By: Scott Grizzle
QB Coach, Raceland-Worthington High School, Kentucky
As a player, I was fortunate enough to work with current Louisiana Tech offensive coordinator Tony Franklin for a ten session quarterback school in Lexington Kentucky. During that time, Coach Franklin provided me with a great deal of knowledge about playing the QB position and how to approach my role as the leader of my team. Along with Coach Franklin, I have also been influenced by my high school coach, Randy Vanderhoof, and my collegiate coach, Dane Damron, who is now the offensive coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University. Through learning from these coaches and several other outstanding coaches I have developed my philosophy for coaching the quarterback position. In this article I will go into detail about the one of the many qualities I believe it takes to sustain an effective mentality for your QB.
There has always been heavy debate over what is the number one attribute that a good QB must possess. For me, there is no debate, that quality is decision making. Having a good decision maker under center will allow your team the chance to be successful. There are a couple key components to programing your QB to be a good decision maker. The first, getting him to understand his limitations. This is called “playing within yourself”. Not every QB has a 50 yard arm, not every QB is 6”3 and can run a 4.6 in the 40. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot be an extremely productive player. It is crucial to verbally establish these limitations with the quarterback. Coaching football is about honesty, not blowing smoke. If your QB only has a 35 yard arm, make sure he understands that and make sure he knows you have a ton of confidence in that 35 yard arm and that’s why he is your QB. This will help him play within his limits and not try to exceed them. As a coach, it is our job to tweak your offensive strategy to accommodate for these limitations. For example, everyone runs the “mesh” concept. It’s a simple high-low read. The QB reads the corner route (or post) to the play side mesh. Well, if you have a QB who isn’t capable of throwing that deep route effectively, no problem.. just tell him to read the deep route as “pre-snap” read only and if he doesn’t like it pre-snap based on corner or safety alignment then once he gets the snap, he reads directly from the mesh route combination to the play side back. This eliminates him wanting to be a “gun-slinger” and trying to throw 30 yard ball that he has no business of throwing. Instead he is reading two 7 to 10 yard mesh routes and then progressing to his play side back on a swing or shoot route. Making his reads easier and taking away the possibility of him doing something out of his element makes his decision making process much easier and effective. Thus providing him with throws he can make and that will build his confidence throughout the game and the season. Another great example of this is on the “zone-read” concept. If you have a QB with limited speed, you can still run the zone-read. As long as he understands that his job is not to EVER try and outrun that defensive end or C gap defender. If he is slow then tell him he needs to think, GIVE, GIVE, GIVE every time to the back, with the only exception being that there is an absolute commitment by the C gap defender and a clearly open running lane is present. By simply thinking GIVE every time, the pressure of making a decision goes is diminished and his job now becomes to carry out an exceptional fake every time in hopes of holding that C gap defender and gaining his respect. In this scenario the defense still must respect your QB because if they don’t and they decide to totally commit to the give, then he does have the authority to pull. This way you are taking away that voice in his head that tells him he can outrun a C gap defending if he is “partially” committed. Once again, making your QB understand his strengths and weaknesses and tweaking the offensive strategy to those strengths and weaknesses will allow him to be more productive and to limit turnovers and mistakes.
Another key concept of decision making is getting your quarterback to feel comfortable MAKING DECISIONS. It sounds simple, and it is but it is also an area that is overlooked. The way I implement this strategy is to constantly have my QB making decisions in practice. In drills, he is rarely just throwing or going through footwork. Most of the time he is throwing based on a decision making process, or using footwork based on a decision, not simply just going through a set of agility cones or a three step drop type scenario. For example, when we practice in-pocket football during our individual period, I use a drill that provides a variety of rushers and angles so that my QB has to make a decision about sliding up, stepping back, or sliding left or right in the pocket. The “point-and-slide” drill is well, pointless, if all he is doing is stepping in the direction you tell him to. He won’t do that in a game, so don’t do it in practice. Force him to slide in the pocket based on a true in-game look. Therefore always making him use his mind to make a decision about where to slide in the pocket and giving the drills you do in practice a chance to help him in a true in-game scenario. Along with incorporating a ton of decision making drills into your practice, incorporate decision making into your meetings and every day conversations. Make him get on the dry-erase board and draw your schemes, give him verbal scenarios about coverage, blitz looks, down and distance, and time management. Make him constantly make decisions and make him understand why those decisions are either good or bad. The more comfortable he gets with constant decision making during practice and meeting the more confident and comfortable he will be at making those during a game.
Lastly I want to discuss how the idea of making your QB have a “short-term” memory. This is critical because being the decision maker of the offense will inevitably lead to him making some bad decisions. When that happens he must learn from them and MOVE ON. Dwelling on past wrong decisions, bad throws, bad pre-snap reads, bad protection calls and so on will only cripple his ability to make good decisions later in the game. You must instill the “PLAY THE NEXT PLAY” mentality in your QB. Whether he makes a great play or a bone-head play, he must understand that it’s behind him and all he that matters is the NEXT offensive possession. He must take responsibility for his mistakes but not beat himself up over them, the greatest QB’s in the game make mistakes every Sunday. It’s not a game of perfection; it’s a game of improvement.
I hope that this article conveyed the importance of getting your QB to be a productive decision maker. By allowing him to fully understand his abilities and his weaknesses, by constantly putting him in decision making circumstances and by getting him to have a short term memory, you can develop a great decision making mentality in any quarterback and allow him the chance to be a productive leader for your offensive attack.