We hear a lot before every draft about the college that a young quarterback is from and the system in which he has played. Has he run a “pro-style” offense, called plays and set protections? A quarterback’s college is unlikely to provide the whole picture, however. The top quarterbacks are coached and shaped by an industry of ‘quarterback whisperers’, specialists who run private training sessions and annual camps.
Bruce Feldman’s book looks at this industry and how it is trying to prepare the most promising prospects for one of the most difficult jobs in all of sport: quarterbacking an NFL offense. They need to find every edge they can because their chance of making it is slim. Feldman notes:
“In the 20 NFL Drafts prior to 2013, 50 quarterbacks were selected in the first round, and about 40 percent of them proved to be busts, while only six of those 50 ever started – and won – a Super Bowl.”
Young players attempt to improve their chances by working with specialist coaches. Some are former NFL QBs such as Trent Dilfer, the former Ravens Super Bowl winner who figures prominently in this book. Others are outsiders like George Whitfield Jr, the self-styled “Quarterback Engineer” who has worked with Cam Newton and Donovan McNabb.
Much of this book focuses on Whitfield’s work with his new protege, Johnny Manziel. It’s particularly interesting to read now, after Manziel’s NFL implosion, because we can see that the methods these experts employ don’t always work. Later in the book, Tom House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, works with Tim Tebow, then a failing NFL QB, and pronounces him “fixed”. We know how that turned out too.
The book provides an interesting portrait of these guys, with their super-confident coaches’ attitudes and their strange drills, involving things like chasing quarterbacks with brooms and having them flick towels.
They can all point to guys they worked with who have made it but would those guys have made it anyway? On the other hand, they all have their Manziels and Tebows, but was it possible for anyone to turn those guys into reliable NFL starters? It’s impossible to shake the view that reaching the top as a quarterback is very similar to any other industry where there are lots of people chasing very few jobs. It takes talent, hard work and immeasurable amounts of luck.
What the quarterback industry tries to do is make the best of talent and hard work and, primarily through the contacts they have, give young players a little extra luck.
Photo: Jeffrey Beall