Great article on how the days of sitting first round pick rookies behind veteran qb's are ending, spread offense, and how teams are looking more to the future (like us).
Starting with 2008 first-round picks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, the list of highly drafted quarterbacks who have played early -- and played surprisingly well -- seems to grow by the week. Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are both off to impressive starts this year (with Newton's record-breaking first two games being the story of the season in the league so far). Last year it was Sam Bradford from day one in St. Louis and Colt McCoy taking over in Cleveland by Week 6. And 2009 gave us Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Mark Sanchez with the Jets and Josh Freeman, who was the guy in Tampa Bay by the time the Bucs' eighth game of the year rolled around.
"Based on this season with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, and on recent history in the league, there's no reason to believe Blaine Gabbert will not come out and play well,'' ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski said Wednesday. "And really, it's almost mind-numbing to see what these two rookies have done this year. I never in my wildest imagination would have expected to see these two guys play that well. Watching Cam Newton in these first two games, it's ridiculous, the way he's playing the game. It looks like he's been playing in the NFL for five years.''
And poor Dalton. Were this a Cam-free year in the NFL, he'd be the talk of the league, with his 413 yards, 66.1 completion percentage, three touchdowns and 105.7 passer rating through two games for the 1-1 Bengals. With those kind of results being posted, is it any wonder Del Rio and the Jaguars ended McCown's starting era after just two games? Make that a game and three quarters, because Gabbert replaced the benched McCown in the fourth quarter of Jacksonville's 32-3 loss at the Jets last Sunday, going a smooth 5 of 6 for 52 yards in his relief stint and setting the stage for this week's change.
"Maybe this is telling us something, what happened with the lockout and these guys not getting all the offseason work and getting the playbooks late,'' he said. "Maybe coaches over-coach. Maybe they over-burden these guys with too much in the playbook, getting them to think too much instead of playing. It's just causing everyone to revisit and rethink everything. Coaches can give these quarterbacks so much in the playbook, so much to do and think about that they can't play football. It's paralysis by analysis.
"The lockout meant coaches have down-sized their playbooks and given these guys less to worry about, making you think, 'Hey, maybe you don't have to give these guys the whole playbook from day one. Just play to their strength and let them go play the game.' I think that's part of what's happening. I'm kind of old-school when it comes do quarterback development, and I feel the best thing is for a guy to sit a year or two and learn the game and learn the system. But this is making me rethink those thoughts.''
"It may never happen again, waiting for a first-round quarterback to develop before he gets on the field,'' Jaworski said, noting that Denver's The Golden Calf of Bristol was a recent exception to the rule. "And the club owners may wake up to this and tell these coaches, 'Hey, you know what, you don't have to kill this guy with the learning process. Get him on the field and strip the playbook and let him go play football. We've got tens of millions of dollars invested in these guys.' Maybe the last three or four years have shown us you don't have to ride the pine to be an NFL quarterback. Maybe the coaches need to wake up a little bit.''
Also, talking about the spread offense:
The NFL coaching and personnel communities are rapidly changing how they view the spread offenses that have come to predominate college football. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that spread offense quarterbacks get to the league relatively unequipped to play the game in a pro-style passing attack. But what was once seen as a disadvantage may now be one of the keys to the early success of passers like Newton, Bradford, Freeman and McCoy. Coming out of the spread, quarterbacks come to the pass-happy NFL very used to seeing the field, making quick decisions, and throwing, throwing and throwing some more.
Looking to the Future Instead of Win-Now
Credit deserves to be doled out to Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and new Panthers head coach Ron Rivera -- a longtime former defensive coordinator and defensive assistant in the league -- for not trying to fit the round peg of Newton's skill set into a square hole, several NFL analysts said. The Panthers aren't going the same route as the Jets have with Sanchez, asking him to manage the game and avoid the game-turning mistakes. They might be 0-2 in part due to that decision, but they're looking long-term in regards to Newton's development.
"I think it's brilliant,'' Dilfer said. "This is what you do. You don't develop a game manager, like Tampa Bay did to me. You develop a quarterback, you develop a passer. You let him go pass the ball. Let him go fail, and teach him on Mondays. Teaching him on Mondays after failure is so much better than teaching him on Wednesday through Saturday, because the pain of the failure will allow him to take the coaching more, and the affirmation of the success will make him want to do the good stuff even better.
"Now, if you're playing a rookie in a quarterback-driven offense, you're still going to lose in the short term. Ryan, Flacco and Sanchez all won right away, but they weren't in quarterback-driven offenses. The difference with Bradford last year and Newton this year, those are quarterback driven offenses. You've got to sacrifice something. But what these teams are saying is they're willing to sacrifice the opportunity to win consistently this year to develop one of the great players in this league. I think that's what Rivera is doing. He can't say it because it's not politically correct, but that's what they're doing.''
"Gabbert's not playing for a team that's going to toss the ball all over the field, although we all wouldn't have believed that Carolina would have ever done that either, with a defensive coach like Ron Rivera,'' Cosell said. "But Rivera has been around [Eagles head coach] Andy Reid a long time and maybe he recognizes, you know what, I'm here to be a champion. And you're not going to be a champion today in the NFL handing the ball off, playing good defense and controlling the clock.
"Rivera's saying, 'I drafted this kid No. 1, and if we're ever going to be a champion, he's going to have to become an elite quarterback. And he's not going to become that by not throwing the ball.' Teams don't compete for Super Bowls any more without one. Cam threw over 40 times in each game (actually, 37 and 46), and when in the game's history would a rookie quarterback even think about throwing it 40 times a game? It's a new world. A whole new world.''