It’s safe to say the new regime in Seattle want their quarterbacks to move. That doesn’t mean they’re looking for the next Michael Vick, rather they want someone that can shift in the pocket. It’s not necessarily about first downs, rather avoiding pressure and being able to execute a solid bootleg or play action. When the Seahawks traded for Charlie Whitehurst earlier this year, this was Pete Carroll’s review of his new quarterback:
“The fact that he is such a good athlete, that he does run so well, that he’s got very good feet and just generally good speed for the quarterback position that we think enhances the style of play that we intend to put out there. We felt good enough about that evaluation.” – Pete Carroll
Seattle’s Head Coach has a vision for this team. Alongside offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, Carroll clearly sees mobility at the quarterback position as something to value. We’re learning quite quickly what kind of scheme fits to look at – whether it’s zone blocking specialists on the offensive line or guys who can fit at the LEO rushing position on defense. As we look ahead to the return of college football next month, it might be worth keeping an eye on quarterbacks who can move.
It may be necessary to qualify first of all the likelihood that the Seahawks would draft a quarterback next year. You have to assume Whitehurst will get his chance during the lifespan of his initial two-year contract. It’s impossible to predict at this stage how the current quarterback conundrum will play out. However – the Seahawks will know they have to find a long term solution at quarterback sooner rather than later. That could be Whitehurst, but whilst the question mark remains the team cannot leave any stone unturned. I certainly don’t think the bold move to bring him to Seattle will restrict the team from drafting a quarterback early next year, even if he starts (and wins) in 2010.
If we’re looking at mobile quarterbacks in the 2011 draft class, people will immediately think of Jake Locker. That much is obvious. However, there is an alternative option in Christian Ponder. At 6’2″ and 220lbs, the Seminoles signal caller doesn’t have the pure size that Locker owns. He’s not the same kind of athlete and he won’t break off the kind of run Locker managed against Arizona last season. Part of the appeal with Jake Locker is that he is capable of the impossible. He can beat you in so many ways and teams will love that he’s a play maker. We’ve all seen the comparisons to John Elway. That’s not what you’re getting with Ponder. He might be a more accurate and accomplished passer though.
I first saw Ponder last year in FSU’s opening game against Miami last year. He looked polished and ended with a decent stat line of 294 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He added another rushing score and a further 28 yards. I made a point of watching Florida State on two further occasions, mainly so I could keep an eye on the country’s best guard prospect (and ideal ZBS fit) Rodney Hudson. Ponder continued to stand out behind that offensive line.
If the Seahawks want a quarterback who can maintain his poise under pressure, move away from trouble and still get the pass off, then Ponder can do those things. His footwork is very good and he’s nimble on his feet. This is best emphasised on the quarterback draws Ponder occasionally runs, which obviously he won’t be doing at the next level. However, it flashes how well he moves around and whilst he might not be an explosive athlete, he’s above average for his position.
A lot of mobile quarterbacks suffer when it comes to accuracy. Ponder is maybe the exception here because for the most part in 2009 he was deadly accurate. Against Georgia Tech’s solid defense, he completed 72% of his passes for 359 yards and five touchdowns. The following week on the road against UNC’s much vaunted defense, Ponder managed 395 yards for three scores and completed 83% of his passes. For the year in general he was throwing a solid 69% completion average and threw only one interception in his first seven games. The numbers matched the viewing – Ponder is an accurate passer.
Technique wise there’s lots to like. The 22-year-old has a nice high release point and gets the ball out quickly to his receiver. He can thread passes into tight windows and perhaps most importantly, throws a catch-able ball. You’re not looking at a huge arm, but at the same time it isn’t going to hold him back. He won’t lay it out like Ryan Mallett, but neither will Jake Locker. Ponder appears to throw equally well off his front and back foot and generates a similar amount of velocity with each. If you want intangibles, Ponder has a master’s degree in just his junior year and boasts a level of intelligence and work rate others will struggle to match.
Of course, we’ll learn more about Ponder’s credentials when the new season starts. The Seminoles travel to Oklahoma in week two which will be a good test, as will the trip to Miami on the 9th October. If Ponder can lead his team to a strong year and continue his improved statistics, he has a great opportunity to earn a first round grade in 2011. In Rodney Hudson (OG) and Christian Ponder (QB), there are two prospects who just ‘fit’ with what the Seahawks are trying to build. Keep an eye on Florida State next year.