2011 Cyclone Quarterback: It's about sophistication

It's been a while since I've posted, but with no bowl game and the off-season I don't feel like there's been much to talk about in terms of the Cyclones. I have, however, been paying attention to what Paul Rhoads has had to say about his Quarterbacks.

There's been debate about which of the four prospects is the most athletic? Who is the best passer? Do any of them understand Tom Herman's version of the "Spread" Offense?


Honestly, I don't care about any of those questions.

I care about which of the four is the most sophisticated. Who understands the fundamentals of the quarterback position? Recently, I read an article on the blog Smart Football where the author was talking about Cam Newton and his sophistication level as a quarterback and how that related to his NFL Prospects. He referred to Chris Petersen's developmental cycle for Quarterbacks:

 

Chris Petersen of Boise State once set forth his view of a quarterback’s development as follows:

  1. Strict progression. Tell him to read first receiver, second receiver, and then third receiver — and then run like hell if they aren’t open. In Petersen’s view, if they don’t know anything else they can know, by rote memory, who they are supposed to throw to. This doesn’t require them to have any advance knowledge of the defense and it is where every quarterback begins.
  2. Progression with coverage keys. The same progression concept as above except that the progression and sequence of receivers is determined by what the defense is doing. How many safeties are there? What kind of leverage are you getting from the cornerbacks? Is it a blitz? Is it man or zone? Once you’ve determined that, it’s one-two-three.
  3. Coverage reads. This is the advanced NFL stuff: Tom Brady sees the defense doing X, so he looks one way and then rifles it back to the receiver he always knew he was going to because he understood the coverage, he understood the technique the defense was playing, and he understood the theory of the play he was running. There are few, if any, college quarterbacks who ever do this kind of thing.

 

Let's think about what Coach Petersen had to say for a moment and how we might apply it to Iowa State's recent Quaterbacks.

  • Seneca Wallace - Seneca Wallace has achieved near mythological status to the fans of Iowa State, it wasn't just his talent, he made us believe that Iowa State could actually be a football team and weren't a bunch of fluffy bunnies that Iowa beat every year. His most famous play "The Run" was undoubtedly impressive, but was, ultimately, a function of his athleticism, and not the mark of his sophistication as a quarterback. Here's a Seneca Wallace highlight reel and each of the plays you see him make in a Cyclone uniform have nothing to do with any of the points mentioned by Coach Petersen. Having watched him in action from the stands during my own college days, he constantly impressed me with his ability to make difficult throws, often from the wrong foot, with a high degree of accuracy, but there's no way he progressed past Stage 1.
  • Bret Meyer - Everyone wanted Bret Meyer to be the re-incarnation of Seneca, but he wasn't. In my mind he was slightly more sophisticated of a quarterback, in that he had a better understanding of the mechanics of how to be a passing quarterback. This video shows his favorite target, Todd Blythe, and how they worked together to push each other to greater heights. Again, watching the plays in the highlights, I don't see any indications of Bret Meyer moving to Stage 2, though he was undoubtedly a solid Stage 1 QB.
  • Austen Arnaud - Say what you want about Austen, but he could read defenses better than either of his predecessors. What decisions he made based on those reads, however, weren't always optimal. Like Bret Meyer, he was a solid Stage 1 Quarterback who started showing inklings of the ability to move to Stage 2 in 2009 and 2010. The most frustrating part about Austen was that you knew the ability was there, but that consistency was always an issue.

So where does that leave us for next year? What Iowa State needs is not just a Quarterback that Tom Herman runs from the sideline, but a true Stage 2 QB. What does that look like? Compare these two vidoes:

Ryan Mallett - Consider, for a moment, Ryan Mallett, the former QB for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Behind his Arkansas drawl and respectful "Sir"s to John Gruden, he shows an incredible understanding of the Offense he ran. At 2:05 he talks about one of the plays they used to run. Pay particular attention to when he mentions the "hot" reads based on what coverages he see's. This is the best definition of a solid Stage 2 QB ready to move on to Stage 3 in the NFL. There are differences, he's more of a pocket passer/NFL style QB, but the play they're running is almost identical to a play ISU runs. In fact, when ISU scored it's only touchdown against OSU in 2009, this is the play they ran, hitting Alexander Robinson on the wheel route when coverage didn't pick him up.

Cam Newton - Now compare this video to the previous one. Cam Newton looks lost talking about complicated plays and reads. He's even more freakishly athletic than Seneca Wallace, but when you get right down to it, isn't a sophisticated quarterback. "Simple = fast" he says, and it's true, but in a conference dominated by passing ability, like the Big, give me Ryan Mallett any day.

For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to focus on what I believe to be the two most likely prospects at Quarterback for 2011, Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz.

Jerome Tiller - I can't shake the feeling that every time Tiller took the field over the last two seasons, it was instantly apparent that Tom Herman didn't trust him. Tiller ran the plays, but Tom Herman called them. There was no variation, no improvisation, and certainly no reading defenses. Tiller is an entry level Stage 1 Quarterback. Can he prove himself to be more than that this fall? I don't know, and it's frankly a terrifying feeling.

Steele Jantz - The guy has a cannon of an arm and appears to read the defenses reasonably well in the highlight reel. The question really becomes, how that translates to him being able to read Big 12 defenses. You'll notice that he appears poised and calm in the pocket in the video, even when scrambling. How much of that had to do with his level of competition? I don't know. I also don't know if he's picking up Tom Herman's offense at the drop of a hat either, but from some of the comments from Paul Rhoads, my guess is no. Still, I think Steele brings more cards to the table in terms of Quarterback development and potential, and I'd like to see him develop into the level of intelligence Ryan Mallett showed in his interview with Jon Gruden. If he does that, he'll be dangerous.

Only 129 days until we find out.

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