So You Want To Be A Pro QB?
By Troy Gorham
So you want to play quarterback? Maybe you're a young kid watching games on Sundays thinking, "I could do that." You just may be right. At least there's still hope for you. As for the rest of us that are either too old, too out of shape, out of our primes, or a combination of all three that are sitting at home laying on the couch eating nachos on Sundays thinking, "I could do that." Really? Maybe you played QB in high school, or even got a little playing time in college at some point, and you think you could easily go out there and do what those QB's do in the NFL. Are you sure? Well, before I get into the in-depth reasons you're probably wrong, let's look at the physical aspects. Most NFL quarterbacks average 6'3" to 6'6" in height. Is that you? If not, no worries. Drew Brees is about 5'11" on a stack of phone books, and Russell Wilson just won a Super Bowl at 6ft., so as long as you're as good as those guys you wouldn't have a problem. Still in there?
Let's get real here, we'd all love to live the dream. We'd all love to throw the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl with no time left on the clock like we did over and over in the back yard as kids. We'd love to hear a crowd of 70,000 chanting our name, and be able to scream "I'm going to Disney World!" as our teammates carry us off the field on their shoulders. But whether you choose to believe it or not, playing quarterback in the NFL is the single most difficult job in sports. Period. That's why they get all the attention. That's why they get the credit when the team wins and take the flack when the team loses. They're the guy. That's also why they get paid the big bucks.
Peyton Manning made roughly $15 Million this year minus endorsements and contingencies, that's strictly what the Broncos were obligated to pay him through contract. Can you do what Peyton Manning does? Could you look a group of grown professional football players in the eye in a huddle and tell them what to do and make them believe that if they do it, you're going to score?
For those that don't know, here's how this whole thing works. There's an offensive coordinator, sometimes up in the booth, sometimes on the sideline, that relays a play to the head coach. Sometimes it's the other way around and the head coach gives the play to the offensive coordinator. Once they've decided what play to run, they relay that play into the earpiece of the quarterback. The quarterback has no mic to talk back, just an earpiece in his helmet that the coach can communicate to him through from the time the 40 second play clock starts up until there are 15 seconds left on the play clock or until the quarterback approaches the line of scrimmage when communication from the coaches to the quarterback is cut off. This communication can only take place during huddling situations. Not in the hurry up, two minute, or no huddle situations.
So let's say after a run play is over and the runner is tackled in bounds, the game clock keeps running, and they reset the play clock. When that play clock is reset, if the players are huddling up, the coaches can talk to the quarterback and tell him the next play, what to look for the next play, how many yards they need, whether to expect a man or zone defense, etc., all while the quarterback is busy huddling up his players, telling them any specifics he wants, calling a play like "Brown Right Over Flip Zac 73 Chicago F Arrow X Curl Dummie Fire on 2 watch the hard count." Still with me?
Ok, let's say it's a home game so there's not much noise. As you approach the line the play clock hits 15 seconds, so sideline communication is over, now it's just you and your 10 men out there with you. Oh yeah, plus the 11 players across from you that you have to try to read and determine what defense they're in to try to stop you. So you walk up to the line and read the defensive front usually a 3-4 or 4-3 so you need to point out how many down lineman they have, which in turn points out how many linebackers. Then you'll point out the "Mike" linebacker, who is the middle linebacker or in a 3-4 front, the inside linebacker to the strong side of your offense. This points out to your offensive line who is who and who each of them needs to block within their blocking scheme if it's a run play. A lot of times the quarterback will point out the "Mike" when there is no need to, just to throw the defense off and keep them guessing.
While you're doing all that you have to be reading the safeties and cornerbacks. Are they in man, are they in zone, or a combination of the two? Is a corner playing bump and run up tight or playing off? Is a safety cheating down into the box? The box being the linemen and linebacker area. Are the safeties shading or cheating to one side of the field or the other? To hit your primary target, are you going to have to use your eyes to bait a safety into thinking you're throwing somewhere else before you can throw where you want to. You may have to call an audible and change the play at the line because the defense is lined up perfectly to stop the play you had called. Normally teams have a list of 30-35 audibles with an indicator word that the quarterback will call at the line to change the play to any certain audible. Sometimes, even if a play call doesn't call for it, the QB will call a player in motion to see if the defense is in man or zone. If the defensive player covering the motion follows him, it's normally man, if not, it's normally zone. I say normally because remember, defenses get paid too. And for every call, shift, motion, etc., you make, they're doing the same or calling your bluff. Defenses are smarter these days than ever before. You also have to be ready for an unexpected blitz and find your hot route. A hot route is when all else is forgotten, there's a blitz coming that's not going to be picked up or blocked, so you, as the quarterback have to subtly communicate to your "hot" receiver, usually the one where the blitz is coming from, to be ready.
So a normal cadence by a quarterback for the play we called might be something like this. "Ready! 3 Down! 55's the Mike! Mike 5-5! 38 Gator! 38 Gator! Set Hut! Black 28! Black 28 Fire! Set Hut-Hut, then the ball is snapped. So what just happened? I got up to the line, got my guys ready, pointed out how many down defensive linemen there were, pointed out the middle linebacker by number, then began my cadence with "38 Gator!" But what did the gator, black, and the numbers mean? Nothing. It was all just to make the defense's head spin. And why wasn't the ball snapped on the actual 2nd hut? Well, remember in the huddle when I said "Dummie Fire, watch the hard count?" That means that no huts before I say "Fire" mean anything so don't snap the ball. "Fire" was the snap count indicator. Much like a lot of NFL QB's use Omaha because it's easy on the ear.
So now that you just threw a nine yard curl route and got in the red zone, let's go ahead and try to score. Play clock resets and the helmet mic's on.
Coach: Nice job. Ok, you've got 1st and 10 on the 16.
QB: Huddle up! Huddle!
Coach: They're gonna load the box here so we're gonna throw.
QB: Listen give me time here, if they load the box we're throwing, if they back out I may check to a run, be alert!
Coach: Let's go double slants here, just pick pick up a few, watch the robber, not there throw it in the stands.
QB: Heads Up
Coach: Let's go Blue Left 96 New York 22 Z Flat F Stop
QB: Here we go! Blue Left 96 New York 22 Flat F Stop Dummie Omaha First Sound
Coach: Watch out for the— (15 seconds on play clock, communication shut off)
You walk up to the line, "Ready!! "3 Down! 3 Down! 52's Mike! Mike 5-2!! Red Over! (Then in the middle of your cadence, the DB that's on your slant route you want to throw is creeping up like he's coming on a hot blitz so you're about to take candy from a baby. So you finish your cadence knowing you're about to score) Red Over! Hey Drop 90!! Drop 90!! Omaha! Set!! The ball is snapped, and sure enough here comes that DB covering your slant route, it's going to be wide open, you take your three step drop, throw, and as soon as it leaves your hand....uh oooooh. Zone blitz. Their outside LB who was showing blitz, dropped back into coverage, stole your lunch money and takes off the other way untouched until he's finally brought down at your 45 yard line. You hang your head, walk over to the sideline, get a few pats on the butt, avoid eye contact with your head coach until he finally finds you and says, "I told you if it wasn't there throw it away!! I told you!! The last thing I told you was watch out for the zone blitz!!" "But coach the headset..." "Don't make excuses, fix it!!"
So that was just a small example of what a quarterback goes through every 40 seconds he's on the field for 60-70 plays a game. When you take into consideration the crowd noise, especially in places like Seattle or Kansas City, and good, smart defenses like the Niners and Seahawks, plus great pass rushers down your throat, plus some awesome ball-hawking defensive backs around the league right now, plus any bad whether, doesn't seem so easy does it? Not at all. A bit stressful.
And we haven't even gotten to your true opponent yet. Because it's not the other team's quarterback, it's not even really the other team's defense's players. The other team's defensive coordinator is your nemesis. Let's take, oh I don't know, Dick Lebeau for example. Known widely as the best defensive coordinator in the league for many years for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This man will study you, watch you, know your tendencies, what you like, what you don't like, and what you had for breakfast the morning of the game without you even realizing he's there. He invented the zone blitz, ET stunt, and the amoeba defense, which by the way if you don't know the meanings of, stay on the couch. When Dick LeBeau decides he wants to get after quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks, he can make them crazy to the point they may not want to play football again.
Remember, at quarterback, you're the man. You're the man because of everything I just said. You handle it all like a man, and you win anyway.
Remember, at quarterback, you're nothing. You're soft because of everything I just said. You handle it all terribly, can't do anything right, and you lose.
Sorry man, that's how it is. Especially in the NFL. They'll praise you like the second coming when you win for them, and curse you like a stubbed toe when you lose. It's on you. All of it. That's just the way it is. You get the glitz and glamor, or you get the hammer. You get the fortune and fame, or you get all the blame. And the press will eat you alive if you lose and eat you alive then spit you out if you lose and don't take it all on your own shoulders. No blaming teammates. No blaming coaches. None of that. You're the quarterback son!
My point is this, if you are that older guy sitting on the couch eating nachos on Sundays thinking, "I could do that." You need to stop it, because no, you couldn't. But, if you're that young kid watching quarterbacks on TV thinking, "I could do that." Then get off the couch right now and go practice. Go work on your accuracy, go work on your throwing motion. Watch film of other QB's and of yourself and compare the two of you. Go to your head coach and tell him you're willing to put in the work it takes to be a QB, but not just any QB, the best. As a quarterback you have to work harder than anybody else on the team. If you practice like everybody else you'll be like everybody else, and guess what, that "everybody else" are those of us sitting on the couch now that it's too late, eating nachos, saying, "I could do that."