by Minnie Apolis
The key player on any football offense has long been the quarterback. But nowadays, the millions that a kid might earn by playing in the NFL has given rise to a secondary industry: the training of teenage and even pre-teen boys to play quarterback like the elite members of that fraternity.
Perhaps you have caught the reality TV show about how the Elite 11 football camps run by George Whitfield and his crew identify strengths and weaknesses of young players and try to mold them into winning quarterbacks.
It may interest you to know that the top quarterbacks are not necessarily over six feet tall, but they do have enormous hands. We are not talking length of the fingers, although that helps. We are talking about measuring from thumb-tip to pinky-tip with the fingers spread as wide as possible. Obviously this helps in gripping the chubby football. Brett Favre's hands measured 10 3/8 inches. Tony Romo's hands were only 8.88 inches. Drew Brees' hands are 10 and a quarter. Russell Wilson's are 10 and a quarter also, even though he is under six feet tall.
Whitfield and others – Tom House, Archie Manning, Steve Clarkson, Jordan Palmer among them – have built careers on honing the specific skills needed to make it in modern NFL as a quarterback.
I can recall reading how Bart Starr honed his accuracy by tossing footballs through a tire hung on a tree, as his dedicated wife Cherry retrieved them for Bart. While it still takes about 10,000 hours of practice to gain a level of mastery, such drills seem terribly old-fashioned nowadays.
Now the top quarterback whisperers, gurus, consultants and trainers resort to a range of technical or creative ways to help young players learn to throw correctly, learn to focus on finding receivers amid the apparent chaos on the field, learn to master their own Achilles heels (whether physical or emotional). Some drills have opponents chasing after the quarterback with padded rakes so he learns to handle being forced out of the pocket, and having plays broken. Other drills train him to be effective while staying in that pocket. Throwing while on one's knees forces the player to correct throwing mechanics.
Speaking of mechanics, the analysis of throwing has become quite a sub-specialty. Tom House does something they call step-wise regression analysis that is part of his program of instilling correct rotational movement. House originally specialized in doing this for baseball players, but once everyone found that this transferred spectacularly well to quarterbacking, he gained several young football players.
“When we start teaching,” House says, “we look at timing first, them kinematic sequencing, and then the mechanics of the throw. So if you're not timed right, no matter how good you are with the mechanics, it's gonna look weird.” The overall effect is to improve efficiency and accuracy, as it fixes clumsiness and wasted motion.
But nothing that anyone does with the physical side can correct an ingrained lack of aptitude for the quarterback position. Some of these gurus use a psychological rating system that scales Extroversion vs Introversion, Feeling vs Thinking, Judging vs Perceiving, and Intuitive vs Sensing. Most of the successful quarterbacks at the pro level fall into only two camps, ESTP or ENFP.
ESTP quarterbacks include Joe Montana, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Fran Tarkenton, Brett Favre, Dan Marino.
ENFP quarterbacks include Tom Brady and Drew Brees, with a subgroup made up of Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin, and Johnny Manziel. This group is not as naturally athletic, in fact they were described as having “squirrelly mechanics” but they have the ability to get the job done.
It was interesting to me that one of the players conspicuously absent from these lists was Tim Tebow. Tebow's profile, according to the tests, was ideal for a running back. Only his dogged determination to gain the necessary throwing skills, as well as the confidence in those skills, has kept him in the running for a quarterback job. Sadly a lot of the retraining came only after he spent some frustrating years at the pro level. Whether he gets a second chance is unknown; it may be a case of too little, too late.
Baseball coaching as mentioned above, transfers well to quarterback coaching. Another surprise was that tennis experience transfers well to playing quarterback! Drew Brees was a teen tennis star in Texas before concentrating on playing football. Another promising prospect named Josh Rosen is also making the transition from tennis to football so keep on the lookout for this guy when he gets to the NFL.
What is it about tennis that transfers well? Two of the major things are nimble footwork and accuracy. Other attributes include durability of the shoulder capsule, arm strength, and focus.
One of the sad things about this intense training at an early age for a specific position is that now some coaches feel that if you do not have the basic mechanics down by the junior high school level, it is probably too late to work on them and be considered for the pros.
[My copy of this book was provided free by Blogging For Books in return for the promise to review it online. THE QB, Bruce Feldman, Crown Archetype an imprint of Crown Publishing a division of Random House, New York, 2014, 304 pages including index. ISBN 9780553418453]