What makes for the "perfect" QB?

Geoff Burke

Let's dissect the QB position a little more shall we...

In response to Joey's Position Preview yesterday, I had a few questions that I wanted to try to answer. Before I begin, I've been reading Mike Leach's "Swing Your Sword" and it has really motivated me to think about the team a little differently. I have to say that it is the best read I have had in a while. I LOVE IT actually. If you haven't read it, you need to check it out. CPJ has a shout out too.

Leach really got me thinking more about the quarterback position. I started to think, what do quarterbacks NEED to be, not what fans want them to be. He explained:

"QB is a hard position to evaluate. There are so many examples in the NFL where people have invested a lot of time and money only to find out they've picked the wrong guy... The reason teams struggle when evaluating quarterbacks is that sometimes their priorities are out of order. They get caught up in arm strength, size and speed. Things that are easy to measure. 'Did you see that guy throw it through the goalposts while kneeling at midfield?' That's great, but last I checked you don't throw passes in games from their knees. I've got defensive ends with great arm strength., but they aren't accurate. I bet they would love to play quarterback." - Mike Leach in "Swing Your Sword"

From this I had a few questions that I needed to answer:

  1. What qualities do quarterbacks need to be successful?
  2. Do any of these qualities change for the Georgia Tech offense?
  3. Can a proven "successful" quarterback in a Georgia Tech system be just as successful as quarterbacks in more "pro-style" offenses?

What qualities do quarterbacks need to be successful?

I think it's safe to say that coaches and fans might have different opinions about what qualities QBs need to be a successful player. For the sake of this argument, I want to approach this as a coach. A quarterback needs to be a leader on and off the field and set a good example for the other players on the team. He runs the offense. His decisions and capabilities to get the ball into playmakers hands is also key. Here is my rank in what QBs need to have to be successful.

  1. Timing/Accuracy- I put these together because they have to happen at the same time. A quarterback needs to be able to execute the plays accurately and in time with the other players. An accurate passer is the number 1 desired trait of quarterbacks in the NFL and pro-style offenses especially. However, this isn't limited to the passing game, but also pitches and run plays. The lineman's ability to block is focused on timing and opening up gaps in the defense long enough for a break to develop. We've seen our handful of mishaps when pitching the ball where players aren't on the same timing.
  2. Leadership- The team needs to know that the QB can lead the team through any environment they might face. This leadership makes or breaks teams during the off season when coaches can't always lead practices. I think the go-to adjective to describe a quarterback is leader.
  3. Intelligence/Decision-Making- Mike Leach said that hesitation can turn a 4.5 40-yard runner into a 4.9 runner. This can be the difference between busting one to being caught behind the line of scrimmage. The same can be said for a passer. Windows of opportunity to make that miraculous pass are only open for so long. If the quarterback cannot read a defense, make changes when necessary, and make the correct decision, then they will not be a successful quarterback. For a triple-option quarterback, decision making can be the difference between a dive and a keep. (Just watch the DE right, it can't be that hard?!?! )
  4. Poise- The cliche "2-minute drill" applies here. You always hear it from analysts. Can he lead the team to victory when the game is on the line? Can he deal with the silent count, loud atmosphere that frequently disturbs an offense? This poise is contagious. Concern and nerves from a quarterback or leader can really affect the players that rely on them for support and guidance.
  5. Hard work- I put this at the end because I think these previous traits all need hard work in order to be accomplished. However, I think that it needs to stand alone. He needs to be the first on the practice field and last off the field. A role model player and someone that really sacrifices for the team.
Now I know that there are a few other traits that are you could throw in this list, but for the most part I think this really encompasses what it means to be a successful quarterback. I would like to note though, I do not think that arm strength and physical features need to be on this list. I see those qualities more as a check in the box. Are they over a certain height and weight, are they relatively strong? Check. Does the 6'1" quarterback have a substantially better chance of being successful then a 6'2" quarterback. I personally don't think so.

Do any of these qualities change for the Georgia Tech offense?

As an offense that regularly runs a very unique scheme, I think that there some qualities that coaches look for that might be different than your typical quarterback star. Do the underlying themes of the positions change?

My answer is yes and no... For Paul Johnson's offense, he cannot rely on a pocket quarterback that cannot run for the triple option. For instance and to my surprise, one slow NFL quarterback right now is Tom Brady. He was timed at a 40-yard time of 5.28 a few years ago. For Johnson's offense, this probably wouldn't fly. But down the dirt road at uga, they would probably thrive with Tom Brady under center. Regardless, if you line all of the top QB draftees over the past few years side by side, I think they all have the five qualities listed above.

So, I think Tech looks for a certain niche of quarterbacks. At the same time, a quarterback needs to be just as efficient in their decision making and throwing ability if he wants to be a successful leader on the Jackets team. A quality that Tech fans lust over is speed. First question that I see knowledgable fans ask on forums and in discussions is "What's his 40 time." While this is very important, is it really the fairest question that we should be asking? If we put Usain Bolt in pads would he promise us a 14-0 season? If all other gears turned perfectly (i.e. blocks were held and everyone was healthy) would it be enough to defeat all defenses? Honestly, both answers are 'no'. Regardless of how fast a player is, if he can't execute the plays accurately and at the right time and makes incorrect decisions, the team they are put to lead will not be successful.

So in summary, no. I do not think these qualities change for the most part. All successful quarterbacks need to have the above qualities. However, would a faster quarterback do better? Yes. Can quarterbacks worry less about the pass game in Johnson's system. I wouldn't say that. Yes they pass less, but I see this actually as they need to be more efficient at passing. When you think about it, Tech only really passes when it needs to. They only pass when the team is relying on some big pass play. For this reason, you could argue that Tech quarterbacks actually have to be more efficient at passing then normal quarterback... We don't run 3 consecutive pass plays, so there is less room for error. You might be looking at me like I'm crazy right now, but there is an argument there for sure.

Can a proven "successful" quarterback in a Georgia Tech system be just as successful as quarterbacks in more "pro-style" offenses?

This is a hard question I think. There are a lot of variables in order for a player to be successful. Heck, a successful quarterback one year could be a big flop the next year. If it was easy to judge college talent and how they will be in the NFL, there would be a lot more analysts.

I also want to take some time to say that I do think that a successful NFL quarterback can come out of Georgia Tech. I do not think that Tech's offense limits players in their development. I think that if you put a successful Tech quarterback in another pro-style system, I think they will also be successful. When fans/critics are critical of the Tech team and their "development" of NFL-caliber players, I think its incorrect. An athlete is an athlete and some people can play in whatever situation they are in. I know they are the two WRs that Tech fans go to right now to make their point, but again, look at Bebe Thomas and Calvin Johnson. Thomas is under Johnson and they ran the same offense they do now. A major role for them is to block. Does that mean that since they block that means they cannot catch? No.

Same goes for QBs. Just because they pass less doesn't mean they can't pass. Do you think that Bebe went out on the practice field on the weekends with Nesbitt and they pretended to snap, triple O and block their way down the field? NO! Throwing the ball and passing the ball is the most exciting and fun part of being a QB and WR. When the practice, these players lick their chops at the opportunity to do something exciting like this. /tangentover

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In conclusion, in order for a Tech quarterback to be successful, they have to have the same qualities as any other successful quarterback. When Johnson's system produces any quality player for that matter, they should not be discounted because they played in a "different" system, most importantly QB. Shoot, for all we know, the 49er offensive scheme might be the next big thing in the NFL. We shall see.

What do y'all think? Can Tech produce NFL caliber players, especially QBs? Do you agree with my assessment of what it takes to be a great QB? Is Tech's system any different?

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