Quarterbacks are his specialty

In addition to his reputation for wide-open offense, new Alabama Head Coach Mike Price is nationally noted for his ability to develop quarterbacks. <br><br>Recently arrived Tide Offensive Coordinator Eric Price (late of the New York Jets) has watched the process closely for years.

"Part of it is the offensive schemes," Eric Price said. "But the biggest factor in developing quarterbacks is his emphasis on fundamentals and teaching quarterback play. He really works on individual drills."

There's no question that when properly executed Price's system can produce big numbers. This past season the Cougar starting quarterback threw for 3,169 yards and 27 touchdowns. By way of contrast, last season all of Alabama's quarterbacks combined passed for 2,380 yards and 11 TDs.

As a high school athlete, Brodie Croyle was rated by Price and his staff as the top quarterback prospect in the country. (photo courtesy of Jess Nicholas)

Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf are the biggest recent quarterback names produced by the system. But Mike Price is equally proud of this year's Washington State signal caller, Jason Gesser. And previous students include Jack Thompson ("The Throwin' Samoan) and Tim Rosenbach. Given Pullman, Washington's almost complete lack of attractiveness to big-time quarterback recruits, that's a remarkable record of success.

"Especially in college, if you can get a talented quarterback out of high school you can break his fundamentals down," Eric Price said. "Teach him how to throw the ball correctly. That's the key."

Mike Price's oldest son, Eric was a quarterback at both Dixie Junior College (1986-87) and Weber State (1988-89). Before joining the Jets staff he spent two stints on his father's staff. "I coached quarterbacks there for three years, and I learned everything from him," Eric Price said of his father.

Mike Price joked at his introductory press conference that "none of those guys could throw the ball 10 yards before we got them," but his history of success developing NFL-caliber QBs speaks for itself.

"You can take an average quarterback and make him good," Eric Price said. "You can make a good quarterback great."

Leaf and Bledsoe are the names most familiar to football fans, and both fit the mold of a tall, strong quarterback, capable of standing in the pocket and absorbing hits if necessary. But there is no necessary size for a successful Price QB.

"Not really," Eric Price said. "In the past he's had some bigger, drop-back quarterback. But Jason Gesser wasn't a big guy. The intangibles are what he's looking for more than a particular size."

Current Tide quarterbacks Spencer Pennington (6-4, 218) and Michael Machen (6-5, 225) fit the prototype. But Brandon Avalos (6-0, 190) would be more in the Gesser mold (though significantly faster). And current No. 1 Brodie Croyle (6-1, 200) would fall somewhere in between.

Spencer Pennington fits the mold of a tall, strong, pocket passer.

"Obviously if you're got a strong arm--are big and strong and fast--then you're ahead," Price said with a laugh.

(As an assistant for his father two years ago, Eric Price scouted Croyle in high school, rating him the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation.)

With numerous receivers and myriad pass routes constantly attacking opposing defenses, fans might assume that Price's system would be complicated to learn. But according to Eric Price that's not necessarily true. "He tries to keep it simple for his quarterbacks, so they're not confused when they come up to the line."

Scanning the defense and making appropriate audible calls will be part of the quarterback's responsibilies, but Price doesn't want his passers overanalyzing and getting out of rhythm.

Eric Price commented. "It depends. The offense will have a lot of checks based on the defense, whether the play is called from the sideline or by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. Some games the quarterback will have checks where he just looks to see how many defenders are in the box. But sometimes a defense will always line up a certain way, so you really don't need to check. You know how they're going to line up, so you just call the play. Some games the coaches will make sure we have plays that are good either way.

"You try to limit the number of checks--especially in loud stadiums."

Obviously coaches don't want to run a play into the heart of a stacked defense, but at times audibles can end up causing problems for your offensive line. Eric Price explained. "When you come to the line of scrimmage and make a check, your offensive linemen only have about half the amount of time to make their blocking calls once they hear the play. That's versus calling the play in the huddle, when they know what's going on. They have more time for it to sink in what they're going to do before the ball is snapped."

Brandon Avalos looks to pass at practice last fall. Avalos is as big as Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser, but faster and with a stronger arm.

A reliable throwing arm will always be a quarterback's most important physical asset, but where and how he throws the football is even more important. "A smart quarterback like Jason Gesser learns where to put the football, according to where the defensive back is playing," Eric Price said. "If the route is covered, then he'll throw the ball behind. It may look under-thrown, but you'll see the receiver come back to the football. The DB is looking at the receiver. He can't see the football. The receiver slows down and catches the ball for a 30-yard gain."

When working to perfection, it can turn into a cat-and-mouse game, with the cornerback playing the role of the mouse.

Price continued. "Then the next play the receiver will get the DB pinned on his inside, and the quarterback will throw it over the top of his outside shoulder on a fade.

"Then the next time after that the receiver might run right by the DB with the ball thrown out in front of him."

Facing an offense with both practiced and talented skill players, a lone cornerback in single coverage doesn't stand a chance. But the key is practice.

"There are a lot of different throws and techniques," Eric Price said. (Dad and his quarterbacks) work on that every day."


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