Nittany Notes: Morelli's Progress

Nine games into his first season as a starter, quarterback Anthony Morelli has had his ups and downs this year. Getting thrown onto the national stage early on, Morelli has made progress as helmsman of Nittany Lions. But just how much progress has he made? FOS talks to a variety of practice observers to get their view on the quarterback.

Statistics

There's no doubt that expectations at Penn State were sky high for the junior quarterback Anthony Morelli, who was an Elite 11 selection and Scout five-star prospect out of high school. Here are how his numbers stack up through his first nine games:

Completions/Attempts: 146/267 (54.7%)
Passing Yards: 1,683
Touchdowns/Interceptions: 7/6
Sacks/Lost Yards: 12/101

Clearly, Morelli has struggled and succeed throughout the course of the season.

Let's compare the first half of the 2006 season with the latter portion. Here are his numbers through the first five games of the year against Akron, Notre Dame, Youngstown State, Ohio State and Northwestern:

First Five Games

Completions/Attempts: 83/150 (55.3%)
Passing Yards: 943
Touchdowns/Interceptions: 4/5
Sacks/Lost Yards: 3/19

Last Four Games

Completions/Attempts: 63/117 (53.8%)
Passing Yards: 740
Touchdowns/Interceptions: 3/1
Sacks/Lost Yards: 9/82

Per Game Comparison

Below are the numbers comparing his "per game" performance through each portion of the season:

Passing

Portion 1: 16.6/30 (53.5%) Portion 2: 15.8/29.3 (53.9%)

Yards

Portion 1: 188.6 Portion 2: 185.0

Touchdowns/Interceptions

Portion 1: 0.8/1 Portion 2: 0.75/0.25

Sacks/Lost Yards

Portion 1: 0.6/3.8 Portion 2: 2.25/20.5

So, statistically there is no major change in Morelli's per game completion rate, yardage or touchdowns. However the two areas that stick out are his interception rate, which has decreased 75 percent, and his sack rate, which has increased 275 percent.

Game Observations

Since statistics don't always tell the complete story, we also went to a variety of practice observers who have seen Morelli's progress throughout the course of the season in drills and workouts. Here are their comments and observations:

Dropbacks: The consensus about Morelli is that he has a strong dropback stride, keeps up on his toes and sets his feet with a strong base to deliver his throws. "You don't see him throw off his back foot or not follow-through," one observer explained. "He sets well and uses his legs to put power into his passes — a lot of QBs mistakingly think all their power comes from the arm or shoulder."

In terms of weaknesses, as one observer shared, "Anthony needs to improve on staying in his space in the backfield. There was a fantastic example of this in the Purdue game, where he killed a play by running into Tony Hunt. He is not always aware of his surroundings and I think he expects guys back there to stay clear of him — it doesn't work that way."
Dropback Grade: B

Footwork: Morelli's footwork is described as "dynamic," "continual" and "perpetual," meaning he is contiunaly moving his feet and is "nimble with his footwork generally." He is "on his toes" and "shifts his feet with his shoulders," which said to be something a lot of quarterbacks don't do well.

"He's always had good footwork and keeps his balance very well in the pocket. He doesn't shift his weight around — a lot of guys do this, which is why many QBs struggle with throwing off their back foot — he makes sure he is planted before delivering a pass."
Footwork Grade: A

Mechanics: Said to be among Morelli's greatest strengths, "he delivers a ball as well as anyone." As one observer said, "He's fluid in his motion, he keeps his elbow square and is smooth in his shoulder rotation. He releases at the apex of his motion and gets his wrist into the pass to make the pass crisp."

As another observer explained, "I don't think anyone can argue that Anthony's mechanics are a weakness for him. It goes beyond arm strength — he knows how to use his legs, torso, arm and shoulder to put energy into the ball."

Mechanics Grade: A

Awareness: This is an area where most feel Morelli needs to improve, particularly with the "consistency issues the offensive line has had." As was explained previously, Morelli has issues with his awareness of others in the backfield, but more importantly, "he doesn't check his backside consistently. He needs to be aware of cracks in the pocket."

As another observer said, "He not only needs to be aware of his surroundings, but he needs to understand that one step can play a big role in giving him time. When things break down he looks to roll out — he needs to step up into the pocket to cut off pursuit angles and limit his exposure. Stepping up into the pocket will give him more time and protection."
Awareness Grade: C-

Progression: Morelli has made "impressive improvements on his reads and using his progression." He's clearly looking at a variety of receivers and has "reduced his tendency to lock on to a target."

However, as one observer explained, "If you watch him in pressure situations where a completition is critical, he tends to toss his progression out the window. He finds the target or route he is most comfortable with and stares it down and will deliver that ball come hell or high water — no matter if it's single, double or triple coverage. He has gotten better at running through [his progression] and throwing balls away when the pressure is light, but when it comes down to a must-have play he forces it."

In terms of his reads, "I think they are better," one observer said. "He waits for the receiver to break more often than not now. Early on he would just throw the ball to a point and depend on the wideout to get there. Now he is watching the coverage and eyeing any holdups the target may have and compensating more."
Progression Grade: C+

Decision Making: Morelli has had strengths and weaknesses with this aspect of his game. "I really think the Michigan game taught him a lot. He saw what an impact those sacks had on the team's performance. If you watch the games that followed that (Illinois and Purdue), if there is nothing there, he's not afraid to just get rid of the ball.

"What he needs to really focus on is eliminating the forced balls. If I am an opposing defensive back I am salivating at the situation where he's in a two-minute drill and has to make a play. Given his tendencies he is going to throw and he is going to throw it to the wideout no matter how many guys are around him."

Morelli has "gained some trust with using his checkdowns," something he seemed hesitant with in earlier games.
Decision Making Grade: B-

Leadership: "He's not the most vocal leader, but he has taken command of the huddle. He has a calm demeanor and can show intensity," according to one observer.

"Personally, I think he needs to be more vocal with the players around him. For instance, he tells the guys to shake off all the dropped passes lately — to me he should be on them. Get inside their helmet to pull in those balls," another observer shared.
Leadership Grade: B-

Overall: Here are how Morelli's progress report looks overall:

Dropbacks: B
Footwork: A
Mechanics: A
Awareness: C-
Progression: C+
Decision Making: B-
Leadership: B-

The average of his grades overall is just shy of a B, so clearly he has work to do on some aspects of his game, but appears to be showing improvement in a variety of areas.

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