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Quarterback Maintenance: What Do Good Quarterbacks Look Like?

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Zen and the Art of Sliding into the DMs.

Brandon Harris Probably Has Better Luck With Girls Than Me
Brandon Harris Probably Has Better Luck With Girls Than Me
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Let's say, hypothetically, that you go to a party and meet someone who you become interested in romantically. The one beer that you've been sipping on all night has given you the courage to strike up a conversation with someone who is probably out of your league. For one night only, the wit and charm ooze out of you like you're trapped in a Woody Allen movie. The conversational repartee between you and the future mother or father of your child is flowing, gently, back and forth. There's no way you can screw this up, you're in the zone.

The next morning you wake up with fond memories of your chat the night before. Unfortunately, you couldn't close the deal with a phone number. Your shyness took over at the end and you couldn't muster the courage to ask for the seven digits. At this point, there are two plans of attack. You can either wait for the next time you see this person or you disregard all patience and find your future significant other on Facebook and quickly shoot a message with a witty line calling back something from the conversation the night before. Often, I will choose the latter. Often, I don't get a reply back. I'm left staring at "seen" for days, imagining what could have been, waiting for my hotline to bling.

If you're up to date with the Quarterback Maintenance series, you'll note that we've mostly looked at what not to do as a quarterback. In this post, we'll take a step back from watching Brandon Harris and look at what good quarterbacks do so that when we look at Harris next year we can see if there has been any development.

Patience with potential soulmates is important to have and it's also one of the most important attributes of good quarterback play. It's a broad concept so we're going to break it down in two separate but interconnected categories: pocket presence and read progression. The best quarterbacks are masters of those two skills. If we can get through our reads we can usually find an open receiver and the way that we have time to get through our reads is by being able to move fluently in the pocket. Patience means we can't just throw the ball to our primary receiver every play and it means we can't run out of the pocket at the first sign of danger.

A quarterback's reads and foot movement are intrinsically linked. Receiver patterns are timed up with the drop of the quarterback so that when the QB gets to the apex, he can throw to his primary receiver in rhythm. If the primary is covered, the QB will hitch (shuffle) up in the pocket and move his eyes to the next receiver in his progression. Theoretically, this goes until the last receiver in the play. There has to be trust in your offensive line that they can block for enough time to get down to his third, fourth and/or fifth progression. The quarterback without patience is the one who decides he doesn't want to be in the pocket for an extended period of time and rolls out to one sideline or the other. A pass concept from the pocket is designed so that all the routes can be thrown to from the pocket. When the QB rolls out when there is no inside pressure he is limited where he can throw the ball to. He's cut the field in half which helps the defense squeeze down on the offense.

Here are two examples of Dimitri Sinodinos stepping up in the pocket:

Here's Johnny Manziel bouncing out even though he doesn't need to.

Two of the top quarterbacks from 2015, Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff, show off their patience in different ways. Mayfield has superb athletic ability and creates a lot of missed tackles and could easily be a pure option quarterback based on his running skills alone. Still, I think his best attribute is his ability to stick around in the pocket, go through his reads and only use his athletic ability when the pocket collapses after he can't find an open receiver. He'll sit in the pocket for as long as he can, shuffling his feet, before he bolts out. Additionally, he's very good at keeping his eyes downfield even when he does move out of the pocket. Consistently, there will always be bigger plays in the passing game then from a quarterback scramble.

Goff is a different animal. From what I see on film, he apparently feels no pain. That should be the first strength on all of his NFL scouting reports, "Jared Goff enjoys being smacked around by men larger than him." Goff can't run like Mayfield, Paxton Lynch, Trevone Boykin or our very own Brandon Harris, so he is a sitting duck in the pocket. This doesn't faze him as he consistently sits there, going through his reads and gets the ball off with defenders in his face all the time. He takes big shots but is still able to get the ball off in time.

One of my favorite clips to use as an example of read progression, pocket presence and patience is this play by Teddy Bridgewater against an all-time Florida defense in the Sugar Bowl after the 2012 season.

The idea for this play is relatively simple, the execution is not. Teddy has a weakside corner route to his tight end as his first read. If the corner is open, he'll throw it for a good completion. If not, he will hitch in the pocket and read the strong side concept of the two in routes and a seam/post. As noted, a lot of quarterbacks simply don't have the mental fortitude to make more than one read before panicking and throwing into coverage or just leaving the pocket entirely. As the tight end runs the corner route, he is covered. The defender has outside leverage which takes away the route. A lot of quarterbacks will still throw this ball, especially if they are comfortable with that particular receiver. On an episode of "Gruden's QB Camp", Gruden got on Jameis Winston for often only looking at Rashad Greene and throwing it to him no matter what the coverage dictated. On this play, Teddy uses his patience and footwork to move on to his next progression on the play. We can see, from his helmet, that he starts by looking left and then when the route is covered, he looks right and moves his feet at the same time to read the front side concept. He wants to throw the seam/post as his next progression, but when the Florida linebacker (Jon Bostic) turns and runs with the tight end, he hitches again and throw the in route to the zone where Bostic just vacated. This is damn good quarterbacking.

Footwork, read progression and patience are not easy concepts to master. There is a reason why NFL teams are constantly searching and paying enormous sums of money to elite quarterbacks. There just aren't many. I play quarterback on my flag football team and even there it's a little nerve racking facing a guy running at you at full speed even if his goal is only to lightly pull a flag from your waist. Imagine trying to stick in the pocket against people trying to knock the soul from your body. It's not easy, but it's what quarterbacks have to do to be successful. In love as in football, be patient, don't chase completions and don't chase love.

Next time we'll look at anticipation, timing and accuracy.