Remember in the movie “Top Gun” where COUGAR gets shaken by a near miss “lock-on” from an enemy bogey set on blowing his F-14 out of the sky? COUGAR enters the office of his commanding officer to turn in his wings; “I’m holding on too tight, I’ve lost the edge, I’m sorry sir”.
And with that one of the Navy’s top young warriors was out of a job, fully trained and physically capable of flying and fighting in one of this country’s most lethal weapons, but unable to mentally implement his responsibilities to carry forth the mission. Reminds a bit of young NFL quarterbacks.
Lost the edge
How many have you seen “turn in their wings” after struggling to read a defense, pick up the blitz, or hit a deep out versus man coverage? These are young players that have probably excelled at the position throughout Pop Warner, into high school, and on to college. Rare did anything every shake their determination to be the best of the best. These were players that stood out at every level of competition and ultimately it led them to a 1st round draft choice, seven figure contract, and usually the weight of a fallen franchise upon their shoulders.
This past season we saw some excellent examples in Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson seize the moment and take full advantage of not only their physical skill set to execute the quarterback position, but their mental capacity to take control of their situation as well. These were fully trained and physically capable NFL quarterbacks playing well beyond their experience and implementing their responsibilities above and beyond the call to duty.
I recently received the following question;
Based on your experience, what indicators are most crucial when trying to determine if a quarterback has franchise potential?
A lot of pundits and former players of the position might argue “parameters and specifics”; they must be over 6’2”, weigh at least 215 lbs, and run under a 5.0 40 yard dash. They must possess a quick delivery, great arm strength, and nimble feet in the pocket. They have to throw with accuracy in the short game, air it out deep, and find the 2nd receiver. No doubt that all those factors play into the potential and success of young signal callers, but from my experience, above everything else they have to be able to deal with the “bogeys & bandits”.
Poise & Confidence
One really begets the other. A confident quarterback is one that can rely on both his physical and mental tools to put his team in the right play, in the right position, and then flawlessly execute his responsibility. That confidence comes from having put in the work both on and off the field in preparation of the moment. It comes from knowing that his teammates know that he is in “full control” of the situation. As result, there is no nervous anxiety, no questionable decision making, no last second self-doubt. The quarterback is poised under both the enormous physical and emotional pressures that are raining down on him like “stinger missiles”.
We’ve all seen “can’t miss” candidates taken at the top of the draft that ultimately “crash and burn”. These are players that had never struggled with the game of football and were able to use a dominant set of physical tools to defeat opponents throughout their development as young quarterbacks. But once stacked up against equal to superior competition, they folded under the pressure. They weren’t willing to put in the extra work or didn’t have the capacity to shake off mistakes and press on to the next play.
Super Bowl XLVII - A Case Study
Super Bowl XLVII was a study in Poise & Confidence between two very talented players. Colin Kaepernick took over for the 49ers at midseason and performed like a polished pro. His cool demeanor and competitive fire brought San Francisco back in the 4 quarter twice during the regular season and from 17 points down in the NFC Championship. Joe Flacco is the strong armed QB that led the Ravens back against Denver in the divisional playoffs and who had orchestrated four 4th quarter comebacks of his own.
It appeared early in the game that Kaepernick let the situation get the better of him, overthrowing a number of open receivers and tossing a pick in the first half. The veteran Flacco seemed in control of the moment and led Baltimore to a 21-6 halftime lead. Poise and Confidence. Kaepernick eventually settled down to bring the 49ers back, a little too late.
As you evaluate the young college quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, look for those that exude the type of demeanor that raises the game of everyone around them and not those that sweat the “bogeys” and turn in their wings.