball forward when he runs The Jet Sweep from the Gun. Thus, this play is ruled a forward pass! So pass completion % and passing yards skyrocket especially when pitching to Tavon Austin. This made Jets first round draft pick, Geno Smith, have stats like Joe Montana but in the NFL play like Hannah Montana.
3. NFL coaches are waiting for the next Tom Brady. The NFL is easily the most resistant group in professional sports to change. They would rather wait for the next Tom Brady than adapt to the QBs coming out of the College game. The dual threat QB wins in College Football and college coaches’ jobs depend on winning NOT on developing NFL quarterbacks. A classic example was Ohio State during the 2015 season. Their offense was stagnant until Urban Meyer inserted running QB JT Barrett into the lineup. The NFL makes guys like Mike Glennon a first round draft pick because he’s 6’6” & they want the telephone type QB again. It doesn’t work guys.
4. NFL Defenses have caught up with the pure dropback QB. The speed of NFL defenses is outrageous. The pass rush is fierce & unless the QB has some mobility he’s a sitting duck. Tom Brady, though a classic QB, still has pocket mobility.
5. Run Pass Options have further added to the difference between college football & the NFL. Run Pass Options have been very successful in CFB (NCAA is tightening the linemen downfield rule which may reduce their effectiveness a little) but have not entered the NFL. RPOs is when the QB has the option of handing the ball off or throwing the ball downfield. These plays have also added to the numbers produced by college QBs but are not relevant in the NFL.
The Future of the QB Position
So what can the NFL do & what does the future of the Quarterback position look like? How does the NFL develop its young group of QBs? Here are some options:
1. Don’t change anything & develop your punting game & good halftime shows.
2. Use the college game’s screen rules. This will open up the game a little & slow down the great pass rushes.
3. Embrace dual threat QBs & adapt your playbook to take advantage of their ability. The last four Super Bowls have had a dual threat QB at the helm of one of the teams in the game. So coaches that have adapted have won. I’m not saying NFL teams should become Triple Gun teams but they can sprinkle some option into their game plan. They can adapt it to a Give/Flare read or Give/Seam reads for the QB. A running QB makes it difficult to play 2 Deep Man Under which is very difficult to pass against. Obviously keeping QBs healthy limits the amount of running they do but having some option in the game plan will make an offense more difficult to defend.
4. Expand the roster to create an extra spot for an option style QB. There are 2 spots for a kicker & punter so why not have a spot for a hybrid or dual QB. A runner who can pass. This would open up the NFL offense & produce more exciting games. How exciting would it be to have guys like Pat White or Keenan Reynolds in the NFL?
High School Football
A final thought: more and more high school coaches have embraced The Triple Gun or Zone Read from the Gun because it not only helps their run game but also it helps their passing game. Think about it isn’t easier to find a great athlete & let him play like he has always played in the school yard of find a Tom Brady style passer AND an offensive line that can protect him? Since I retired I have done 40 two day camps installing The Triple Gun and 31 of those teams went to the playoffs and the 9 that didn’t get in all made improvements. Some of the teams that got in the playoffs didn’t even have a conventional QB on the roster. They moved a wide receiver or running back to QB and won. So with high schools using the athlete at QB & colleges doing the same; there will be fewer traditional QBs coming through the ranks. The NFL teams adapt will win & the teams that don’t better clone Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.