A Year in the Development of Today’s College Quarterback (Part I)

The Year of the Quarterback

A Year in the Development of Today’s College Quarterback (Part I)

By: Joe Davis, Passing Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach

Fordham University

I am always excited and humbled at the opportunity to share ideas and give back to the unbelievable brotherhood that is the football coaching community. I have been incredibly fortunate to have met elite mentors and made lifelong friendships during my time associated with this great game. That being said, I believe that the relationship between a team’s quarterback and his coach is one that may be the most integral basis of communication in a program and one that must be built on trust, respect and accountability.

I have often said that your quarterback is the one young man that you cannot hide in your offense, no matter what scheme you are running. You will have years where your team is light at wide receiver or there are depth issues on the offensive line. But the quarterback must absolutely be the commander- in-chief on the field and earn the right to be an extension of the coaching staff during the most crucial situations affecting the football team. From day one in the meeting room, the expectation for the position must be set very high. They are playing what I firmly believe to be the most demanding position in any sport in the world. All eyes will be on them on the field, in the classroom, in the dormitory and socially. The work they put in must demand the respect of their teammates and the life they lead must be one that instills confidence in their teammates that when all else fails, they can be trusted to do the right thing. I often challenge our quarterbacks by asking them, “Will we be a better team if you individually get better?” or “Will we be a better team if you can inspire 90 other players to get better by the way you train, study and encourage your teammates?”

For the sake of this article, I will break the yearlong development of our quarterbacks into 4 quarters. Similar to many programs, the 1st quarter is the off-season training program. The 2nd quarter is spring football. The 3rd quarter is summer preparation and the 4th and final quarter is the season itself. We live by the G.R.I.N.D. mentality in our QB room where Great Routines Initiate and Navigate Destiny. By developing this year long routine, your quarterbacks will ultimately understand what is important to you as a coach and what it will take to make your team successful.

1st Quarter – Off-Season Training

Individual and team goals: I will meet individually with each quarterback prior to our 1st off-season workout in January. This is to establish written goals for where he sees himself and what he wants to accomplish by the end of spring football and by the end of

our football season. I will have these goals typed up and laminated so they can hang them in their locker for the year. I will also remind them of the expectations during lifting and running workouts for the winter.

Workouts: The quarterback may not be the strongest or the fastest athlete on the team, but they have to challenge themselves to become the hardest workers on the football team during these critical months and understand they cannot improve everything physically. However, he can focus on one or two traits that he believes will make him a better quarterback and this in itself can lead to a very successful off-season. If the quarterback has shown signs of becoming a great leader, I believe it is imperative that he mentors a younger player or teammate that needs encouragement. This may be partnering him up during lifts or stopping by that particular player’s dorm room every morning so they can walk together to workouts. He must learn to serve his teammates first.

Character development: Every week we will begin our position meetings with a book or series of articles that pertain to leadership and/or character development. We will take ten minutes to read and discuss together. I will give each young man in our room the chance to give his opinion on what we just read and how he sees the topic relating to his life. This begins the process of growing the quarterback room tighter. These young men have to ultimately be speaking the same language and when the season begins, they should all be rooting for and helping the young man that has earned the right to be on the field.

Film study: We will begin our once a week QB school in January. A coach can discuss various degrees of football during the off-season depending on rules and where you are in regards to the installation of the offense. I believe that these meetings in the 1st quarter are not for installing new plays but rather to step back and watch the previous season’s games as a whole. We will watch one game a week, in its entirety, from the previous season.

Without dissecting the games deeply it allows us to have some informal discussions about why certain plays were executed and in what situations did we succeed or fail. At the end of each game review, the quarterbacks will fill out a brief sheet where they will give an honest assessment of how the QB in that particular game handled certain situations. This is the time to begin to hammer home the ultimate mission statement of playing quarterback for us and that is Operation, Efficiency and Production. Operation = Did he run the show? Did he see the correct signal? Did he communicate the play correctly? Did he manage the play clock? Did he know the D&D? Did he time the motion up correctly? Did he execute the mesh point and hand off cleanly? None of these factors have anything to do with arm strength or foot speed and everything to do with confidence and trust.

The quarterback must be a master of the operation of the offense before he can become the unquestioned starter. Efficiency = Simply, did he go 65/3/1? In our room, if the QB completes 65% of his passes and accounts for 3 scores to every turnover, we will be in position to win every game. Production = When he is in the game, are we scoring points? If we have to score 50 or 15, does he find a way to get us in the end zone? Good, bad or

ugly does he possess the moxie, heart and fortitude to get us in good situations and out of bad ones? Does he raise his game to another level when in the red zone and on 3rd down? Is he capable of making the players around him better? This is where the great ones shine the brightest.

2nd Quarter – Spring Football

The meeting room: Now is the time to actually get on the field and play some ball. You must first set the expectations for your meetings and create a routine based on the day of week and day of installation. We only get fifteen practices, therefore we must make them count. In addition to their offensive playbooks/installation folders, we will use a QB workbook where the spring installation is expanded and they can take detailed notes using the same platform within their notebooks or on their iPad. That way when they are discussing plays with coaches or fellow quarterbacks, we are all looking at the same template. No QB is allowed in the meeting without something to write with and all his applicable books.

We create a seating chart in our room so the quarterbacks know where to sit every day and can come into the room ready to learn. The installations of the day will go onto the screen or whiteboard followed by pre-made cut ups of previous seasons plays. It is important that you create “teachable” cut ups. Not every clip has to be a score or explosive play. Show impactful and defining moments where mistakes and good decisions are ingrained in your room as being excellent or unacceptable. When watching the previous day’s practice, organize the film by situation, concept, formation or play to show consecutively against different looks.

This is the time to instill in your quarterbacks what we call their pre-snap checklist. They must go through a series of pre-snap identifications of specific players on the defense and their relationship to our players and landmarks on the field. This must become an absolute habit prior to every snap. They must learn how to evaluate the demeanor, eyes and leverage of key defenders on defense. There is significant value as the quarterback coach to meet individually with each player as spring football culminates to review January’s goals.

On the field: You must begin each practice with what you deem as the most important fundamentals as they pertain to your scheme. Your quarterbacks must be “clean” on film. Eliminate false steps, get them in the perfect stance and take the time to teach them how to position their body and align themselves for throwing success. Create daily themes for your drill work and use every available minute of individual time allotted to you.

For example, Mondays are pocket movement days, Wednesdays are ball location drill days and Saturdays are read and reaction drill days. Use special teams time to create coverage recognition drills using extra players on the field in order to engage the motor memory. Simulate reps that are imminent in the next period of practice. Create buzz words and coaching phrases that they can repeat back to you and eventually self-correct themselves using the same language. Do not let them use “old” terminology or slang

words to describe defenses, routes or footwork. It must be exactly how you want it to be and they must all speak it back to you, to each other and to their teammates. You are creating the catalyst for your offense and an extension of you on the field. Challenge your quarterbacks to view your team’s defense as the next opponent. Know them inside and out, understand why they align to formations in certain ways and encourage them to compete against your defense as if it was Saturday afternoon. I believe it is very important that every quarterback get reps during spring ball provided he earns them. The low man on the depth chart will become much more invested in the fall if he can take live snaps in the spring and be evaluated by his coach.

3rd Quarter – Summer Preparation

Leadership Development: The NCAA has varying rules regarding the amount of time you can spend with your players in the summer months. With the limited time you have it is the perfect opportunity to grow them into the leaders you need them to be. You can build on some of the topics you began with in January or you can create an actual summer leadership theme. “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” by John Maxwell is something our QB room spent a good amount of time on last summer.

With two hours per week of summer access, we spend the 1st hour reading through and discussing these qualities together, how they affect the young men personally and how they affect our overall team structure. By the end of the summer we choose what our “QB theme” will be heading into the fall based on our summer study. This gives the young men in our room an opportunity to have a voice as to what is really important to the success of the QB position in our program and run with it throughout the fall. The 2nd hour is spent previewing and preparing for our first opponent of the season by reviewing the previous season’s games. We begin by briefly previewing their scheme and if they return the same play caller. We will then marry up personnel by returners and back-ups who played key roles on special teams. The cut ups will then be shown by formation and situation. Each quarterback is then asked to prepare a section of our scouting report to present to the room during our last summer meeting.

4th Quarter – In-Season

Training Camp: At the beginning of camp, it is important that there is carry over from a spring meeting and practice structure so as to encourage the quarterbacks to enter into a positive and successful routine. Fostering competition throughout fall camp is key and continually finding ways to break the complacency of the 3rd or 4th string QB’s is imperative to the growth of the QB room. This position can never be satisfied and must constantly push each other in practice, no matter where one is on the depth chart. Every live throw in competitive situations must be charted recording each player’s completions, attempts, touchdowns, turnovers, as well as, 3rd down conversions and red zone scores

The daily statistics can be used in a variety of ways but it is important that if you wish to get what you emphasize, they must know what their numbers are from an efficiency and production standpoint. The quarterbacks are constantly challenged that throws on air must be completed at a 100% clip. When we enter into 7 on 7 periods, the expectation is for them to be at 90%. Team periods vs. our own defense should result in 75%. Those are the standards. Turnovers and poor ball security should be scrutinized and never tolerated.