This article is going to seem more negative than most, but that is the nature of this kind of evaluation. When you sit a player down after spring practice you applaud him on what he is doing well. You want them to know this, but then you get into all the areas of weakness and necessary improvement. The way to truly get better as a football player is to continue to develop your strengths, but also either fix or greatly improve the areas where you aren't as strong.
EVAN SHARPLEY, QB, 6-2, 212, Junior
- Quick, compact release
- Play-making ability
- Internal clock
I'll be completely honest here. I didn't expect much from Evan Sharpley heading into the spring. What I saw from his high school highlight clips weren't impressive, and there was no chance, in my mind, that he would have an opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback position at Notre Dame. While I still don't think he'll start, I will admit that Evan showed me much more ability this spring than I had anticipated. While I don't see Evan becoming a "playmaker" in this offense, he does possess the skills to effectively lead this offense to some victories next season.
The first thing I noticed from watching Sharpley was he really appears to be confident in himself. It doesn't appear to me that he is worried about the fact he is the only non-High School All-American type kid at Notre Dame. He carries himself like a guy that believes he can play and really battled. Many people talk about Evan having an edge regarding knowledge of the system. That is simply something I could never comment considering I haven't sat down with any of these young men or sat in any position meetings. But being in the system for two full years can't hurt at this point. Evan has a nice quick release, which is something that is huge to me. I think it's imperative in this type of offense that you be able to get rid of the ball quickly. Evan has the ability to do that. Although Evan doesn't have the strongest arm, again he showed me more than I expected to see. He won't be able to muscle a deep out, throw over top of coverage, or just gun a deep pass into a tight window, but not too many quarterbacks can. He has enough arm strength, combined with his quick release, where if he improves his timing he'll be able to be successful with almost any throw in the Notre Dame offense.
There are a few areas where I feel Evan needs improvement from a physical standpoint. The first is the quickness of his drops. I am not one of those coaches who has my quarterbacks sprinting back from center. I also don't really care about specific distances. You'll hear clinic talk after clinic talk and read quarterback book after quarterback book talk about having your player be at such and such depth on a three step, five step, or seven step drop. I don't really emphasize that. The things I do emphasize is getting a really good first depth step, being smooth, yet also having a sense of urgency getting back in your drop. To me a drop back should have some rhythm to it, it shouldn't be rushed, but you also want to make sure you are getting back there quickly. It's a pretty fine line. Evan, like Jimmy Clausen and Demetrius Jones, needs to work on getting a bigger first drop step. But more so than the others Evan needs to up his drop tempo a bit. It obviously doesn't always happen this way, but you'd like for your quarterbacks to really have a good rhythm in the pocket. From their drop, to their balance point, going through the progressions, and then delivering the football, it all should have a rhythm to it. During live periods Evan tends to get a little flat footed in the pocket and loses his rhythm. This also hurts his pocket mobility. While Evan's footwork is good, he isn't a premier athlete with great quickness. So he, as much as anyone, must stay lighter on his feet and loose in the pocket. Evan also needs to protect the football much better in the pocket. This obviously came up in the spring game, but I saw it during the practices as well. Ball security is a must in the pocket.
Timing and consistency are two areas where Evan must get better. The Notre Dame offense is a pro-style offense, and in this type of offense timing, consistency, and decision-making are HUGE requirements. They go hand in hand. You don't have to have the greatest arm in the world, but you really do need to know when to throw the ball, where to throw the ball, and be able to get it there accurately. Evan seems to be relatively accurate and has the arm to get it there, but where I see him struggling is with the when. Part of this has to do with him having poor rhythm and being flat footed in the pocket. The second part, and this is harder to tell from a far, is it seems that Evan tends to wait for guys to get open before making the throw. In college you have to anticipate the guy getting open, throw it to the open area, and then it's up to the wide receiver, tight end, or back to go make a play on the ball. Evan, Demetrius, and Zach Frazer all struggle in this department. Consistency should speak for itself. I'd take a consistent quarterback over a talented but erratic player any day of the week. If Evan is going to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, consistency has to be his strength. It's not right now.
We saw in the spring game that Evan tends to hold on to the football too long far too often. I saw this during the practice periods as well. You must know when to get rid of the ball, whether it be throwing it away, throwing to the check down, or tucking and running it. Sacks aren't always bad, and there are times when I've taught guys to take a sack. If its 3rd-and-10 at your own 40, no one is open, the pressure is coming, don't try to throw it away just take the sack.
If you try to force a throw maybe you get hit and it flutters. But at the same time you want a quarterback to have enough football sense to know NOT to take a sack when you are on the edge of field goal range. Sacks, incomplete passes, and even at times interceptions aren't always bad. But not knowing when those times are will hurt your offense.
DEMETRIUS JONES, QB, 6-4, 210, Sophomore
- Play-making ability
- Arm strength
I got what I expected from Demetrius this spring. Not there yet as a passer, but will make plays with his feet in a variety of ways. If you are looking for a guy who is going to drop back time and again, go through his progressions, be wonderfully accurate, and throw for 300 yards a game, you will not be a fan of Demetrius Jones. If you are looking for a leader, a guy with good athleticism, and a guy who will make plays with his legs and arm, then you will love Demetrius Jones. There are many ways to win championships in college, as we have seen the last few years. Demetrius Jones has what it takes to lead Notre Dame back to elite status. I believe Charlie Weis is smart enough as a head football coach and offensive mind that if he believes Demetrius is the best quarterback on the team he will build the offense around what Demetrius does best. Notre Dame can win this way.
It has been discussed at length on the various message boards as to what kind of leader Demetrius is. I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I do like the way that he carries himself on the football field. You can tell this is a young man who is supremely confident in his abilities as a quarterback. Demetrius is a very solid athlete for a quarterback. He will be able to make some plays with his feet, but what I really like about Demetrius is the fact he usually keeps his eyes downfield as he maneuvers in the pocket. This is what Vince Young did very well that made him so dangerous. If Demetrius stays with this trait he will account for some big time plays. Keeping your eyes downfield while under pressure and moving around is not an easy thing to do. One of the harder but less talked about throws to make is the deep seam route. I really like the way Demetrius throws this route. He shows good timing, good zip, and good accuracy on the seam throws. Although he has an initial hitch in his giddy-up, Demetrius shows pretty good quickness in his drops and gets pretty good depth. The one thing I worry about with Demetrius is whether or not he'll try to change his game because he feels like he has to be more like the "other" quarterbacks at Notre Dame. If he does this he has no chance of starting. What makes Demetrius a threat is his ability to use his feet and his arm to be effective. He has to stick with this whether he wins the job or not.
Although he's a very good athlete with pretty quick feet, Jones needs to show improvement on his footwork as a quarterback. With Vince Young being a rare exception, the majority of accurate quarterbacks have very good footwork. The reason is that your feet actually guide the football. I'm sure everyone, whether it be as a quarterback or baseball player, has heard a coach yell "Don't aim it, just throw it!!" Well, that's true, but if you are just throwing it, how do you know where it's going? Simply put, it's your feet. To make something relatively difficult sound easy your feet are going to guide your throw. Of the three young guys Demetrius appears to be at the bottom of the list when it comes to arm strength. I think his release has a little bit to do with that, but not nearly as much as many assume. What I see as the bigger issue is that Demetrius throws with too much arm. He doesn't get a great amount of torque with his mid-section or legs. If you don't have a strong arm you really need to use this part of your body in your throws.
As mentioned earlier, Demetrius doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but it's good enough to be very effective at Notre Dame. Where he struggles is with the timing of his throws and the placement of the football. Demetrius often seems about a second too late making the throw. This isn't uncommon for young quarterbacks, but it's something he needs to fix soon if he wants to start at Notre Dame. As mentioned earlier with Evan, you want to anticipate the receiver getting open and throw the ball there and allow him to make a play. If you wait for your guy to get open by the time you make the throw he likely won't be open any more. This also hurts him quite a bit on the deep ball. It's not that he can't throw the ball deep. It's that he throws the ball too late. He needs to get rid of the ball sooner and keep it outside. If you throw the ball late and inside it's an interception. If he improves his timing and accuracy on the deep ball it won't matter nearly as much that he doesn't have a cannon for an arm. He'll still be effective throwing deep in the drop and especially on play-action.
ZACH FRAZER, QB, 6-4, 226, Sophomore
- Arm strength
- Pocket presence
- Decision making/Consistency
When he's right, Zach Frazer looks like one heck of a quarterback. He has a tremendous arm, throws the ball with little effort, can make any throw on the football field, and has great size for a college quarterback. He throws a really good deep ball. Zach is also a much better athlete than people give him credit for. He has decent quickness and is a solid athlete. What Frazer Zach from really emerging as a quarterback prospect are the technical aspects of being a quarterback. Zach has a ton of work to do with the fundamentals of the game. That is why I feel he is far behind the other quarterbacks at Notre Dame. But with his size and arm strength, if he figures it all out, he has a chance to be a pretty solid quarterback at Notre Dame.
To be quite honest, Frazer has really bad footwork in the pocket. He is very flat-footed in the pocket, which not only makes him seem stiff, it also really hurts his ability to be an accurate passer. He now relies entirely on his arm for accuracy, which isn't going to make him very good. As he nears the top of his drop, what I call the balance point, Zach has a tendency to drop the football. This is bad mechanics and also very dangerous. Backside rushers start drooling when they see a quarterback doing this. It also causes a much longer delivery. In major college football you want to limit as much wasted movement as possible. I think these footwork issues also causes Zach to be late more often than not on his throws. When you are flat-footed in the pocket, you must then move to get in throwing position. This is going to cause you to be late.
You can never throw blind as a quarterback. It's one thing to know the offense so well that you know who is supposed to be where, and as you read the defense you throw the ball where you know your guy is going to be. If you are that good then great, do it, and you'll be good. What I'm referring to is going through the progressions and instead of finding the open guy you get rushed and just throw blindly to the flats or to an underneath guy. I saw Zach do this on several occasions that resulted in a couple of really bad interceptions and some more close calls. You have to be sure of where you are throwing the football. I'm not opposed to every now and then trying to make a play and fit a ball into a tiny area. To me that's trying to make a play, not forcing the ball. Forcing the ball in my view is throwing a ball into a covered area with little to no chance of completing the pass. Too often I saw Zach attempt to force the football. These two traits, combined with the poor timing of most of his throws, tells me that right now Zach isn't confident with the offense, his progressions, and his reads. He just doesn't look comfortable reading the defense and deciding where to throw the football. He must stay patient as a football player and a young man. He will get his opportunity. Even if he doesn't start during the 2007 season, he has enough physical ability that as he continues to learn he'll be a factor. Zach needs continue to develop better footwork and a better grasp of the offense. As he does this he'll be a much more consistent and effective football player.
JIMMY CLAUSEN, QB, 6-3, 207, Freshman
- Arm strength
- Throws a great deep ball
Of all the quarterbacks, I was most impressed with the overall package that is Jimmy Clausen. There really isn't anything Jimmy can't do. He's a good athlete with really good quickness, he has a strong arm that is going to get stronger, he is extremely accurate, and already possesses pretty good poise in the pocket. At this very early stage in his career Jimmy seems to have it all. He is the football quarterbacking equivalent of the "five-star" baseball player. If I had to guess right now I'd say Jimmy Clausen is going to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame against Georgia Tech. There is a lot of time between now and then, and each of the previously mentioned quarterbacks has the talent to not only win the job but win a ton of games, but I think Jimmy has the best chance to start.
Jimmy is much more than just an accurate passer. When I think of the ultimate accuracy guy in college I think of Danny Wuerffel. He was a guy that knew when to throw the ball and could put it right on the money. Even as a freshman Jimmy has shown great ability in this area. Not only when to throw the football, but as we saw in the spring game, when not to throw the football or to simply throw it away. But there is much more to Jimmy Clausen than just his abilities as an accurate passer. Jimmy also possesses a strong arm for such a relatively thin young man. I would venture to say that his arm as a freshman is a bit stronger than Brady Quinn's arm was at the same stage. As Jimmy continues to develop physically you'll see his arm strength continue to improve. Of all the quarterbacks Jimmy also throws the best deep ball. He shows a great knack of dropping the ball into very tight holes, keeps the ball outside, uses the right velocity on the throws, and when he misses he misses in an area where it's not going to get picked off or tipped up.
With those accolades out of the way, Jimmy is still far from a finished product. That is one misconception that was bantered about during his senior season. There is much room for growth in Jimmy's game. Not just physically but also from a technique standpoint. The initial hitch is his drop appears to have been already corrected. I would still like to see Jimmy get more depth with his first step. For some reason this has always been something I struggled as a coach getting my players to do early on. Your first step is really the only depth step you are going to have.
At times Jimmy also still relies too much on his arm and doesn't use his core enough. I'm not talking about a windup, because you rarely are able to just windup and let it rip. I'm referring to him just naturally using more torque when he throws the football, especially the deep outs and ins. Right now he tries to juice it up with his arm, which is going to cause some of his throws to flutter a bit. One area where playing on such a loaded high school team will hurt you is dealing with pressure in the pocket. Not being afraid of it, or being able to handle it, but more importantly dealing with the footwork necessary to either avoid the rush or quickly get out of your drop in order to get rid of the football. This will be an area where Jimmy will need to continue to improve, develop, and become more effective. I would also like to see Clausen not only improve his play-fakes but also do a better job of getting his head around and downfield after making that play-fake.
Any freshman quarterback is going to have a big learning curve in the knowledge and grasp of his offense. I don't care how advanced or well coached you are as a high school senior, when you come to a place like Notre Dame you are going to have much to learn. This goes for Jimmy Clausen as well. He needs to get more consistent with his decision-making. I didn't see him make many bad throws, but at times you could tell he wasn't getting through his progression fast enough. This caused him to either rush the ball which loses accuracy, he was late with the throw, or simply couldn't make the throw because the open player was no longer open. The encouraging thing is that despite that Clausen has the ability to recognize he missed the read and won't then compound the mistake by forcing the throw. As he gets more reps and more knowledge you'll see him get more comfortable and his timing get much more consistent.
That's my breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of each quarterback from my time watching them at the coaching clinic and watching their highlight films.
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