By John Westenhaver
In the evaluation of pro quarterback prospects, passing mechanics have been an under-valued and often times overlooked quality. In reality, they are strong indicators of a players potential to perform at a consistently high level. Further, the areas of consideration have often overlapped, been misunderstood and/or misinterpreted. This brings up the idea of Minimal Function or the ability to accomplish a task in realistic circumstances at a minimal level. In order to understand a function, one must understand in detail every relevant step in the process. Proper passing mechanics, as a system, is irreducibly complex. It is a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal or alteration of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease to function.
Simply put, every pass must be on a straight line from the passer’s hand to the receiver’s hand. In order to consistently accomplish this, there are six (6) “Aiming Points” or “Eyes” that must lock-on to the target. This is much like the aiming of a rifle and needs to be as precise as possible. A breakdown in any one of these 6 phases will result in predictable results.
- Dominant = the side of the body which the quarterback passes with. For a right handed quarterback the right side is the dominant side
- Opposite = the side of the quarterback’s body away from the passing side. For a right handed quarterback that would be his left side
The 6 Aiming Points are as follows:
- The eyes of the quarterback – The quarterback must see his target
- The opposite shoulder
- The inside of the opposite knee -This is accomplished by “Front Foot Stepping”. Proper front foot stepping is accomplished by having the opposite foot pointing at a point approximately 3 feet to the opposite side of the target.
- The bellybutton
- The dominant elbow
- The dominant shoulder
Close examination of the execution of these will give a quick diagnosis of less that obvious problems or limitations of the quarterback. Some, but not all, problems that may be indicated could include balance problems, horizontal drifting of the ball, consistently throwing behind the receiver and insufficient power in the throw.
There are four (4) elements to consider in the all important area of balance
- Front Foot Stepping
- Dominant Leg Follow through
- Opposite Shoulder Delivery Angle
- Break Step on set-up
1. Front Foot Stepping – 1.) Again, the initial step by the front (opposite) foot is vital in maintaining balance on the delivery and consequently accuracy. This step should be to a point that places the foot so that it is on line to a point approximately 3 feet to the opposite side of the receiver or to a point 3 feet to the opposite side of where the receiver will eventually be (for a right handed quarterback that point would be 3 feet to the receivers left side). Stepping directly at the receiver will cause the quarterback to be off balance and result in excessive body rotation. It is a primary goal of proper passing mechanics to eliminate or minimize any body rotation. 2.) This step should not exceed 3 yards. A long stride will not only make the quarterback shorter but will also negate his ability to get his hip open to the target.
*A quarterback must have the feet of a boxer.
2. Dominant Leg Follow Through – The Dominant Leg should follow in sync the dominant arm and simply drop to the ground much like an airplanes landing gear to stabilize the quarterback. A Dominant Leg Follow Through that swings wide will do so with momentum and contribute to an increase of body rotation.
*A quarterback must have the hips of a golfer.
3. Opposite Shoulder Angle – on the delivery, at the release of the ball, the opposite shoulder should be declined to about 60 degrees from the horizontal and with the bellybutton still maintaining its direct line to the receiver. This, again, is a question of maintaining balance and eliminating excessive body rotation and its inherent problems. The rotation of the shoulders usually results from a low ball release point or the inability to get the hips open. A high release point will cause the opposite shoulder to decline.
*A quarterback must have the delivery of a tennis power serve.
4. Break Step on the set-up – Timing passes require the quarterback to be ready to deliver the ball on the final step (Break Step) of the drop back. This requires the body to be in a position to make that delivery. In order to accomplish this, the body should be tilted slightly forward and the dominant leg planted. If the body is in an erect position at the set-up point the quarterback will, due to momentum, need to re-gather his balance thus delaying the pass.
The area of Body Dynamics illustrates the power source and functional employment of the body’s movements which generate the maximum power potential of the pass. The term “arm strength” is a misnomer in every sense since passing a football, in reality, is a total body function. Proper employment of body dynamics produces not only power but rhythm and very importantly consistency in the delivery.
Power Lines- In its basic form, the quarterback’s body alignment is what many would term “the athletic position”.
Components of the Power Lines:
- Feet under the shoulders
- Weight on the balls of the feet but only slightly
- Ankles flexed
- Knees slightly bent
- Waist slightly bent
Power Transfer Sequence:
Potential Energy/Kinetic Energy: The Power Transfer Sequence embodies both the Potential and Kinetic phases of energy.
Potential Energy, simply explained, is the stored energy of position possessed by an object (Power Lines). For example, a drawn bow is able to store energy as a result of its position (Power Lines). When assuming its usual position (i.e., when not drawn [absence of Power Lines], there is no energy stored in the bow (ball). Yet when its position is altered from its usual position (no Power Lines to proper Power Lines and the execution of the Transfer Sequence), the bow (the ball) is able to store energy by virtue of its position. This stored energy of position is known as Potential Energy.
Kinetic Energy, again simply put, is the energy of motion (The Power Transfer Sequence). It is the necessary work in order for an object with a given mass (the ball) to move from its resting position (the launch point) to its specific velocity. The object (the ball) will maintain its kinetic energy until it changes speed.
It has been said many times that the quarterback should stand tall in the pocket. A better description would be that the quarterback should “get tall”. Getting tall from the Power Lines configuration is referred to as “The Power Transfer Sequence”
The sequence proceeds as follows: from the feet through the ankles; through the knees; through the waist; through the chest; through the core; off of the dominant leg the opposite leg via front foot stepping ; again through the chest, passing arm and wrist and opposite arm drive.
It is important to note that all these segments happen almost simultaneously and that is where the rhythm enters the picture. The ball is driven by the progression on the segments, the muscles of the chest and core and hips.
There are two (2) areas of importance in order to maximize power in the pass:
1. The elbow must be in front of the ball and as close to the ear as possible. This puts the body in a position similar the position of one who is chopping wood with an axe or swinging a sledge hammer. Neither would be done with the elbow behind the tool or away from the alignment of the body.
2. The chest must be in front of the chin. The muscles of the chest, hips, core and legs are the ones that power the football and the come into play almost simultaneously. However the explosive power of the chest may well be of primary consideration. Have you ever seen a player doing bench presses with his chin elevated and off the bench? No. If he did so that would not permit him to get his chest into the press. When a quarterback gets his chin in front of his chest that also minimizes the potential power of chest muscle, negates the full function of his core and tends to lock out his ability to get his hips into the pass.
Dominant foot position at delivery:
The dominant or back foot should be in a position perpendicular to the flight of the ball.
Opposite leg configuration at the point of delivery:
The opposite leg, at the point of delivery and after his front foot stepping, should be flexed. Major problems will be experienced if that knee is locked out. A locked out opposite leg will cut-off the Power Transfer Sequence at the hips and often cause the dominant arm to resemble a catapult. Accuracy and power will be virtually nonexistent.
Deep “Air Under” passes are of interest and the Power Transfer Sequence should be watched carefully. There is a misconception by many quarterbacks regarding the launching of these types of passes and they will make one or more of three possible mistakes: 1.) throw off of their back leg, 2.) revert to an elongated stroke, or 3.) over stride. These will result in his inability to get his hips into the throw or throw a ball that will die at the apex and not turn over. The only deviations from the normal platform would be the dipping of the dominant shoulder and a high aiming point.
Up Next: Scouting College Quarterbacks – Mechanics: Part 2