Mark Schofield: What we learned on tape about the Senior Bowl quarterbacks
“His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Senior Bowl week tends to take on a bit of a ritualistic, almost tribalistic, feel as the hours add up. One such way this is evident is in how certain media members sit in the same spot of the stadium, year after year.
For example, the great Matt Waldman, creator of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, always sits at the 30 yard line on the press box side of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, year after year, in the same row. Me? I always sit in the northern end zone, about halfway up, near the third exit ramp. Why? Because I feel that it gives me the best vantage point of the quarterback play, particularly during team drills and the seven-on-seven periods. Seeing the plays from this angle gives me a better view into the mind of each QB as they work through their reads and try to diagnose the defense and decide where to go with the football.
But there is also a tribalistic sense. One that hearkens back to the work of Golding. The film room.
Presented by XOS Technologies, the film room is a football fanatic’s dream. Five projector stations are set up with a laptop, a remote and every single moment of practice filmed from both the sideline and the end zone angles. Some drills are even filmed in with a zoomed in angle, such as the one-on-one drills between the wide receivers and cornerbacks, to such an extend that you can see in full high definition just which side of his foot – the inside or the outside – the wide receiver is placing his weight as he works into and out of a cut.
However, there is a hierarchy. One that does become a bit tribalistic in a sense. While this room is open to all credentialed media members, it is also open to NFL teams and their scouts. So if you happen to come upon a free projector, you are welcome to use it, until someone with an official NFL team pullover taps you on your shoulder and asks to step in, forcing you to step aside and relinquish the conch...err...remote, and fall subject to the whims of the NFL scout taking your place. Goodbye seven-on-seven drill, hello offensive linemen versus defensive linemen one-on-ones. So this room can get a bit cut-throat at times.
Especially on a day when practices were closed to the media due to weather, and his film is your only exposure to the day’s events.
But there I was, late on a Wednesday night, with the conch suddenly in my hands, and a wealth of footage at my fingertips.
With the power in hand, I wanted to focus on the seven-on-seven periods from each of the quarterbacks. This might seem like a narrow focus, but I had my reasoning. As stated in yesterday’s piece, the first day of practice is a baseline day. Wednesday is when you hope to see these quarterbacks putting all the pieces together, and I wanted to study this drill because I wanted to see if, without all the other distractions of a pass rush and offensive and defensive linemen in front of them, their reads were faster and they were more up to speed with their new offenses.
The results were mixed.
The South Squad
We will take these quarterbacks in order of appearance, breaking down their performance as well as what I’ll be hoping to see in the final practice sessions.
Grier was the first quarterback up, and like Tuesday, his performance was spotty. He delivered on a perfect vertical route to his teammate David Sills V, a bucket throw on a deep ball which is one of his strengths as a passer. However, Grier projects best to more of a West Coast and/or Air Raid type offense, one that thrives on the short area of the field and quick decisions in the passing game.
But on back-to-back reps, he was too slow on a slant/flat concept, with him failing to even find a wide open running back on the first play, and forcing a late throw on the second. These are the kinds of designs that Grier needs to get better at as he looks to the NFL. Heading into the final day of practice, I’m looking for him to put together the type of consistent performance one would expect from a more veteran passer, particularly on the types of plays he’d likely be asked to run in the NFL.
Yesterday’s piece focused on Minshew’s feet, and how they were tied perfectly to his eyes and his mind as he worked through progression reads in the pocket. This was again on display from the Washington State quarterback, first on a slant/flat concept where his eyes and feet were again in perfect harmony as he worked through his multiple reads, and then later on another Sticks concept where he worked the full field, before checking the ball down to his running back in the left flat. His best throw might have come on a two-man Sail concept to the left, when he threw the deeper route with perfect timing and rhythm. In my book, Minshew has posted two strong days and is in very good position to leave Mobile having vastly improved his draft stock.
If you paid attention to yesterday’s column and placed a bet on Stidham being perhaps the big riser this week, you should feel good about his performance today. He had a great throw on a slant/flat concept on the outside slant with perfect velocity and placement, but it was a read and throw he made on another short passing concept that will stick with me. Stidham was working a two-man concept between the tight end on the right and the slot receiver on the left, with the TE running a curl and the WR running a slant from left to right.
The defense dropped into a Cover 1 look, with Stidham forced to move the underneath linebacker, or “hole” defender, with his eyes. Stidham looked to the curl route and gave a little pump fake, moving the LB away from the slant, and then he drilled in a throw to the WR on the slant route for a big gain. Playing QB is all about manipulating defenders with your eyes and body, and Stidham showed it there. He continues to perform well. I do want to see him get even faster with his decisions and reads, as he was slow on an out route using an extra hitch step, and while he still completed the pass, NFL corners are taking that type of throw the other way.
After a somewhat impressive start to the week, Jackson was a bit shaky on Wednesday. His mechanics remain a problem, The straight front leg is still an issue, and don’t just take it from me, take it from Steve Axman, who literally wrote the book on passing mechanics:
..the front step is not a big step. Although each quarterback’s front step will differ in length due [to] physical differences, it must be short enough to force the upper torso to actually roll, or fall, over the ball of the planted front foot. Too big a front step forces the upper torso to position its weight toward the back foot, causing a “break” of the body at the hips. In essence, the hips and lower body are left behind as the upper torso snaps forward from the hips. This action either causes a release that is too high, thereby forcing the football to take off high, or a situation which the football is pulled down low, thereby causing a substantial loss of torque and power and a low throw. Straight-legged stepping, often associated both with overstepping and tall quarterbacks, produces the same negative pass-action results. Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics pp 44-45
Jackson will need to fix this issue, as you can see the straight leg leading to some missed throws, such as a double post route that he threw high and over the receiver’s head. He also tried to make an anticipation throw on a curl route to his right, but the throw was left too far to the inside and was broken up.
The North Squad
Early reports following the conclusion of the North team practice held that Jones turned in a great performance, despite two late interceptions. However, studying his seven-on-seven outing raised more questions for me than answers. His first play was a quick speed out to his left, and he missed the target low and to the outside.
Longtime PFW readers might recognize the bit of criticism that is about to follow: On the throw Jones stepped into the bucket, far to the left of the target line. An issue that has hurt Mitchell Trubisky at times popping up with Jones. On his second attempt during seven-on-seven, Jones makes the right decision to check the football down to his running back in the left flat, but his pass comes a bit late and he takes a little bit off the throw, and it is intercepted for what would have been a Pick Six in a live situation. Then on the next snap, Jones tries to throw a comeback route to the left side and it too is intercepted. Now granted, his receiver fell, but Jones opened to his left, stared right at that rout, and even took two extra hops before throwing the pass. Not a great start. He rebounded with a few throws late, first on a mesh concept and later on a spacing concept, but the first three throws are my big takeaway from his day.
Lock continues to turn in steady performances, and is helping himself as the week rolls on. His seven-on-seven session opened with a Mesh concept where he read the running back wheel first, saw that it was covered, and came to the crossing routes underneath before making the right decision on the play. He also showed very good placement on a shallow crossing concept later, as well as a second mesh concept where he found tight end Tommy Sweeney from Boston College with a well-placed throw. Nothing too spectacular, but a mistake-free performance.
After a solid start to his week, Finley was a bit more pedestrian on Wednesday. His first throw in seven-on-sevens was a big of a slow decision on a mirrored slant/flat concept, but his second, coming on a sprint out design, was a better example of execution. He had a nice play later in the drill, when he was forced to buy some time with good coverage downfield and made a very good throw to Jaylen Smith from Louisville breaking back toward the sideline.
One thing to note at the outset: Finley, Lock and Jones each got two different chances to run this drill. McSorley only got one. If you’re reading into the number of reps each quarterback gets, as well as their order in the rotation, this might stand out to you. But there was perhaps a reason to this. He missed his first two throws badly, first on a quick out route to his right, and then on a deep over route working off play action. He did finish with a good throw to Jakobi Meyers from North Carolina State on a dig route over the middle, but it seems the Penn State product continues to lag behind his counter parts.
The Buzz Around the Renaissance
The Renaissance Hotel, in downtown Mobile, serves as the official headquarters for Senior Bowl week. The players stay there, Radio Row is staged there, the previously discussed film room is there, and you can always bump into someone willing to talk football in the lobby or - as is more likely - in the lobby bar. Without a practice or two to attend, most of the scuttlebutt took place at the hotel on Wednesday. Of course, your intrepid evaluator kept his ears to the grindstone to pick up any quarterback buzz, and the general theme that seems to be emerging is this: Lock and Jones might very well be first round picks, but most evaluators, if forced to look at them in a vacuum, might consider them more second round quarterbacks. The issue is one of need.
With teams near the top of the draft such as the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos needing a QB, odds are that these guys will find homes early in the draft. In a quarterback thirsty league, teams will crawl through the desert to any mirage on the horizon, and upon finding only sand, they might still drink the sand, struggling to know the difference...
The Best of Mobile
If you are ever in Mobile, I cannot recommend enough Dauphin’s, a restaurant located on the 34th floor of the RSA Trustmark Bank building, one of the bigger buildings in the city. Wednesday night’s dinner there was fantastic, from the cheese plate, to the cowboy ribeye cooked to perfection, through the dessert named “Leslie’s Passion,” a “tableside flambé of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries in a Chambord & Grand Marnier sauce over vanilla ice cream.” Trust me, you will not be disappointed. Plus, Jon Gruden was there, so if it’s good for the Raiders head coach, it’s good enough for you.
Now wouldn’t you like to know what he was talking about with the rest of his table...