I’ve had a chance to watch through last night’s San Diego game again, particularly focusing on the quarterbacks. I think most Seahawks fans were intrigued to see Josh Portis perform because we know so little about him. Game tape isn’t readily accessible for California (PA) so it was a chance to see if there was some potential there or if he’d merely be consigned to the ever growing list of training camp stars who never make it in Seattle.
Due to the lack of an obvious long term option at quarterback, Seahawks fans have often latched onto these types of players. Mike Teel is a classic example, a player many hoped would develop but ultimately didn’t have the sufficient level of quality to stick. I could feel Portis’ reputation developing with every passing day at camp as fans again pinned their hopes on the Seahawks finding that elusive diamond in the rough.
It’s strange, because during my time following the Seahawks I’ve seen a fanbase that for the most part has often argued against drafting a quarterback early, using a fine tooth comb to dig out reasons not to commit a major investment at the most important position in football. Yet a lot of people also pump bling optimism into these later round guys. Is it a case of being scared of failure? Have past experiences tainted such high end investments in the quarterback position? Are we a wistful bunch who want so much to be that team smart enough to uncover the next unexpected star?
From a purely realistic view point, just like all the others the odds are severely stacked against Josh Portis making it in the NFL. That doesn’t mean he won’t make it, but if we’re being brutally honest about this situation we could well be using him as the basis for a comparison years down the line when the next candidate for the training camp All-Star team comes along. The NFL is a league built around quarterbacks and predominantly those quarterbacks are drafted early and cost a lot of money. Due to developments in scouting and simply a great access to film and games, the concept of an UDFA quarterback making it big is becoming weaker not stronger.
However, Portis at least carries some pedigree and there’s a back story to the undrafted status rather than necessarily a lack of perceived talent.
Pete Carroll clearly has known the guy a long time due to the California connections and the recruiting he did at USC. Portis has worked with people familiar to Carroll. I’m guessing the fact he’s Clinton Portis’ cousin will have generated some interest among colleges to match the potential talent. Even so, he didn’t receive an offer from USC. After jumping between three high schools due to disputes over playing time, Portis turned down a number of schools including Washington and Oregon to become a Florida Gator. He was ranked as the 5th best dual threat quarterback in his class. Like Cam Newton, he found himself buried among the Tim Tebow experience and opted to transfer to Maryland who had previously shown interest during high school.
After sitting out for a year per NCAA rules, he was caught cheating on a test and was subsequently suspended for the year. Having missed two full years of possible playing time and only experiencing limited action in Florida, Portis’ career was stalling. He transferred for a second time to California (PA) where he ended up setting a cluster of school records during two years starting. Unfortunately it wasn’t all positive as Portis was charged with theft, fraud and receiving stolen property during his time in Pennsylvania.
In many ways he’s lucky to have this opportunity. He’s a small school prospect with off-the-field history and he’s been nothing short of nomadic. I’m not privy to why he’s ended up getting this opportunity in Seattle, but my best guess is something registered with Carroll during those recruiting years. A talent not forgotten, an olive branch offered and a chance to be taken.
So here we are, back in California for the start of what is Josh Portis’ NFL career.
“Josh is going to be around here for a while so we need to see how he develops because his talent is there. We’re going to take a great look at him. He’ll play a bunch in the preseason. And he’ll play a lot in the San Diego game. So we’re looking forward to seeing him and getting him out on the field.”
– the words of Pete Carroll via Eric Williams
So how did he do against San Diego? It’s important to stress from the start that he was facing second and third string players. Even so, you can only perform against what is put in front of you and the opposition should never be used as a complete justification for a positive performance. This is all we have, we do not know how good the Chargers depth chart is and there’s little point pontificating on anything else. It’s not like he was being protected by Seattle’s best lineman or throwing to the top targets, which may have been something of an equaliser anyway.
People have justified a sloppy performance by Tarvaris Jackson because of a lot of training time and no dual threat of Sidney Rice and Mike Williams. My lasting impression after this game was a desire to see Porter have a chance to throw to those guys against a proper defense. Let’s see what he’s got.
On the night tt was a slow start best emphasised by his first throw, a looping inaccurate lob to the right hand sideline that was closer to Pete Carroll than the intended target. His second pass was on 3rd and ten at the start of the fourth quarter, again off target. On the second drive he threw too high on his third pass despite a good level of separation on a standard route from Pat Williams. Early jitters.
He flashed some elusiveness on the next play, keeping his eyes downfield as he avoided a tackle, before deciding to tuck and run. He dodged another defender with a nice stiff-arm before fumbling out of bounds. I just wonder if the frantic nature of that play enabled him to run off some energy and loosen up a bit, because on the next drive he was red hot.
Suddenly the accuracy came together and he was making it look a lot easier. A third and short play action pass to Dominique Byrd wasn’t as easy as it looked for a 23-yard gain as he stayed calm in the pocket despite an on-coming rush from the blind side. On the next play he faked a hand off to nail Ricardo Lockette for around 18-yards. A first down throw to tight end Anthony McCoy needed two reads but once he noticed McCoy open, he delivered a bullet with a perfect spiral.
We’ve talked a lot about improvisation and why I think it’s an under rated talent among quarterbacks. When things break down around you, can you still make a play? On Portis’ touchdown pass he sees little open after at least one read, jogs to the right before considering a scramble – but importantly keeps his eyes down field. The reason it’s so important is because he spots the tight end in the back of the end zone and throws a difficult pass across his body to score a TD. A lot of QB’s when scrambling put their head down and that’s it… time to run. Kudos to Portis for doing the right thing and if that comes natural to him, it’s a major positive.
The two things that impressed me most was a complete lack of tension once he settled in. Firstly, he didn’t play safe and check down despite the full knowledge this was a big opportunity for him to showcase his potential. He took a few chances (such as the TD pass) but was accurate enough to deliver on the night. Secondly, the arm strength was a huge plus point. He’s not a big guy in terms of muscle for about 6-3 and around 210lbs (may be lighter). Yet he generates a nice amount of velocity, much more than you’d usually expect for a guy who went undrafted. Having flashed a level of accuracy and poise even against third stringers and with an arm that won’t restrict him, Portis is definitely deserving of more game time during the pre-season.
It’s an encouraging debut, but not much more at this stage. As already mentioned, the odds are still stacked heavily against him ever becoming even a solid backup. His peak may be Seneca Wallace II and that would still be a big time achievement for an UDFA. Could he be the next Tony Romo (undrafted FA in 2003, since made three Pro Bowls)? We’ll have to put a check on that, but there’s something there to work with.
In fact the only knock at this stage is the fact he played for a college outfit nicknamed ‘the Vulcans’. Do they play the Klingon’s for the Starship Enterprise cup?
PS – Anyone else think receiver Doug Baldwin looks like a keeper?