Stronger armed Brink zeros in on 'play side'

THE COMPARISON IS A STARK one. There is something different, noticeably and undeniably, about the way Alex Brink is throwing the pigskin out on the Palouse this summer. We had begun to hear whispers several months ago from those with boots on the ground in Pullman. Ever since, those murmurs have been growing into a strong-throated and insistent anthem. And then we saw the photos.

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Brink actually has a stronger arm than what Cougar fans have seen. But through '06, Brink's velocity has been a product of virtually only his arm. Throwing all-arm negates not only zip, but accuracy, too. Brink, however, has made some changes this summer.

In the photos that follow, casual observers might not recognize some marked differences but discerning eyes will -- and in a number of areas.

At the release point, Brink's arm is several inches more vertical than in the 2006 game photo. And instead of standing tall in the '06 shot, Brink is substantially bending to the opposite side from waist up. This has two drawbacks -- it hurts both accuracy and velocity. And if in your mind's eye you were to straighten Brink up in the '06 photo until he is standing tall, what happens to his arm and elbow? They both drop, precipitously.

Ideally, the elbow should be above the shoulder at the release point. An accurate ball with some heat on it doesn't mean much if deflected at the line, something Brink has had trouble with at times in the past.

Although the skelly shot is cut off, you can still see a big difference when comparing Brink's hips and legs. In '06, the lower body remains very much open. Precious little of that '06 throw has been generated from his hips and legs. It's all arm. In the skelly shot, the hips and legs have rotated substantially and powerfully, generating some good ol' fashioned mustard on the pigskin.

CRITICS WITH A discerning eye will charge that Brink's arm at release, although appreciably higher than '06, could be higher still.

That's true.

It's also true there are a few QBs who have done okay employing something in the ballpark of a "3/4 delivery." Among the keys for successful QBs at 3/4 is the aforementioned relation of the elbow to the shoulder at the release point. Consider the following:

THE RELEASE POINT and arm angle are not, however, the only keys. For the above QBs pictured next to Brink, all in the NFL Hall of Fame or on their way, each excels or excelled in other fundamental areas.

They incorporated their body -- hips, legs and shoulders -- and took the stress out of their arm. Because along with the arm itself, the hips, legs and shoulders are the other part of the equation, both in terms of accuracy and in putting some heat on the ball. Compare these photos of Brink, again one from '06 and one from last week.

Brink's hips have rotated through substantially more in the shot on the right. Also, his throwing shoulder rotation and shoulders turn is much more pronounced. And his legs are in the correct position, with his right pointed directly at the target.

THAT BRINGS US to the concept of feet, and in particular, how it relates to the QB throwing to the 'play side.' It's a simple concept -- 'play side' refers mostly to the diagonals and crossing routes, and throwing to the play side doesn't impede the progress of the receiver or appreciably slow him down.

According to the players we've talked to, no one works harder than Brink. Yet because of his mechanics, Brink through his junior year has had trouble consistently hitting his targets on those diagonals -- Michael Bumpus has had to reach behind, or make a great diving catch on such a route, too many times.

And when you throw it play-side, yards after catch skyrockets and the proficiency of the offense right along with it. Think about how improvement in just that one single area would affect the offensive production and flow of the game.

The best ever at throwing play-side, allowing his receivers to take the diagonal route and football in stride, was Joe Montana. Why that was, the secret of how Montana was able to consistently do it, was in his feet. Set the feet quickly, gauge where the receiver is going, and step to that. This summer, Brink has.

VAST CHANGES can also be found in the follow through -- more important than many realize. It's like golf. How a golfer finishes the stroke influences what happened previously -- i.e., the finish provides a virtual roadmap to what preceded it, at the top, downswing and at impact. Once more, to the photos.

Although the '06 photo is at a slightly different angle, look at the differences in the rotation of Brink's throwing shoulder, the turn of the shoulders, trunk rotation, hip rotation, leg rotation.


And consistent, as evidenced by the next two photos. One is the same shot as above, with both photos below showing a nearly identical follow through on two separate passes.

Brink's reverse rotation of the wrist is also worth mentioning. It's about stepping right at the target and following through, the shoulder simply rotates, the wrist and hand do the same, and the shoulder then moves across the body.

Brink these days is stepping to the receiver's play side -- and not outside his body, not across his body, nor is he throwing across his body, with the aforementioned seen at times in the past.

Nolan Ryan got his power from his legs, and from proper mechanics. The same holds true for a quarterback.

Some insist a more overhand delivery is actually a slower release than one thrown more to the side. Not true. When your feet are in synch and your body is in sync, a steeper, overhand delivery is the most efficient, quickest and powerful delivery possible -- because it gives you the most leverage with the least amount of effort and resistance.

THERE ARE those who will insist a QB can't change his fundamentals late in the game. And many can't. But John Beck did. Before his senior year, the BYU QB wasn't on anyone's board, at best an undrafted free agent pick up. Beck suddenly discovered newfound power in his throwing motion with changes to his fundamentals, had a good senior year and skyrocketed to Round 2 of the '07 Draft.

In Brink's favor, in addition to the results seen thus far, is that he's both very bright and very athletic. He's proven over his career he can assimilate new concepts quicker than most, and he possesses an advanced football acumen.

Now that he has found the right keys -- standing tall and training himself through repetition and muscle memory -- and unlocked a door, the guess here is he won't let it shut. Beck and JaMarcus Russell didn't, with the latter making monster changes in his fundamentals in even less time, after his last collegiate season and before the draft.

There's also the leadership factor. Players in the past have unequivocally given Brink high marks for leadership, but it was also a quiet leadership, one built on example. That dynamic has shifted. According to Cougar players, Brink has been much more vocal and proactive since last year came to a close, more so than ever before, and has clearly with both hands seized the mantle.

STILL, SOME WILL remain unconvinced. While grudgingly acknowledging as positives the photos and changes present, they'll want to see the differences play out in a game, and have them lead to a win or two, before they buy in.

And they're right.

The author of this article published a piece last summer opining that Brink was poised to 'blow up' his junior year. While Brink was named second team All-Pac-10, put up some impressive season stats and individual performances like the one at UCLA, he didn't excel to the level the article forecast. And though Brink received a hugely disproportionate (and lasting) amount of blame for any and all Cougar losses the past few years, he's the quarterback. Criticism, including that which is superfluous, comes with the territory.

At the same time, when considering all that's been coming out of Pullman this offseason on Brink is combined, only the inert could refuse to acknowledge it. As it continues to reach our eyes and ears with ever-growing frequency, it has become too loud a chorus to be ignored.

Ask a dozen people why Brink didn't perform to their expectations last year and you'll probably get a dozen answers. The view here on what was most responsible? The fundamentals.

If Brink realizes the work he's already put in on that score -- and the work he needs to continue to put in during fall camp and throughout the season -- can, and will, translate into significant returns, it is going to be a good year indeed for the Cougar offense. Just one more storyline to savor as the '07 season draws nigh.

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