Short-yardage passing had a good year, except at the end of the Super Bowl. We look at the return of quarterback runs, the rise in pass-happy strategy, and 2014 success rates for offense and defense.
24 Feb 2012
by Mike Tanier
REPORTER: "Tim Tebow: your thoughts?"
JOHN ELWAY: "What took you so long?"
So began Day Two of Podiumpalooza at the Combine, a music and culture festival without the music and culture. The press seating around Elway at Podium A was unusually crowded for 10:30 a.m., but any time can be Tebow Time.
Unfortunately, or mercifully, Tebow Fatigue has set in. Elway said nothing of substance, and the handful of questioned lobbed at him to try to lead him into one or another minefield had no effect. Elway, wearing a plum-colored sweater, said all the right things about his quarterback. When he admitted that the Broncos had to get better at throwing downfield from the pocket, he used the royal "we." Somewhere on the Internet, someone has certainly processed all of this into breathless news, but it was clear that everyone here was going through the mania motions. Someone get Brady Quinn riled up, stat!
Ted Thompson can be a great source of wisdom if you ask him the right questions. Asking him to evaluate his team needs or talk about unsigned free agents is not asking the right questions. "I’m not going to stand here and tell the other 31 teams what I think of Matt Flynn," the Packers GM said. Thompson only seemed tight-lipped because he received more than the usual allotment of "betray secrets about your long-range strategies," questions. A reporter in the back asked "what are your needs?" late in the press conference -- sounds like someone has been covering high school track for a few months.
Eventually, someone asked Thompson about the lack of information he offered. He said that he could be like "Opposite George from Seinfeld," but he will not give away secrets, and he will not lie. "I tell my scouts to listen and not talk," he said. No word yet on whether the Redskins are pursuing Opposite Ted for a front office position.
With his windswept hair, grey blazer, and white dress shirt rakishly unbuttoned to the second level, Jeff Fisher looked more like a soap opera villain than a head coach. Fisher said that the Rams have no plans to trade Sam Bradford, which of course could be a smokescreen (opposite Jeff), or it could be because Bradford is an excellent young passer and the second pick in April’s draft is far more valuable as a trade commodity than as a chance to restart the development cycle at quarterback. Fisher did talk about the Rams’ upcoming game in London. "If you are going to play the Patriots, it’s best not to play them in North America," he said.
Thomas "The Dandy Highwayman" Dimitroff took the podium in a beige checkered blazer, navy sweater with black collar, and hair somewhere between Building the Perfect Beast-era Don Henley and a molting cockatiel. Sorry if you hate these fashion updates, but I can only hear the phrase "ongoing process" so many times before going slightly mad. Dimitroff spoke about his willingness to trade draft choices, calling them "trade fodder." "In this day and age you can’t sit on your hands," he said, later speaking of "the precariousness of how the draft is going to land." The Falcons do not select until pick 55 this year, so the precariousness-to-fodder ratio after last year’s Julio Jones trade is rather high. Dimitroff said that he will never regret the Jones trade, and he called Matt Ryan a top-10 quarterback. "I like where Matt is," he said.
Let’s start the player section with Robert Griffin III. As far as public presence goes, the young man is amazing. Poised, polished, bright ... I have tape of his conference, but I don’t feel worthy to transcribe it. In addition to being honest and quick-witted, Griffin demonstrated a knowledge of the NFL that is rare among prospects. When asked about West Coast offenses, he immediately talked about the Browns and Redskins systems and their "verbiage." When pressed about adjusting from a shotgun offense to working under center, he pointed out how often Tom Brady and Eli Manning were in shotgun in the Super Bowl. He compared his game not only to Randall Cunningham and Steve Young, but Ken Stabler. He cracked jokes about how professors made fun of him and other football players when he was a freshman at Baylor, then "all they wanted to talk about was the game" as he (and the program) improved. He actually expressed an opinion about Peyton Manning, saying that he hopes to see the quarterback stay in Indianapolis. And if the Colts kept Manning and drafted him over Andrew Luck, he would learn from Manning and "hold that clipboard with pride."
I can only imagine what is going on in interview rooms with this young man. Keep in mind that he does not come across as arrogant or cocky, just articulate, clever, and self-assured. Griffin said that the Eagles met with him, and I get the impression Andy Reid might have just wanted someone interesting to talk to. Rumor has it that the Browns are in love with Griffin. I might be in love with Griffin. Jeff Fisher sounds sold on Bradford, and I think Bradford is great, but 15 minutes in a room with Griffin and Fisher might forget Bradford’s name.
Okay, this is getting creepy. Let’s just leave it at this: the off-field skills match the on-field skills.
Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor) took Podium C before Griffin and talked a lot about Griffin. He told us all about Griffin’s socks: Superman socks, Hello Kitty socks. Griffin later revealed that he was wearing Ninja Turtle socks today. He showed the socks to the camera. It was so much fun...
Wait, I was talking about Wright. He has a wide smile and is short. He is 5-foot-10, but looked very thick, and he compared his game to DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith, which are accurate-enough early comps. He said that he is working on his route-running and wants to prove to doubters that he can run crisp routes. Wright has a first-round grade in most places. I have not seriously scouted him yet, and I am probably not in the right frame of mind to load up Baylor tape right now.
Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame) is a player I have scouted and I like a lot, a big guy who sets up his deep routes well with head fakes and such. Floyd had several alcohol-related incidents early in his career, and reporters grilled him about them, just as coaches no doubt are doing in interviews. Floyd said that he attended on-campus alcohol classes and got a lot of support from coach Brian Kelly. He said the usual things about being honest, maturing, putting it behind him, and changing his habits and "environment." Who knows what to make of any of this? If you have ever attended a college alcohol class, you know they are not very helpful.
Kellen Moore took Podium B and ... I didn’t go. In fact, I am writing this while he is speaking. His Under Armour does not fit. It hangs on him like a Snuggie. I saw lots and lots of Moore in Mobile. He has a bad arm. His accuracy is so-so. His thighs are really just ankles that keep going. I loved him at Boise State, and it would be great to pump out Drew Brees comparisons, but there is nothing NFL about this fine young man.
Robert Quick (WR, Appalachian State) took Podium C while Moore was on Podium B. Scott Pioli was at Podium A. A full house! In Mobile, Quick was asked about the North quarterbacks, and he went on at length about his respect for Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson: his temperament, leadership, and so on. A reporter from Boise (not Andy Benoit; there are apparently two) asked Quick an extremely leading question to get him to provide a positive soundbyte about Moore. Quick, who is not media savvy, smiled, chuckled uncomfortably, and said something else about Russell Wilson.
Later, Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) opposed Wilson (QB, Wisconsin) and Pete Carroll on the three podiums, while Doug Martin (RB, Boise State) gave interviews at one of the tables. It was officially impossible to keep up. Tannehill said that his injured foot would be ready for his Pro Day. Carroll said that the Seahawks would draft a quarterback "if it fits and the timing is right." It was refreshing to hear a coach suggest, even in the most general way, that his team has a need and that there is some specific plan to meet it.
Alshon Jeffrey (WR, South Carolina) is a prospect I really liked in 2010, but he had weight issues last year. He was playing at around 230 pounds, provoking Mike Williams comparisons that I think were a little overblown. Jeffrey is now at 216 pounds, and he looked lean at the podium. He has not been this svelte since high school, and he says he owes it all to "drinking a lot of water." Jeffrey said that his favorite food is lasagna, making him the Garfield of this wide receiver class.
Andrew Luck arrived on the tail end of the RG3 afterglow and cut a fine figure himself. Luck was patient and as open as possible while fielding Manning questions -– "these questions have to be asked," he said -– and reiterated Griffin’s remarks about being willing to learn behind a Hall of Famer. "If that opportunity arises, you have to take advantage of it," he said. Luck cracked a few jokes of his own; when asked if he knew about Jim Harbaugh’s legacy in Indy, he said "I am familiar with Captain Comeback."
Luck said that he is working on quickening his release, noting that "those milliseconds count." He is also working on making his drops as smooth as possible. Not all quarterbacks are this poised; it is important to remember that last year Cam Newton came across as scripted and defensive, while Ryan Mallett was downright off-putting. Impressing reporters is not important, though media relations are part of a quarterback’s job, but clear speech is often (not always) a sign of clear thought.
So if Tebow Fatigue is giving way to Luck Love and Griffin Groping, at least we have two interesting, amusing, and eminently worthy prospects to obsess about for the next two months. Luck and Griffin are great athletes with their acts together and an awareness of how this process works. Draft hype gets stupid as the weeks pass. Luck and Griffin will make it a little smarter.
24 comments, Last at 27 Feb 2012, 2:26pm by Karl Cuba