Archive for August, 2011

Matt Barkley on the future and the NFL

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Bill Plaschke has an interesting piece in the LA Times today, in discussion with USC quarterback Matt Barkley about what the future holds for the true-junior starting quarterback. Having started as a freshman, Barkley will have the opportunity to enter the 2012 draft. While he may not end up being the #1 pick ahead of Andrew Luck, he’ll still be taken off the board quickly if things go according to plan this year.

Interestingly, Plaschke’s conversation with Barkley appears to at least hint that turning pro is a distinct possibility for a quarterback who only turns 21 next week:

After surviving two of the most difficult seasons endured by any Trojans quarterback, Matt Barkley can finally, truly call USC home. Just in time for him to leave it.

Watch him closely for the next couple of months, because you probably won’t be seeing him around here again. Barkley is understandably hoping to use a second consecutive season with no bowl or championship hopes to obtain something even greater — an NFL future. Despite the daily pleadings from his coach and what will certainly be an autumn’s worth of love from his fans, Barkley is probably in his final year here, and can you blame him?

He’s already a senior academically. By the time the year is finished, he will have given the school three seasons with only one turmoil-filled Emerald Bowl in return. He’s done his time. He’s made his mark. Yes, he would become a campus legend if he stays in school to lead them out of probation next season, but who goes to college to become a campus legend?

“I came to USC to prepare myself for a job,” he says. “That job just happens to be football.”

Barkley declaring is a subject we’ve discussed quite a lot already and one we will no doubt go into frequently during the new college football season. During the summer I wondered whether he’d lean towards staying at USC for a fourth year starting when the Trojans will be able to compete for a bowl berth and also the PAC 12 title. That can’t be ruled out yet, but it’s interesting to see Barkley talk openly about the possibility of turning pro.

It would certainly help improve an over-rated quarterback class in 2012 that contains depth without necessarily elite talent. Luck and Barkley being available for NFL teams next April will offer a rare opportunity to select a fortune changing player and a potential winner for years to come. That is of course unless Cincinnati and Oakland are picking #1 and #2. Then there won’t be any winning involved. Just frustration.

An alternative take on the 2012 quarterback class

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Guest blogger Daniel gives us an insight into this year’s group of college quarterbacks…

Hey everyone, you may be familiar with me as the guy from North Carolina who made a brief appearance last year to tell you the team with the #1 pick would shy away from taking Cam Newton. Since that turned out so brilliantly I’m back to provide you with more excellent advice. In truth, I’m just a fan who like many of you watched his team put off any attempt at developing a prospect at the position in favor of hanging onto an ageing veteran who holds the franchise record for all time passing yards and had lead them to post season success – a Super Bowl appearance, even. A team leader and great guy by all accounts who, in spite of all the plaudits just mentioned, you aren’t entirely upset to see move on at this stage of his career.

Yes, I’m talking about Jake Delhomme, a slightly watered down east coast version of Matt Hasselbeck, but the end result is the same. With the current prospects looking like long shots thanks to the aforementioned short term strategy, I spent some extra time watching the best college QBs last year figuring one of them could be my team’s next franchise signal caller. Beyond that, hoping we would strike jackpot on the next elite QB – the one who could replace all the leadership ability of the guy who just left while also adding that extra quality and game to game consistency he may have lacked.

As a result, I can offer what I think of some QBs still in college that are touted as having NFL potential. I respect Rob’s opinions a great deal and in fact our thoughts on a number of players overlap by a significant amount. In terms of top prospects, I get the sense that Rob looks first at the physical tools a guy offers so he can judge their peak upside before making sure they can pass a base level evaluation of mental capacity/QB instincts and college production. Proper measurement of those latter factors weighed against the player’s upside and their surroundings (teammates and competition) can be very difficult – it’s the difference between getting Matt Ryan and Matt Leinart.

Personally, I approach this equation slightly differently although it ultimately reaches a similar end. I start by asking myself, “Can this guy make NFL plays?” which could be answered in a number of ways. Of course you want to know can if a guy can throw the deep out, if he can make throws under pressure and if he can make reads quickly. But Michael Vick scrambling for 20 yards is an NFL play. Same with Roethlisberger abandoning a play to run into defenders, shove them off, then complete a pass once coverage breaks down.

In short, a guy just has to pass the eye test and I look for things they bring to the table as much as things they take off . After that, I factor in physical tools and everything mentioned above to judge value. That’s where someone like Greg McElroy, who passes the eye test – if you squint – drops down. He’s small and takes away your ability to throw down field but I can see him completing passes in the NFL. Problem is he’s as near his upside as you can get for a college player and he was in a perfect situation at Alabama that made him look way more accurate than he was. At his absolute best, he should still never be more than #2 on your depth chart. And that’s why he fell to the 7thround – I’d have called him as a UDFA as long as I had an established starter. Contrast that with a player who had enormous physical upside but uneven production in college like Josh Freeman or two first rounders from the same draft as McElroy in Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. Withthe new rookie salary cap (Cam Newton’s contract is for $22 million over 4 years), Rob’s approach of taking a shot on a player with the tools to be a franchise QB, even if a team isn’t 100% sure on them – guys like Gabbert and Joe Flacco – could become the new trend.

Now that I’ve explained my “credentials” and thought process, we can move on to the players. At the least, I can offer a local perspective on some lesser known names you may not be familiar with on the other side of the country:

I’ll start with Landry Jones who, like Rob, I am not a big fan of. Physically, he’s got first round tools. The size and arm are good and the athleticism is adequate. He’s no Newton/Locker/Gabbert/Luck/etc in terms of mobility, but he isn’t a complete statue either. My issue is with everything else that I want to see in a big-time QB prospect. The quickest way to sum it up is by comparing him to his OU predecessor – he’s everything Sam Bradford wasn’t. The arm is stronger, he isn’t constantly injured in college (and his body looks more sturdy) but he’s less fluid and mobile. Also, Bradford had the accuracy and mental part of the game down as well as you could at his age.

Jones runs hot and cold. When he’s hot, I think “yeah, this guy could go in round 1″ but he’s cold way too much to actually be worth that grade. Even if he improves this year I would remain skeptical. I think, ironically, Jones will be given the benefit of the doubt in terms of the “spread offense” he plays in due to the success of Bradford and a few other QBsin the NFL. In truth, he looks much less developed playing in the same offense as his predecessor and I firmly believe that at another college he would be viewed as a guy with a big arm who is inconsistent and inaccurate. Another thing, and this may be venturing a bit too far into the realm of speculation, he just doesn’t pass my sniff test in terms of intelligence/self-awareness. It’s nowhere near the Ryan Mallett level of concern but he does set off some warning signals there and I would advise an NFL team to make sure he checks out during the interview process. Still, we live in a world where Christian Ponder went in the top 15. With that and the new rookie salary cap to consider, Landry Jones is assuredly a first round prospect. I just wouldn’t want to take that risk.

Another guy I agree with Rob on is Nick Foles. Total system guy who is very stiff in the pocket. He’s one that really falters on my “can I see him making NFL plays?” test. Other than his height and some pretty college stats there isn’t much he brings to the table. I don’t buy the Robert Griffin hype either. Like him as a player in college but have a hard time picturing him in the NFL. He still has time though, since he could theoretically pull a Case Keenum and stay in college for another 3 years. I need to see more of Kirk Cousins since I only caught a couple Michigan State games last year but my initial impression is that he might be a guy who gets rated highly for his “make up” rather than his actual ability. Is his upside higher than a mediocre starter? I need to see more. I haven’t seen enough of Austin Davis or Ryan Lindleyalthough I hear about both a lot. What I have seen of Lindley made me think late round tools prospect, although I know some people who like him a lot more.

Moving on, here are a few names that are long shots this season but might be potential first rounders at some point. You may be familiar with Mike Glennon as a result of the Russell Wilson transfer to Wisconsin. I’m not sure how the story has been reported nationally but the reality of that situation is that the coach (Tom O’Brien – who nurtured Matt Ryan, the Hasselbecks and a few others at Boston College) chose two years of Glennon over one year of Wilson. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right choice, but it would certainly raise eyebrows if I was an NFL scout. Glennon is 6-6, has a rocket arm and was rated right around Landry Jones and Andrew Luck coming out of high school. He’s probably more of a 2013 prospect than 2012 but that’s my big scoop. He has yet to start a game and he has flaws like any other player but I’d offer him as someone you might want to take a look at in the coming season.

Some other names that could gain traction this year ~ not a fan of EJ Manuel as an NFL prospect, although I think he’ll be effective for FSU. Big (if inaccurate) arm and can fall forward for 6 yards a pop just about any time you need it. John Brantley isn’t good and I don’t care what fairy dust Charlie Weis sprinkles on him, he shouldn’t be more than camp fodder in the NFL. I’d like to see what JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger can do at LSU if he can get on the field this year. I’ve noticed Rob is big on Logan Thomas. Here in ACC country he has flown under the radar a bit but the tools are intriguing. Virginia Tech has a very soft schedule this year so it’s possible he could benefit from that greatly. I’d be wary of getting too excited about Tyler Wilson at Arkansas. Mid rounder in my opinion, and I’d take an extra long look when evaluating anyone from a Petrino offense (responsible for Brohm, Jamarcus, Mallett, Ponder and soon Manuel). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a diamond in there somewhere – Aaron Rodgers was a “Tedford QB” – but you have to make sure what they’re doing can project to the NFL.

I’ll finish up withthe Luck vs Barkley debate that I imagine will grow old quickly this season. I have to disagree with Rob on this one, as I am a big Luck backer. I know the hype machine has spiraled out of control and personally, I don’t think he’s the greatest prospect in the history of the NFL draft. For instance, his arm is adequate but it isn’t the typical cannon you see in a #1 overall QB. His deep ball needs a lot of work – one of his interceptions against Oregon in particular is very ugly and you could even see his receivers have to hold up for the long TDsin the second half of the Orange Bowl. You can gain arm strength in the NFL (ask Tom Brady) and you can even throw deep with great effectiveness without it (ask Philip Rivers) but right now it’s his biggest knock and something that would get exposed in the NFL.

That’s the only major flaw I can find in him. He brings everything else to the table and I think the aspect he brings to the table that makes him special, maybe something Rob has underrated a bit, is his pocket mobility. Stanford’s offensive live deserves a lot of credit for keep Luck clean and making him look good, but Luck himself is a big reason he only took single digit sacks last year . He is extremely clever at moving his feet and getting into the best positions to throw with space. This is before mentioning the couple of long runs he took off on – overall, I think his mobility will be a big asset in the NFL and it makes his game compare favorably to Rich Gannon, the MVP version.

In comparison (and perhaps also considering players such as Cam Newton and Jake Locker are becoming more common) Barkley seems a lot more rigid and immobile (although he is by no means slow – probably runs a 4.8 and can pick up first downs in the NFL if a lane is open). His arm talent is special and he brings every NFL throw to the table – he can gun it sideline to sideline and there is not a single throw he cannot make. Still, there is something that bothers me about him. At times, he almost seems too mechanical and I like to see fluidity. I think Luck’s former coach and new Seahawks enemy Jim Harbaughtermed it “athletic instincts” in an interview about what he looks for in a QB – even someone like Matt Ryan who isn’t known as a scrambler seemed very fluid on the move at Boston College – Barkley has to set himself to throw, or at least load up so he can fire a ball with pace on the run. You also have to remember that he’s around 6-2. Now, that’s adequate height to play in the NFL and he stands tall enough in the pocket that it shouldn’t be a major concern but if we’re moving towards 6’4+ athletic freaks who can run and throw showing up every year, you have to be damn special to go #1 overall.

Is he? Well, I actually agree that Barkley’s game against Stanford was more impressive than Luck’s against USC. He fired the ball downfield the entire night and carried a team that didn’t have a run game working against a great defense. Matching scores the entire game down to the TD that put USC up with only a minute to go. The thing is, that game was the most impressive I have ever seen Barkley (granted, I missed his 5 TD game against Cal the next week) and it was just another day at the office for Luck. Luck’s game that night reminded me of Drew Brees last season - he just took what was given to him (often short passes underneath) and killed you with ruthless efficiency. Now, I don’t think his accuracy is Brees level – he’s very good there, not great. But anytime I say something like that, I feel like I’m scrutinizing him like I would redshirt senior’sfinal season because his game is so advanced. He’s just 21. And Barkley is even younger at 20. They can both still improve so much over the next year. Clearly the #1 and 2 guys on the board in my opinion and I can’t see either falling out of the top-10.

Thoughts vs Denver (Pre-season Game 3)

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Dominique Byrd scores a touchdown against Denver's B-team

I’ve not looked at the tape again since initial viewing, mainly because the first half was torture to watch and why would I want to ruin a perfectly acceptable weekend? Even so I wanted to put a few thoughts down based on Seattle’s third pre-season game at Denver on Saturday.

Everything I’ll write here is with the fullest knowledge that this is a NFL pre-season like no other. Rookie’s are under-cooked and facing almost an impossible task to be ready. New coaches and schemes need to incorporated as do a lot of free agents including a new quarterback. However, there were a lot of concerns from this game that I don’t think can be ignored simply because there are several potential excuses.

For starters, the first team offense was horrendously bad. I’ve watched the Cincinnati Bengals offense this summer and couldn’t possibly believe there is another team out there worse than the Bengals. The Seahawks aren’t there yet, but they’re having a good go. The offensive line is a complete mess and it’s not going to be fixed by Russell Okung’s return (if he can stay healthy, and it’s a substantial ‘if’). The Seahawks have pumped so much investment into improving the line, but we’re seeing zero immediate return.

I talked up James Carpenter at Alabama last year long before he received greater national awareness, but he is struggling in a bad way. Denver’s defensive lineman abused him last night and while he will admittedly have easier games in 2011 with greater support, he’s also going to come up against scary-good Pittsburgh and Baltimore, improving pass rushers St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cleveland and not forgetting the occasional stud like Brian Orakpo or DeMarcus Ware. It’s hard to really work out what the team should do. Perhaps consider adding a veteran tackle and red-shirting Carpenter? He’s not ready to start, it’s hurting the team and potentially his development too. Yet the team was banking on an immediate return from that first rounder in April and making such a move would be a big statement.

It’s important to stress that Carpenter is not the only issue here. I thought Chris Spencer had an under rated season in 2010 and I’m still unconvinced by Max Unger as the replacement center. John Moffitt needs to get stronger too – a problem that was highlighted throughout the draft process. Robert Gallery isn’t a miracle worker and can’t accommodate a young line and losing a left tackle on his own, but he has looked far from assured so far. As a collective group, the performance against Denver was shambolic. No pass protection, a very inconsistent performance in the running game and very little hope that this can be addressed sufficiently before September 11th.

Tarvaris Jackson suffered more than anyone through the line’s awful performance, but he’s far from exempt from blame. Too often Jackson was dancing around in the pocket, looking tentative and unsure and adding to the bad protection. He attempted zero runs, possibly with the view to getting things rolling in the pass game, but the opposite occurred. Instead of stepping up into the pocket, he’d jolt from side to side and try to keep the play alive. Eventually you have to either a.) throw the ball to a target or b.) throw it away. I haven’t got access to coaches tape to see whether there was the opportunity to throw, but certainly a couple of times I noticed a receiver creating just enough separation on shorter routes but Jackson held on to the ball.

It seemed like he was caught in the middle-ground throughout. When the pressure came, the eyes went down if he was intending to scramble but instead it was just to dodge pass rushers before the inevitable conclusion. As soon as his eyes go down, he might as well set off. If he’s going to try and stay in the pocket to make passes, then keep your eyes downfield, sense the pressure, step up to avoid the edge and drive down field. There was absolutely no rhyme or reason to the play of Jackson.

It’s all well and good having a ‘take what you’re given’ approach but in the first half Jackson had little to take so surely the reaction is to try and use your own inspiration? If he’s not going to run around and try to open things up that way, then he absolutely must take a leaf out of Charlie Whitehurst’s book. When Whitehurst was under pressure in the second half, he sensed the rusher and moved to the right to give himself just enough time to complete a short pass for positive yardage. Not an explosive play, but at least it wasn’t another sack.

I thought the scoring drive against Denver’s back-ups was unsatisfying to watch. Rather than take any solace from a succesful 90-yard drive, I just felt like it was an empty score. I get that it can at least generate some small level of confidence, but in reality a touchdown in that circumstance should be the expectation. Getting six points merely confirmed what should happen against rookie’s and back-ups (the bare minimum) while failure would’ve been a further blow.

The defense wasn’t much better in all honesty. A couple of big plays (Trufant sack, Clemons interception) stick in the mind but big plays surrounding a complete lack of pressure will still equate to defeat. As soon as Denver found it’s groove, Orton had so much time in the pocket. It was a complete contrast to Seattle’s situation in pass protection. Rushing three guys and dropping extra coverage didn’t seem to have any impact in halting Orton, who needs to be pressed to force mistakes because he’s so static. The Seahawks don’t have someone on that defensive line who is a consistent disruptive force. They have a lot of neat and tidy role players, but not someone who scares the living daylights out of the opposition. I’m concerned we’ll be completely reliant on blitzing to create pressure again, which isn’t healthy.

Nevertheless, I think the defense at least offers something if partnered with a serviceable offense. Unfortunately, it’s working with an offense that looks as functional as a teapot made of ice.

The Seahawks benefited a lot last year from great special teams and kick returns and Doug Baldwin’s 105-yard touchdown run proved once again how that can make a one-sided affair pretty close in the end. The new kick off rules take away a huge weapon for the Seahawks and that has to be another concern.

Had this been a regular season game, Denver would’ve blown the Seahawks away. The Broncos are not going to be a good football team in 2011, but they are clearly well ahead of Seattle. There’s still time to make improvements, but I suspect it’ll be several weeks into the season until we see noticable changes in fortune. Maybe they need real football to work this out and get moving? If I had to make a prediction, I think the Seahawks wil be one of those teams that looks a good bet for the #1 pick early on but improves enough from mid-t0-late season to never realistically challenge to be the leagues worst. I do think we’re facing the prospect of a top-ten pick in 2012, however.

Perhaps that’s too specific right now, but this is going to be a season where established teams with returning starters dominate due to the lockout. Team’s in rebuild with new starters, coaches and schemes are going to suffer – and that in my opinion includes the Seahawks.

What’s in a quarterback?

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Apologies for a lack of regular updates this week – the day job has taken precedent this week and made time limited. Expect a big opinion piece on the Denver game this weekend and another article based on an alternative view on the 2012 QB class that I think you’ll enjoy.

In the meantime, check out this excellent write-up by Scott Enyeart courtesy of Field Gulls on Pete Carroll’s quarterback philosophy.

Brandon Thompson & Jayron Hosley gametape

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I’ve been asked about the defensive talent in the 2012 draft class and admittedly we’ve focused a lot of energy on quarterbacks this summer. With the college season looming it’s time to turn our attentions to a couple of defensive prospects. Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson) is someone I’ve been asked about in the past while Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech) is a cornerback who is far from faultless, but has a lot of playmaking qualities. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Game tape is supplied below with notes to come later. Props once again to JMPasq for the footage.

Thoughts and concerns on offense

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I feel for you, Tarvaris

I will be taking a second look at the Vikings game tomorrow and perhaps my perceptions will change slightly. However, I came away from the game with a few thoughts and some concerns.

The offense looked poor, rhythmless and lacking focus. This isn’t a big surprise and major context is required here – we’ve not seen anything like a natural off-season and groups are being put together on the run. Teams that have a long term structure such as New England and Pittsburgh will likely dominate this upcoming season simply because of familiarity. Teams that are rebuilding like Seattle are going to suffer.

Yet there’s still something about the Seahawks offense that bothers me. The offensive line was flat out bad. For me it’s further evidence of a point I’ve often made amid constant promotions of ‘building through the trenches’ - that lines are not built around high picks and instant chemistry doesn’t exist. The best offensive lines in the league blend talent, execution, consistency, health and pure time on the field to create a perfect storm. You can’t just throw picks and dollars at the offensive line and hope to turn a major weakness into an overnight success.

The Seahawks have maybe the most expensive group in the NFL in terms of draft stock, yet you couldn’t tell last night. There’s going to be teething problems for a while and this is just something we’re going to have to live through. Hopefully James Carpenter and John Moffitt develop, Max Unger becomes a solid center and Russell Okung stays healthy. It may be that some of those guys don’t work out. Either way we’ll have to roll with the punches because this isn’t getting sorted any time soon. Enough stock and energy has been placed in the line and it’s time to let the things grow naturally. Seattle’s continuing issues on the offensive line are not going to be solved with even more first round picks.

When Sidney Rice and Zach Miller were signed, together with the investment and effort made to improve the line, I wondered if the Seahawks were creating an environment for a quarterback to at least be competitive. This was a reckless judgement on my behalf that went against everything I’ve argued in the past. Maybe I got caught up in the post-lockout euphoria coinciding with Seattle becoming big players during free agency? Whatever the cause, it was my mistake.

Tarvaris Jackson had basically no opportunity what so ever to succeed against Minnesota. Those still grumbling about Matt Hasselbeck playing elsewhere should be relieved their favorite former Seahawk isn’t faced with the situation that Jackson had last night. In fact Jackson’s ability to actually scramble away from pressure is looking more and more like a major positive, just because it at least extends the play momentarily giving him a slightly better chance than nil to make a completion or run for positive yardage. The Seahawks signed some very good players in free agency and certainly I cannot criticise the franchise for significantly upgrading several positions. Yet it comes back to the big issue I have always had with this type of rebuild. It is mind blowingly difficult to improve every single area of a team in order to create an environment fit for a fill-in quarterback to succeed.

People love to quote the New York Jets and point to Mark Sanchez as a counter. What they don’t realise is that the Jets are the poster example of the exact opposite argument. What was the first thing Rex Ryan and the Jets did upon their marriage? They made an aggressive trade to get Mark Sanchez. They then built around their quarterback, adding a number of big name veterans and developing a patented Ryan defense. Inheriting an offensive line containing two former first round picks is not ‘building’ a team before drafting a quarterback. The Jets did it the right way – get your quarterback, establish a direction and try to make his life easier. The Jets glorious success and the fact Sanchez hasn’t put up amazing numbers clouds the truth somewhat, but that’s to Ryan’s credit for doing such a great job building around his QB.

Look at New Orleans – a team going nowhere fast a few years ago. Sean Peyton arrives, the first thing they do is sign Drew Brees and establish an instant identity to build around. Championship.

The Atlanta Falcons – left with a severe Michael Vick sized hangover and awful football team, they go from bad to contender with one inspired move – drafting Matt Ryan. This enables them to play to their quarterbacks strengths and limit his weaknesses. They knew Ryan could manage a possession-based offense that controls time of possession. They get a power running back in free agency and then supply Ryan with an elite tight end, a new left tackle and most recently another dynamic weapon at receiver. Who would bet against that formula winning a Championship in the next few years?

Look across the league at the teams who have gone from bad to contending and a common theme emerges – they built an offense around their quarterback. The Seahawks appear to be doing the exact opposite.

A quarterback will make up for weaknesses elsewhere. They control so much of a game that a talented signal caller can manipulate things to his favor. A team that has invested in strength everywhere but the QB rarely bails out bad quarterbacking. It is much harder to win being great at several positions than it is to win being good at just one position – behind center.

So far the Seahawks regime has pumped two first round picks into the offensive line. They’ve made a big splash at receiver with a second round pick and a free agent grab and they’ve traded for a big name running back. They’ve gone through two offensive coordinators and two offensive line coaches. They’ve signed a tight end to a deal comparable to that awarded to Antonio Gates.

Yet at quarterback they’ve coasted along.

The trade for Whitehurst was promising in that if nothing else it was aggressive. Yet the investment has never been matched with an opportunity to prove it was all worthwhile. The only other significant move was to sign a quarterback seemingly based around the fact he was familiar with the new offensive coordinator and was mobile. That relationship between Bevell and Jackson leads me onto another grumble which I’ll come onto in a moment.

There seems to be a faceless vision for the future at quarterback. We know the Seahawks want someone who can move around in the pocket, that has been made clear. Yet when you build a team around a vision without actually committing to it’s central figure, you end up backing yourself into a corner. What if the team is well placed to draft a potential franchise quarterback who doesn’t match the criteria? Do you avoid them and prolong the agonising search? Or do you rip up the blue print and start again in spite of what you’ve built towards so far? At the moment I’m a little bit concerned that the Seahawks’ grand plan will forever be incomplete until they have ‘that guy’ at quarterback.

And to counter myself slightly I appreciate the lack of options the Seahawks have had so far regarding quarterbacks. Drafting 25th overall took the team out of any potential race for the Gabbert group this year and the 2010 class was just flat out poor. But eventually they either need to pull the trigger or they need to make things happen by being aggressive. This team will not be able to fully rebuild with stop gaps and re-treads at quarterback.

What confuses me a little is that while the Seahawks move along this off season, they appear so tied to Jackson. Where’s the competition? Isn’t that the mantra of this organisation? I understand the thinking behind backing Jackson – less time to work out the offense, his familiarity with Bevell etc etc. Even so, it seems somewhat selective and hypocritical that this isn’t an open competition. What if Whitehurst is the better guy? Is it really beyond comprehension that the much maligned Jackson isn’t the best option? Is Carroll now handcuffed to Jackson for 2011 just because of the Bevell connection? How does it relate to Sidney Rice, given how he was almost certainly recruited on the basis he would get to play with his friend?

Are we creating an environment of competition for some unless you’re a coaches favorite? Carroll has done a great job showing no defining loyalty to his USC guys, but does that extend to other coaches and their guys? If you make competition the heartbeat of the team, does it weaken the beat if it appears to be an inconsistent message?

This brings me on to the point I said I’d eventually get onto. Do the staff under Carroll have too much input on personnel?

My own view is that a NFL franchise needs a long term vision beyond it’s coaching staff because there are constant changes in that department. Appointing a General Manager is supposed to be a long term plan. Coaches tend to come and go a lot more regularly without instant success. You also have to factor in that succesful DC’s and OC’s will be poached.

When the Seahawks appointed Alex Gibbs last year, they went about making the offensive line in his vision, which Carroll agreed with. That completely changed when he abruptly departed and since then it’s changed again with Tom Cable coming in. Gibbs, Cable and Jeremy Bates have all had a go at designing a successful offensive line. Carroll wants a zone blocking scheme, but that in fairness is so vague and only scratches the surface. Why in just 12-18 months has this team lurched from one type of player to another, one ideology to another on it’s offensive line? Does there not need to be consistency and a departure from a position coaches vision to a franchise vision?

It appears Cable had strong input into the team’s two early draft picks and the signing of Robert Gallery and Zach Miller. Darrell Bevell must have had significant input into the signing of Jackson and Rice. What if in 12-24 months it’s two others trying to run Seattle’s offense? Do you start again by bringing in more favorites and changing ideas? It’s not like there hasn’t been major turnover within Carroll’s staff so far, so how can you rule such a proposition out?

The offense in fairness does seem to be being built around a master vision from Carroll, but it’s the staff below putting it together. Is that really a good idea? Of course coaches have input, but in Seattle they appear to have carte blanche.

As the Seahawks build this offense towards hopefully a productive unit, they’re going to need to roll with the punches and stay on track. Is it wrong to be slightly concerned that the major influencing factors in this personnel rebuild right now are not necessarily the team’s GM and Head Coach?

Why it’s OK to get excited about Josh Portis

Friday, August 19th, 2011

The last time Seattle drafted a QB in round one, the guy in the shirt was President

It’s 18 years since the Seahawks last spent a first round pick on a quarterback. There are almost certainly Seahawks fans among us that saw the birth of a child around the time their football team drafted Rick Mirer in 1993. That child will now be preparing for college. 

Bill Clinton had been President for a few months when the Seahawks last drafted a quarterback in round one. People probably thought we’d have flying cars by 2011, maybe wondered if we’d be living on Mars. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was four years old and we were still 15 years away from Indiana Jones and the flying fridge. 

During those 18 years the Seahawks appointed Mike Holmgren to run it’s football team and he acquired Matt Hasselbeck. For a time this played a large part in why the Seahawks avoided the position in the draft, but doesn’t explain why such blatant disregard was placed in preparing for the post-Hasselbeck era by the previous front office regime. 

The Seahawks haven’t had anyone to invest their faith in as a long term solution for some time. It really shouldn’t be 18 years since the team last drafted a quarterback in round one. Therefore, maybe we should expect people to get excited when a player comes along and shows even a modicum of talent? Maybe it is OK to get excited about Josh Portis? Just like people got excited about Mike Teel and the two Charlie’s – Whitehurst and Frye. 

The problem with most UDFA quarterbacks – or late rounders for that matter – is that they simply don’t have the physical tools to succeed. Tom Brady is the massive exception to the rule because he looked anything but a pro-athlete before being drafted in round six by New England. There is a huge neverending list of other quarterbacks that teams spent throwaway picks on in the hope they will be the next diamond in the rough. Once or twice in a generation something materialises. 

We also have to appreciate the situation Brady found himself in. Whatever you want to say about Bill Belichick, he clearly knows how to create a winning football team. Brady has benefited from his surroundings, the ability to enter into a good situation and grow with a system that suits his style. He’s become an elite performer but in an environment that allowed it to happen. It’s an environment the Patriots will hope has a similar effect on Ryan Mallett, who could look like an equally brilliant steal in a few years time. 

Portis is unlike the majority of late round or UDFA quarterbacks. For starters, he has an arm. Most quarterbacks drafted late or picked up in free agency are Greg McElroy clones – players who’s main characteristic is ‘winning’ mainly because they had the opportunity to play behind pro-level offensive lineman, had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson running the ball and Julio Jones catching passes. McElroy’s reputation was built around being a winner with that other nonsense word scouts use – ‘moxy’. His physical talent was completely limited and so was his on-field IQ. Portis doesn’t appear to be restricted in this way. You don’t need to see him perform against San Diego’s first string defense to acknowledge the guy can spin a football. 

He’s also mobile, can extend plays (as witnessed on his touchdown pass last week) and has that rare knack of keeping his eyes downfield when scrambling around. These are all the talents of not only a draft pick, but a high one. We tell ourselves to calm down because he’s an UDFA, but take that knowledge away and why wouldn’t you be very impressed? Yes it wasn’t against San Diego’s #1 ranked defense from 2010, but this was a guy who played Division II football for two years before a week’s pro-practise. He got over his early nerves, he led a nice scoring drive. It’s a start. 

Portis is an UDFA because he went to three different colleges and had all kinds of off-the-field issues and suspensions. The red flags flap into your eyes and you need to get the heck away from them to see clearly. Isn’t that what makes this a different case though? Portis isn’t a Brady-miracle type who needs to beat the physical odds to succeed. Portis is capable from a pure physical stand point. We’ve seen – albeit in very small samples – a flash of pro talent. The biggest question mark is whether he can develop that flash of talent into something tangible and whether he can avoid any further drama away from the game. 

It’s a similar story with tight Anthony McCoy. When I watched him playing for USC in 2009, I thought he looked like a first or second round pick based on several games evidence for the Trojans. The Seahawks got him in round six because of major character red flags. This front office is giving players like Portis and McCoy a shot at redemption and a chance to make up for bad decisions. With the gamble so minimal, why wouldn’t you? Instead the league is full of Tim Ruskell types who wouldn’t dream of it, but why? What truly separates Portis and McCoy in terms of on field talent and some of the guys drafted early? Off the field stuff. So bring them in for a no-risk cost. Had both players been taken with early picks, people would be much more prepared to accept others getting excited by a nice pre-season showing. 

What constitutes acceptable hype? 

As I wrote in this piece, the chances are Portis will never make it as a pro. I think mostpeople are realistic about that. His peak ability may be Seneca Wallace, which would still be a tremendous achievement for an UDFA. Some fans would be disappointed if they thought that was the maximum potential because they want to believe in the miracle happening in Seattle. I don’t agree with that view, but I wouldn’t condemn it. It’s not ridiculous for people to get excited about Portis, just don’t go over the top and get your hopes up too much. It’s not ridiculous for people to suggest common sense should prevail and maintain the guy was an UDFA, but let’s not be blind to the fact Portis isn’t an UDFA due to a lack of physical potential. 

Ultimately the Seahawks are taking no gamble seeing if this guy can mature and become a trusted pro. They lose nothing if he fails. The fans equally lose nothing if their optimism is seen to be misplaced. There will be another camp All-Star, maybe even one drafted in round one. 

Go ahead and enjoy watching the guy play football over the next three weeks. If the Seahawks are going to take two decades to find a quarterback worth spending a first round pick on, you’re going to need other ways to dream about a franchise QB not called Matthew Hasselbeck.

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma): further analysis

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

This is what speed skating looks like on grass

A lot of people think Landry Jones is an elite quarterback prospect. It may not be a popular opinion, but I’m going to disagree. I think he’s a system quarterback, at least as we stand here today pontificating on whether the Seahawks are going to finally draft a quarterback early next year. I also think he’s been vaulted into a position of hype based around the guy he replaced.  

Let me stress that I’m not writing off Landry Jones as either a high pick next April or a productive pro-quarterback. He has a full season with the Sooners to enhance his stock and he’s more than capable of achieving that. If Jones leads Oklahoma to an unbeaten season and therefore potentially a national title shot, then kudos to him and maybe I’ll look back on this piece with some regret. However, you could argue that’s exactly what should’ve happened 12 months ago when having topped the polls for a mere week Blaine Gabbert outplayed Jones in a way that destroyed any ambitions of ending the year #1.  

I’ll also qualify that I disagree with Tony Pauline’s fourth round grade issued earlier this week. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Jones isn’t close to the same level as Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley and talk of him going in the top ten is premature. However, he is at the top of a list of second tier quarterbacks (including Kirk Cousins at Michigan and Austin Davis at Southern Miss) who can really pump up their tyres with a great 2011 season.  

And let’s be brutal here – if Christian Ponder can endure his 2010 season and still go 12th overall, then Landry Jones is capable of going earlier.  

It’s easy to get behind a prospect like Jones. If you pick the right weekend you’ll find a productive quarterback churning out huge yardage and winning a football game. We’ve recently seen one Oklahoma quarterback enter the league seamlessly and Sam Bradford appears set to have a long and successful career in St. Louis.  

Let’s get one thing straight right away – Landry Jones is not Sam Bradford. It’s not close. The only thing they really have in common is the color of their college jersey. I’m not saying people have compared the two, but let’s just make it clear right now that Bradford’s success should have no bearing at all when grading Jones.  

Both quarterbacks benefited from a system that often requires only one read, includes a lot of multiple WR sets and is basically designed to create an up-tempo passing offense that dominates. Bob Stoops has created a system that works, wins and makes yardage inevitable for it’s quarterbacks.  

Bradford threw 86 touchdowns in two years before injury ruined his final year in college. He won a Heisman Trophy following a 2008 season where he passed for nearly 5000 yards. Although the system played it’s part there, Bradford found a way to shine through it. People rarely talked about the offense at Oklahoma when Bradford was under center. He was completing the same swing passes, one read quick throws, mastering the no huddle offense. Yet he did it with such supreme execution and accuracy to become the #1 player among his peers.  

Jones has similarly enjoyed mass-production during his two years starting. Like Bradford he passed for nearly 5000 yards last year. However, when I watch him play I usually feel like I’m watching a productive system rather than a quarterback for the ages. Jones doesn’t shine through withrare accuracy and execution. He has decent arm strength but not a Ryan Mallett type cannon. He isn’t mobile in the pocket or a threat running the ball (Bradford was unexpectedly elusive). He isn’t making multiple reads and very often throws blind to the first scripted target.  

A fun thing to do sometimes is compare quarterbacks from previous classes to the upcoming group. We’ve heard a lot – too much – about how next year’s class is going to be so much better than previous years. Hyperbole. I would argue that a strong point can be made about the top end talent – Luck and Barkley – being a class above. Beyond that it’s just another year of quarterbacks.  

In my mind Jones is not a superior talent to Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton. He lacks the physical potential of Jake Locker, which is exciting if unpredictable. I understand why Ryan Mallett went in round three, but his on-field game is also light years ahead in my mind. Jones isn’t going to come in and light up a team with physical potential or great accuracy. He’s going to have to learn an offense that demands so much more than he’s used to (not unusual for college QB’s admittedly, but this is an exaggerated case that makes an accurate grade a real challenge). He’s not going to extend plays with an elusive athleticism. At this stage he’s a guy I could see really prospering in the right environment (eg the Josh McDaniels offense) but you’d need the system to make the quarterback, because this is not a quarterback who makes the system.  

In terms of the Seahawks I don’t think he fits their now obvious desire to make mobility a key component. That’s not to say a guy has to be Michael Vick or Vince Young running the ball, but clearly they need to have a certain degree of athletic ability. Charlie Whitehurt and Josh Portis have the 8th and 11th best short shuttle times ever recorded at the combine. Tavaris Jackson is similarly a capable mover. All three would run above-average forty times for their position.  

Jones does not fit that mantra. He’s not Ryan Mallettas a runner, don’t get me wrong. He’s not going to be out-paced by a shirtless Andre Smith in the forty yard dash. In fact Jones will make the occasional play on the ground and he’s capable with boot legs and play action. However, it’s not a striking positive to his game or necessarily what he’s about as a quarterback and I’m not sure it fits in with Seattle’s outlook.  

What I like about Jones is the fact he isn’t restricted to making several easy throws the way Jimmy Clausen was in college. It’s one of the bigger concerns I have with Kirk Cousins. Jones threw the ball on a medium level consistently well in certain games last year (particularly vs Florida State). His arm isn’t a cannon, but it’s good enough. It doesn’t look as forced going dowfield as when Cousins attempts a deep pass.  

He outclassed Christian Ponder in 2010, but looked like the second best QB when sharing a field with Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. Can he be the best quarterback on the field in every game this year? If so, Oklahoma will have a big season and we start talking about first round grades.  

But because he doesn’t have explosive physical talent or elite accuracy, you’re always going to be wondering whether he can cope with a much more demanding system and whether he’ll stand out. Teams will gamble on a Jake Locker ‘getting it’ because he looks like John Elway physically if not necessarily in his performance at this early stage in his career. Teams won’t always gamble on a guy with all the yards and scores you’d ever want, but with a lingering concern that without his vast array of swing passes and screens he’ll just be found out.

Landry Jones: further tape, analysis to come

Monday, August 15th, 2011

TMB Draft has done a good job grouping positive/negative tape from several games into packages such as below. I wanted to take a further look at Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma). A lot of people are particularly high on Jones, but I’m still not completely convinced. He’s got the physical tools but plays completely within himself allowing a productive scheme to do the talking. Sam Bradford dominated in this scheme but still shone through it, whilst Jones has coasted along riding it’s coat tails.

That’s not to say Jones can’t have a big year in 2011 and solidify a solid first round grade. However, at the moment that’s in the balance and he’s not yet worthy of being put on the same plateau as Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. He needs to be consistent, more accurate, take more chances and still limit the turnovers. It’s worth noting that the first game in the tape below is a blow out win against Florida State where Jones put on a clinic in easily his best performance of the year. I’ll put a bit more meat on these bones on Wednesday.

Josh Portis combine info & Knile Davis injury news

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

I thought it’d be worth trying to locate some information on Josh Portis’ combine performance to learn more about him. You can see highlights of his work out by clicking here. It’s interesting to note that Portis had the highest vertical jump ever registered by a quarterback at the combine. He had the 11th best short shuttle – coincidentally Charlie Whitehurst has the 8th quickest short shuttle among quarterbacks. Portis’ three cone drill was the 13th best ever recorded, tied with Blaine Gabbert. Looking specifically at the 2011 group, he ran a 4.62 forty yard dash which was 0.03 seconds slower than Cam Newton and Jake Locker. His broad jump was tied for best alongside Newton and Tyrod Taylor. Portis had the third best short shuttle and recorded the same time as Locker.

According to his agent Ray Brownell via Twitter, Portis met with twelve teams during the combine including the Seahawks. The other teams were Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Houston, New York (Jets), San Diego, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Dallas, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.

Jim Corbett at USA Today wrote this piece chronicling the progress of Clinton Portis’ cousin. Corbett notes that he was the only Division II quarterback invited to Indianapolis (he was also the first player from Cal. (PA) to receive an invite).

Once upon a time Portis was supposed to star in the same state where Clinton emerged with the Miami Hurricanes when he was recruited to the University of Florida by coach Urban Meyer in 2005. Like (Cam) Newton, Portis left Florida because he was stuck behind two-time BCS national championship quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on the depth chart.

I also thought this was an interesting quote from Corbett’s article:

Portis said he became more of a point guard-type quarterback under offensive coordinator Walt Harris in his pro-style offense.”I became more of a decision-maker, checking the ball down, making five reads, exhausting my progressions before I ran,” Portis said. Harris texted (SIC) him a message an hour before Portis came into the Lucas Oil Stadium media room Friday. The advice? “Go out there and show your stuff. You definitely have a chance to play.”

It’s worth noting that Pete Carroll worked with Walt Harris in New York and the pair competed in the PAC 10 with USC and Stanford. When you break it down it’s no real surprise the Seahawks ultimately signed the guy. Athletic potential that matches any quarterback that’s ever attended the NFL combine. California roots and the certainty that Carroll was familiar with the player at a young age when recruiting. Described as a point guard behind center, which is what the Seahawks appear to be looking for. Pro-bloodlines and of course the coaching connections between player and Seattle’s HC. In many ways it’s a perfect match.

Elsewhere there was sad news this week regarding Arkansas running back Knile Davis. An ankle injury sustained during a scrimmage session required surgery and he is set to miss the entire 2011 season. Davis recorded 1322 yards last season and notched 14 total TD’s. I had him down for a high first round grade with a combination of breakaway speed and tough, powerful running ability. He may declare for the 2012 NFL draft rather than return for his senior year, but this will hurt his stock. On the plus side, someone will likely have the opportunity to pick up a steal next April if he does turn Pro.