After a record-setting career at UCLA, Brett Hundley knew he had work to do in transforming himself from a spread-offense master to an NFL-ready quarterback.
To that end, Hundley spent a couple days working with Kurt Warner, a two-time MVP and a potential Hall of Famer.
“Physically, everybody knows he’s got as much physical talent as needed to be great at the next level,” Warner, now an NFL Network analyst, said recently. “The real question becomes the technique part of it. There’s some things with his technique that I thought he needed to improve on to increase accuracy and to get some of his lower body engaged in his throws — to throw with power and not just arm. With the limitations of the offense that he ran, always the bigger question to me is not so much talent but the mental side of it and being able to adjust to a pro-style system and reading through progressions and reading defenses and all of that in a few seconds. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge but I think he’s in a great situation to learn from a great one and to be able to sit and learn for some time before he’s going to be thrust into it and have to play.”
Quarterbacks who directed a spread offense in college are a source of consternation for pro scouts. It starts with the simple stuff, like calling a play in the huddle and taking a snap from center. It continues with the complex stuff, like reading a defense.
In college, if the first read wasn’t there, a spread quarterback like Hundley is apt to take off running because of his superior athleticism. That’s not going to work in the NFL. Will Hundley have the pocket presence to hang in there and look to his second and third read, and then throw quickly and accurately while being surrounded by defenders?
It’s those skills that don’t show up on tape because Hundley wasn’t asked to show patience in the pocket. Either he has pocket presence or he doesn’t. That’s rooted in DNA as much as it is learning it through coaching and experience.
“I do believe that the awareness part of it, it’s not something that you can teach,” Warner said. “I can’t teach you to feel pressure. You just do. The clock in your head, your peripheral vision, your ability to have that sense and feel is something the great ones have. The more important thing is that when you feel it, do you have the ability to make those athletic movements in the pocket? That’s what’s different for me. Being an athlete at the quarterback position is different than just being a good athlete. It’s the ability to make small, quick movements yet stay balanced.
“What you see is a lot of these guys, when they feel pressure, they’re either going to take off and try to outrun a guy or they make real big moves in the pocket instead of the small movements where they can stay compact and be ready to throw. That, to me, is what it’s all about. I can’t teach a guy to feel pressure. You either see it or feel it or that clock goes off. What you try to teach is the ability to compact your movements because very few times are you going to have a guy that just comes scot-free. Normally they’re going to be engaged with a tackle or a guard or whatever. So, a big part of it is just being able to slide and avoid so that your tackle can push him by but you stay in the pocket and in a position to keep your eyes downfield to throw.”
Scouts can look at arm strength and accuracy, Wonderlic scores and hand size. Ultimately, pocket presence is what tends to separate the good quarterbacks from the bad ones. Most quarterbacks can make an accurate throw when in a clean pocket and when the No. 1 read gets open.
Now, what happens when the pocket isn’t clean and the No. 1 read has his route derailed by press coverage?
“Ability in the pocket is huge,” Warner said. “Guys like Drew Brees manipulate the pocket as well as anybody and he stays balanced and the quick movements where a lot of guys would never get a throw off, he’s able to get a throw off and keep his eyes and make big plays down the field. Aaron Rodgers is another one of those guys that just has an amazing ability to stay balanced and throw from so many different positions that very few guys have ever been able to do. You see how it works out: 90 percent of the guys are going to take sacks in those situations or have to run but the great ones can avoid that and still make a throw down the field and give your team a big play in lieu of what would have been a negative play normally for most guys.”
The question is, does Hundley have that ability? That he threw five interceptions last season is a very good sign. That he fumbled 11 times is a very bad sign.
Warner’s not sure, not after watching him on tape and working with him for a couple of days.
“There’s a couple times where I saw some decent movement,” he said. “Again, running more of the spread-type offense, you didn’t see him really setting up and holding in the pocket and going through progressions as much as other guys. It’s hard to really get a full sense of where that’s at. That’s the hard thing. In that spread offense, it’s hard to really calculate what you’re getting as a quarterback because everything’s done so differently and it’s done based on numbers and not as much what you’re seeing from the defense and reading through progressions and changing things.
“For me, it’s hard to tell what you’re going to get but I will tell you that, on tape, I saw some of the mechanical things that I saw when I had him in person. That, I believe, becomes the key portion to pocket movement and pocket presence is being able to have good technique through that process — have good balance in your hips so you can still throw the ball down the field and staying even with your shoulders and those kind of things. I think there’s some work that needs to be done in just flat-out dropping back and throwing. That becomes even more vital when you’re playing in those imperfect worlds and you have to move and still make quick and accurate throws.”email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.