Young QBs getting hurt too often in NFL
By BARRY WILNER
Dec. 21, 2017
Carson Wentz , knee.
Ryan Tannehill, knee.
Andrew Luck, shoulder.
Derek Carr, leg.
Teddy Bridgewater, knee.
Deshaun Watson, knee.
Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, assorted.
That's a short list of young quarterbacks who have either missed action this season or wound up on the NFL's injured reserve.
It's too long.
Plus, there are lots of older veterans who have gone down, from Carson Palmer to Aaron Rodgers to Josh McCown. But those guys have been sidelined before, and they have bounced back.
There should be concern for the likes of Wentz and Carr and Watson and the top two picks of 2015, Winston and Mariota. They might not be properly trained to survive the rigors of NFL quarterbacking.
And there are plenty of reasons why.
"The longer you play, you understand the best ability is your availability," says Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP with the Raiders who spent 17 NFL seasons with four franchises.
Gannon doesn't think many of the QBs coming into the NFL are prepared to stay on the field. He's not talking just about wins and losses, either.
"If you really study a lot of them, they've been through significant change with the coaching staffs, the coordinators, the systems. And there is no carry-over and no continuity, and so they are constantly learning.
"While they are learning, they are not totally versed in protection schemes. When you are unsure, sometimes you make a mistake, like with (defensive) guys coming off the edge and you did not anticipate or didn't know you should anticipate it.
"Watch the masters, guys like Brady or Brees or Rivers, they don't take a lot of unnecessary hits. They see the protections, have an understanding of scheme and where they are vulnerable, where the pressure is coming from. So they get the ball out."
Another thing those vets do is throw the ball away when a play won't work. Move on to another down. Meanwhile, you haven't taken yet another hit — maybe the shot that sends you to the sideline.
"They think they can make every play," Gannon adds of the youngsters.
Since Gannon retired after the 2004 season, the demands on a college quarterback have changed so drastically that the game they play before reaching the NFL can have as much resemblance to pro football as marbles does to bowling.
For example, even passers operating something akin to a pro-style offense in school do not need to process information at the line of scrimmage. They almost exclusively work out of the shotgun or pistol. Their targets are predetermined and there is little ad-libbing. They aren't working behind center, so they don't understand the protections. And they are sketchy on functioning as pocket passers.
Their training and instincts in college lead them to leave the pocket and scramble more often than is safe when they are in the NFL.
So can it be changed to make the transition easier?
"It is not going to (improve)," Gannon says. "I don't think the college game is going to change. I think part of it is coaching — they get these kids for whatever time each week and that is it. They are not coaching them for the next level, nor is that what they are hired to do. They are coaching them to win now, to become conference champions.
"There's also a problem at our league level. You have too much turnover, coordinators are fired all the time. You could have a young guy working with a different coordinator and different system year after year.
"We also need to look at who is coaching some of the positions. You see with some (teams), quality control coaches are promoted to work with the quarterbacks, or tight end coaches are promoted to coach the quarterback. That doesn't make a lot of sense."
Oddly, the one young quarterback who shows the most promise of succeeding in a pro-style attack is Wentz, who went to an FCS school, North Dakota State. Of course, the Bison are a powerhouse at that level.
Wentz seems to understand the mechanics of quarterbacking in the NFL more than his peers.
"I really like Wentz's game, I think it is built for a lot of different styles of play," says Gannon, who had many different styles when he played.
"He can sit in there, has the strength like a Ben Roethlisberger, can shake off a would-be sack, has some quickness to him. He can find a lane and step up and then throw, and has the intelligence you like at the position, a guy who can process a lot of info and really cut down on the mistakes."
Yet, as anyone on Broad Street in Philadelphia will tell you, Wentz tore up his knee and is done for the season.