Mar 31, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) waits for the snap during the 2012 spring game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
Football season is inside 100 days away now. The doldrums of Spring/Summer are upon us, and we play the waiting game with the 2012 football team and what will become of them. Soon enough freshmen will report and practices will begin. We saw some depth chart movement in the Spring, but many position battles are still yet to be determined. All of this is to come and will be discussed in great length.
But for now, we dig into recruiting. Recruiting typically peaks a few times throughout the year. There is, of course, the race to National Signing Day from January on. There are in-season recruiting visits, sure to make your head spin. Yet, a lot of the heavy lifting is done in the summer. The coaches have more time, and it's typically their only chance to lay eyes on a player in a personal setting. They can coach them up and see if they have the tools they are looking for. What are these tools? That is what we hope to explore in this series.Using past recruiting classes and known offers, I will attempt to hammer out exactly what the LSU coaching staff is looking for from each position, from size to athletic ability to any other potential variables that may be taken under consideration. This began as an open-ended exploration of how we've recruited at LSU and what that may mean for remaining targets in the 2013 class but was interrupted by the commitment of Hayden Rettig.
Let's start with the size component. Size is oft-analyzed attribute with quarterbacks. NFL executives and scouts make hay about "prototypical size," which is generally considered somewhere between 6'2"+ and something around 235-260 pounds. Anything shorter, and questions begin to fly and stocks begin to fall. Yet, there are several who break the mold. Drew Brees is the finest current example. He stands at around 6'0" and yet faces little difficulty succeeding. For shorter types, mobility is essential. The NFL is chocked full of 6'5+ tall OL and making sure your throws can get over them is important. If you can't get it over them, you have to get it through them... which is accomplished by being nimble in the pocket (read: this doesn't mean Mike-Vick athleticism) and creating throwing lanes in that manner. For college, shorter guys are less restricted. Plenty of short quarterbacks have had tremendously successful careers (Russell Wilson and Chase Daniel come to mind).
All that being said, where does Les Miles fall on this paradigm?
Here are all the Quarterbacks who have signed with LSU in the Miles era, along with their listed height/weight:
Ryan Perrilloux - 6'2", 225
Jarrett Lee - 6'2", 215
Jordan Jefferson - 6'5", 225
Chris Garrett - 6'4", 220
Chris Garrett - 6'4", 220
Zach Lee - 6'4", 195
Jerrard Randall - 6'2", 195
Stephen Rivers - 6'6", 190
Zach Mettenberger, 6'5", 245
Jeremy Liggins - 6'3", 270
Names are unimportant, but here are the heights of the other QBs we recruited from 2006 on: 6'0", 6'3", 6'5", 6'4", 6'6", 6'3", 6'3", 6'5", 6'2", 6'3", 6'3", 6'4", 6'3", 6'1", 6'5".
From this we can certainly glean that Miles prefers height. He offered only two quarterbacks listed under 6'2". The rest range from 6'2" to 6'6".
Billy, how important do you believe height is to Miles' formula? Is this indicative of what he prefers or merely a byproduct of the lack of choices?
Most coaches tend to treat height like a given, and if a QB isn't at least 6-2 or so they're going to get scrutinized a little bit. Now, things like height and weight are mostly guidelines, and coaches will always make exceptions when they really like a kid, but if they're given the choice most would like their passer north of that 6-2 mark, especially as offensive linemen get bigger and taller. But I don't think it's a set-in-stone rule with anybody, nor is it with Miles.
A shorter QB may have a higher burden of proof with regards to his other attributes, but that's true with all quarterback qualities. A 6-5, 240-pound guy like Zach Mettenberger better have a big arm, because chances are he's not going to be a break-away runner, and conversely a 6-2, 200-pounder with a weaker arm better offer you those quick feet. I don't know that LSU would never offer a shorter recruit, but a player like that is definitely going to have to excel in the other areas of the game.
Coaches are generally pretty pragmatic. Most will want a taller quarterback so they don't have to worry about his field vision, but there are always degrees involved and if a recruit has every other quality you look for, height won't be what determines his offer. And I think that applies to most other positions as well.
The pragmatic approach is definitely the most probable.
I do think Miles prefers, if not insists, tall QBs. Lee, Randall and Perrilloux were all likely closer to 6'1", but that's still adequate height. I'm not sure we'll ever see him take a guy who is 6'0" or under. Yet, height isn't the only determining attribute. The popular meme nowadays is that Miles wants a "dual threat" guy. Many LSU fans have taken this and run with it in all sorts of zany directions, including disqualifying all QBs with running ability by labeling them the next, "Jordan Jefferson." Any logical fan knows that just as not every "pocket passing" QB is Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, not every "dual threat" QB will be Jordan Jefferson. Hell, the previous two Heisman winners both had running ability and both went high in the NFL Draft (with one having an immensely successful rookie season).
Miles gets raked over the coals for his decision to play Jordan Jefferson over Jarrett Lee, particularly in the National Title game, but in his opinion Jefferson gave the team the best chance to win. That opinion may be wrong. It may have been misguided. There are a seemingly infinite number of variables involved, and we will likely never know the true extent of why. That being said, while Lee had a solid stretch over the first eight games in 2012, it's not as if Miles was benching a legend for a nobody. I do think Jefferson's mobility played into the decision, though I don't believe it wasthe deciding factor. He clearly didn't trust Lee's decision making as much as Jefferson's. Whether you or I or the rest of the world disagree with him, is irrelevant. It was the decision he made.
All that being said, the point here is just how much does Miles value mobility? Judging by those he recruited, not heavily. Of the nine quarterbacks LSU has signed since 2005, five have been pure pocket passing types with next to no mobility. Of the other four (Perrilloux, Jefferson, Randall and Liggins), Jefferson actually played in more of a pocket-passing pro-style attack, while RP and Randall threw and ran in equal amounts. It could even be argued that Jeremy Liggins is the only prospect who was explicitly a runner coming out of high school.
To me, it seems the idea that Miles wants a dual-threat QB is overstated at best, an absolute myth at worst.
First off, it really needs to be said that just about every head coach would prefer a quarterback that has some mobility. I kind of hate the term "dual-threat" for that very reason, because it's very much a degrees thing. Nobody would call Andrew Luck a "dual threat" guy, but there's a reason why he was graded so highly as a prospect, and it wasn't just that he was such a gifted passer. It was that on top of being such a gifted passer, Luck is a heck of an athlete that can attack a defense in a lot of different ways. The throwing ability certainly comes first, every coach looks at the arm before they look at the feet (unless you're running a pure option scheme). But with the kind of athletes we see on defenses these days (especially in the SEC) having a complete statue in the pocket is simply too limiting for an offense. It isn't even about being able to run the option or break off long runs like a Cam Newton or a Pat White; it's about being able to throw on the move, from multiple platforms, and extend plays or improvise when things break down. When you have to complete against defenses armed with the Tyrann Mathieus, Jarvis Jones and Sam Montgomery's of the world, you want to have as many weapons available to you as possible. If you're comparing two players, and their passing abilities are relatively even, the more athletic player is always going to win out.
Now, as I've said before, I tired of the Lee/Jefferson debate a long time ago, for a number of reasons. But chief amongst them was the simple fact that neither one was really that good, and that, regardless of which one was in the game, LSU was forced to coach around significant gaps in their quarterback's skillset. It wasn't about "dual-threat" versus "pro-style"; it was about trying to make a passing game functional out of spare parts. I've seen a lot of people on message boards dismiss every dual-threat recruit as "another JJ," and that is epically stupid. There's nothing wrong with a mobile quarterback. Jefferson's problem wasn't his mobility, it was his ability. He wasn't very good, whether he was running OR throwing. Neither was Lee. LSU is, and should be, trying to recruit the best quarterback they can. Fans should stop worrying about style and start focusing on ability. And saying that LSU should stop recruiting mobile quarterbacks based on the Jordan Jefferson experience would be just as stupid as refusing to recruit Destrehan High School for that reason.
And we can go back to our regularly [redacted] programming.
Great points all around. We've covered size; we've covered mobility. Let's talk about the QB's golden ticket: His arm. Arm strength is often one of the most misunderstood abilities a QB can possess. Many, many QBs can throw the ball 60, 70 yards in the air. That's not a great indicator of arm strength. In fact, you could contend that touch is vastly more important on deep balls than pure strength.
A real measure of arm strength is the deep out. It's probably the toughest throw in all of football. You are often throwing from one hash to the other side of the field. You can't loft it. You rarely have a chance to drop it in. It needs to be thrown with gumption. Miles (like any good coach) will of course tailor an offense to what a QB throws best. Not to trudge this up again, but one reason Miles likely stuck with JJ is that he did have a stronger arm (forget accuracy and decision making here). Lee's arm, which was adequate but not great, pigeon-holed him into certain routes. I don't think he could safely make the deep out. This is why so much attention is given to guys who can "make all the throws." It opens the offense to new levels.
Yet, it seems Mettenberger may be the strongest-armed QB recruited in the Miles era. Jerrard Randall could challenge, though he's wildly erratic (at this point). Flynn and Jefferson's arms were above average. Lee's was adequate. Rivers, I can't get a real read on, but I don't think it's anything unique.
How high of a priority is this to Miles? QBs are tough to find in general, so you can't be too choosy with arm strength, but he does seem to avoid soft-tossers for guys who can put at least a little zip on the ball.
It's more about RPMs than distance. Being able to squeeze the short passes is kind of the arm-strength base-line, and then after that you look for accuracy and touch. Lee was a good example of a guy that couldn't really power the ball down the field 50, 60 yards, but could (when he was on) really zip those slants in between the corner and outside linebacker.
But don't get me wrong, a big arm is great. Elite arm strength in a quarterback is kind of like elite speed in a wide receiver. It can get overestimated as a necessity, but its a fantastic luxury when you have it. Coaches love being able to attack the entire field, both horizontally and vertically, and that's what a big-time arm talent allows you to do. As much as we think of distance down the field being where it pays off, its more about things like being able to really get the ball to the opposite sideline when you're on the far hash, or being able to move the pocket and throw on the move, when a quarterback can't really step and get his whole body behind the ball. That's why the Jamarcus Russells, Ryan Mallets and Zach Mettenbergers of the world will always be valued, and occasionally, over-valued.
Coaches will never admit this (and fans hate to hear it because it's not as good of a story) but if you give them the choice between the smart, plucky overachiever and the talent that sometimes causes headaches, most of the time they'll go with the talent. Mack Brown, for example, in March of 2005, would've swapped Colt McCoy for Ryan Perrilloux in a heartbeat. Sure, it all worked out, but at the time the two players committed he would've swapped them straight up. Part of this is ego - coaches always think they can get through to the head cases and smooth out the rough edges on the guys that need a lot of refinement. And part of it is at the end of the day they all know that the team with the best players usually winds up winning. And that's why you see so many good, smart coaches (and NFL GMs) occasionally seduced by the guy that can throw it a mile.
Hell, I can cite another Mack Brown example: Major Applewhite. All Applewhite did in his career was succeed, yet he was displaced by a "more talented" Chris Simms, who was never able to match that success. The talent seduction.
Realistically though, we're getting at one point here, and that's coach-ability. I think any great QB needs to be a bit cocky. That will get them in trouble sometimes, but it will also win them games and the respect of their teammates. It's cliched to talk about, but the truth is, any player with the bare basic tools can excel if they let themselves be coached up. That doesn't mean, "be a yes man." Again, you have to have a bit of that ego about you. *knock on wood* But it's one of the things I most loved about Mettenberger already. He's scrapping with defensive linemen in practice. He's organizing workouts with his wide receivers in the winter, right after the National Championship debacle. But maybe my favorite sign of his "chest" was calling his own number and trying to score against Ole Miss. Les was content to run the clock out and show mercy against a clearly outmatched opponent. Mett had other ideas. I like a little of that in your QB. Les "punished" him by making him kneel on the one, but you know deep down he was smirking.
To play QB you have to be there mentally, both from an understanding of the game and composure standpoint. Jordan Jefferson never made strides in reading and understanding the defense. Jarrett Lee never made strides at keeping his composure and maintaining cool under times of duress. Those are two of the primary reasons neither advanced beyond what they were. If you make a mistake, shuck it off and come right back out there like it never happened. Don't keep making the same mistake, but at the same time, don't be afraid of making the same mistake twice. It's a tricky balance.
And quite honestly, it's almost impossible to gauge. Some respond, some do not. Kyle Boller had every appearance of this ability. He was bright (went to Cal), had a power arm, and gave off the air of confidence (his workout showoffs routinely consisted of him bombing it 60 yards from his knee). Yet, he was a miserable failure at the professional level. Cam Newton got booted from one school and played in an option offense which required him to make very simplistic reads. He put in the time and effort - he was coachable. He, more than anyone else, knew he needed work. He turned it into a Rookie of the Year award and threw for over 4,000 yards. The question is, how do you gauge that, especially in a recruiting setting where you can't sit and grill a player for hours on end in professional style interviews. The answer is, you can't really. So like Billy said, you pick the guy with the most talent.
Boller is a great example of the physical tools syrening GMs past his underwhelming college career. And it worked on one of the best personnel evaluators in the game, Ozzie Newsome, which should tell you something.
I think you need that attitude somewhere on your offense -- not necessarily from the quarterback, but somebody. I don't know that anybody would describe Eli Manning as the cocky type, but clearly the Giants learned how to follow his example. The attitude can come from a receiver or a running back, so long as they don't clash with the QB. For another, Jeremy Shockey when he was with the G-men, didn't get along with Manning because he kept pushing Eli to be more vocal, which just isn't his style. But when he arrived in New Orleans he learned pretty quickly that he was in Drew Brees' huddle now, and fell in line.
Mentally, the most important quality LSU's had issues with the last few years was anticipation. Both of the last two QBs needed to see their target break open, and a passer has to be able to get the ball in those windows before they open, because they just don't stay open very long against good defenses. Passes should be arriving right as a receiver breaks open, not after. And you can multiply that by any number of factors when you start talking about the NFL. The windows turn into keyholes at that level.
But if evaluating quarterbacks were easy, Saints fans wouldn't be familiar with the names Guido Merkins, Mike Buck and the Billy Joes Hobert and Tolliver.
It definitely manifests itself differently in different QBs. Like you said, Eli is more quiet confidence. Brady, Brees, and Peyton own their huddles and teams. Joe Montana was a fairly soft spoken type as well, but he absolutely had the attention of his teammates. But this comes down to managing people well. It's a really tough attribute to manage or evaluate.
If we're trying to hammer down what type of QB Miles would prefer (which will be what many prefer), I would say a taller guy with an above average arm who has some escape-ability and illustrates leadership ability. I do get the sense that Miles believes the QB should be the leader of the offense and take charge of the team. He holds them to that responsibility and some just aren't capable of handling it.
Most importantly, football players follow a guy they trust, and they trust a guy that produces. Players like Shockey and Tiki Barber didn't get behind Manning in New York because they saw him as this timid guy that didn't produce enough. One Super Bowl later, you saw the Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burresses of the world behind him. Two Super Bowls later that's HIS team.
I think LSU looks for most of what we all view as the major qualities in a quarterback. Tall, athletic with a strong/accurate arm and the right intelligence level/temperament. People tend to view passers through those two lenses of "pro-style" or "dual-threat" -- but it's important to remember that talent evaluation with almost any position is multifaceted. There's never gonna be one reason why somebody gets taken, or turned away. It's never as simple as "too short," or "too slow," there are always other factors considered, including relationship to other prospects at his position.
And that as much as coaches follow their formulas, there's always a bit of Potter Stewart in them. They know talent when they see it, even if it's not in the typical package.
Rettig possesses many of the qualities discusses above. Namely, he's got the size (6'4") and arm strength Miles prefers. He's been a starting quarterback for a while, so the leadership experience is there. Finally, any concerns about him flaking on the commitment Gunner Kiel style may be assuaged by the fact that the family has already endured a son moving across the country. Does he have the "chest?" Only time will tell.