Coach's Corner: So You Wanna Be A Quarterback

In today's edition of Coach's Corner, former Ohio State assistant Bill Conley looks at the qualities and intangibles needed to play the quarterback position. He reflects on this past weekend's game against Michigan State in assessing what it takes to play the quarterback position at a high level.

As I watched Ohio State's Homecoming game with Michigan State unfold Saturday, it struck me how different the two quarterbacks on the field were in terms of style, technique, decision making, consistency, athleticism, and overall production.

The quarterback position in football is probably the most important position on the field, but the styles vary as much as the names on the back of the jerseys.

So much of the true success of a quarterback rests on the intangibles. Those who can make proper checks, show great leadership and keep their teams out of trouble are at least as important as the ones who have all of the fundamental qualities such as proper set-up, stepping up in the pocket, and a high release.

To truly be judged a successful quarterback, the bottom line is "How do you perform in the heat of battle?"

How do you react when there's at least four 270-plus pound defensive linemen rushing you? How do you change the pass protection when you read a blitz coming? How do you communicate with the wide receivers how to change a play or change their route? How do you take command of the huddle when things aren't going right or every receiver claims he is open every play? How well do you read defensive coverages and anticipate how your receivers will break off their routes? What kind of clock awareness do you have?

So much of being a great quarterback rests on the intangibles, the quick decision making, and the knowledge of your opponents. If you check the NFL rosters, you will see that there are quarterbacks who came from large Division I programs, Division I-AA's, Division II's, Division III's, and even junior colleges. There are quarterbacks who have paid their dues in NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League and the Arena League. Some have been cut or released more than once. Many are fundamentally sound but for some reason, the maturity factor or the mental toughness needed in the game has taken longer to develop, if at all.

It's a coach's dream to have a quarterback like a Peyton Manning, who possesses both the qualities of great quarterback fundamentals and great on-the-field presence. There was the great mobile quarterback, John Elway, or John Unitas, the ultimate high release fundamentalist who led the Baltimore Colts to so many victories. There was the master of quick delivery, Dan Marino, who unfortunately, didn't always have a great supporting cast.

These quarterbacks were all sound at the techniques of quarterback play and extremely talented on-the-field generals. They all developed at different times during their careers, but all are or were known as great quarterbacks.

Tom Brady was an average college quarterback at Michigan. He didn't fully develop until he got to the pros, as has Michael Vick, who has great athletic ability who is continuing to develop his quarterback skills.

On Saturday, fans saw two quarterbacks who were very different in most ways, but did show some similar qualities. Michigan State's Drew Stanton was masterful at being able to sprint out opposite his throwing arm and throw the football on "a rope" to his receivers. He also had great anticipation knowing where his receivers would be at all times. He was very good at hitting the seam route, throwing over the linebackers and underneath the safeties, and throwing back across his body to the dump routes. When he had to put the ball away for extra yardage (especially in the first half), he showed physical toughness and determination. In my opinion, he is the best overall quarterback in the Big Ten.

The area Drew Stanton needs to improve on in order to be an NFL quarterback is what to do when your receivers get re-routed. The relentless Buckeye defense with continual second-half pressure and outstanding secondary play, forced Stanton to pull the ball down quite a few times in the second half. As he matures, he will understand that quarterbacks need to see the whole field especially when primary receivers are covered or knocked off their routes.

OSU's Troy Smith showed more pocket presence than in the Penn State game. He put more touch on the ball, especially on the slant route. The long pass to Santonio Holmes showed that Troy understood that the play action would pull the Michigan State safety off the hash and allow Santonio to be uncovered as he ran vertical. Even though his overall performance was not as good as it was against Iowa, it was much better than it was against Penn State.

The one element Smith does give the Buckeyes is great leadership qualities. The players really respond and respect Smith. And when he puts the ball away to run, there is no doubt he has more of a chance to make a big play than Stanton -- as long as he secures the ball.

Smith must get better at a lot of things if he wants to make it to the NFL as a quarterback. He even needs more consistency to remain as the number one quarterback for Ohio State. Understanding coverages, seeing the field, pocket patience and pocket presence are some of the areas that need improvement. Passing touch, footwork, and timing are mechanics that need refined.

It's going to take a lot of hard work and film study for Smith to step it up to the next level of performance. He definitely has the athletic ability, the arm strength and the competitive nature you look for in a quarterback. He's got great leadership qualities and commands respect. He also has a great supporting cast with some fine receivers at Ohio State.

How far he goes as a college quarterback and what chance he has to play on Sunday afternoons is up to good old No. 10, himself, and no one else.

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley spent 17 years as an assistant coach at Ohio State. He is in his second season as a football analyst for Bucknuts.com. He will conduct his next Chat session on the site at 1 p.m. Eastern time Monday. Check out his weekly radio talk show on WTVN-AM (610) in Columbus. It airs each Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.


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