Posted: Tuesday December 12, 2006 11:25AM; Updated: Tuesday December 12, 2006 11:57AM
We laud today's offensive "gurus" for their brilliant game plans, their workaholic hours and their 800-page playbooks but we rarely ask the question of whether there can be too much of a good thing, if all this innovation doesn't overwhelm a young quarterback. Unless you're somebody like San Diego's Phillip Rivers or Dallas's Tony Romo, players who have had a few years to sit and learn, there's simply a lot for younger quarterbacks to digest, sometimes too much. Says Buffalo coach Dick Jauron: "There are so many things that can occur on a given play. You have to consider all the multiple fronts a quarterback can see and all the multiple pressures. He has to make decisions on all those things. I believe it's easy for us coaches to say that it's not a lot. This one more play won't be too much. But it is a lot, particularly if a guy is just learning."
Jauron and his staff have made a conscious effort to minimize the package they give to third-year quarterback J.P. Losman because they think it would still be counter-productive to throw too much at him. They're especially reluctant to give him too many complicated plays in passing situations on third downs, simply because they don't think he's ready to handle those challenges yet, especially not behind a weak offensive line. The Bills currently rank 30th in the NFL in third-down conversions because of that approach but they've seen Losman progress. After struggling mightily while trying to fit into Mike Mularkey's offense last season, Losman is gaining more confidence and his completion percentage has improved from 49.6 percent in 2005 to 63.2 this season.
What the Bills and Titans realize is that developing a young quarterback comes down to how quickly you can make that player comfortable. Some coaches don't get that. Former Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh wouldn't change anything about his offense when his second-year quarterback, AndrewWalter, complained about the system a few weeks ago. The Detroit Lions spent four frustrating years trying to turn Joey Harrington into a West Coast Offense quarterback and now he's playing his best ball in Miami. There's also the tale of David Carr, who's shown far more progress under coach Gary Kubiak than he did in four years under former coordinator Chris Palmer, who was intent on running long-developing passing plays behind a suspect offensive line during most of his tenure.
So why don't more coaches do what the Titans have done with Young? The obvious answer is that most teams don't get their hands on a rare talent like Young. But ego plays into it, along with the sophistication of modern defenses and the simple fact that here's more technology available. Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders recently said he could study any play of any team in the NFL on his laptop. He can watch third-down plays from the left hash mark, second-down plays against nickel coverage, anything. When I asked if that's a good thing, Saunders chuckled. "It's great for the fans because of the creativity that can result from that," he said. "But for a young player, it can probably make things pretty difficult."
When it comes to making life easier on young quarterbacks, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome says the best predictor of success is offensive line play. He says the Titans are winning with Young because their offensive line has matured and Tennessee has found a way to run the ball consistently. There's a lot of truth to that. But there's also something to be said for modifying an offense so it magnifies a player's skills. I think about Atlanta's Michael Vick and wonder if every play he runs should be straight improv. That's what it eventually becomes in the end, even though the Falcons have added some college-style plays so that he feels more comfortable.
See, we get spoiled when we see Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning out there calling plays and audibles at the line of scrimmage. It makes us think that the game is easier than it actually is. The reality, however, is that it's harder than ever and young quarterbacks are paying a price for that on some level. "We have the ability to gather more information in a quicker manner and that factor alone can handicap players," Edwards says. "But that's where it's going. There's just too much information now. On one hand, it's progress. But sometimes you really can regress when you progress."