Young NFL quar­ter­backs are get­ting hurt too of­ten

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated Press Pro Foot­ball Writer Oak­land Raiders quar­ter­back Derek Carr is helped off the field af­ter an in­jury dur­ing a game against the In­di­anapo­lis Colts.

Car­son Wentz, knee. Ryan Tan­nehill, knee. An­drew Luck, shoul­der. Derek Carr, leg. Trevor Siemian, shoul­der. Teddy Bridge­wa­ter, knee. De­shaun Wat­son, knee. Mar­cus Mar­i­ota and Jameis Win­ston, as­sorted.

That’s a short list of young quar­ter­backs who have ei­ther missed ac­tion this sea­son or wound up on the NFL’s in­jured re­serve. It’s too long. Plus, there are lots of older vet­er­ans who have gone down, from Car­son Palmer to Aaron Rodgers to Josh McCown. But those guys have been side­lined be­fore, and they have bounced back.

There should be con­cern for the likes of Wentz and Carr and Wat­son and the top two picks of 2015, Win­ston and Mar­i­ota. They might not be prop­erly trained to sur­vive the rig­ors of NFL quar­ter­back­ing.

And there are plenty of rea­sons why.

“The longer you play, you un­der­stand the best abil­ity is your avail­abil­ity,” says Rich Gan­non, the 2002 NFL MVP with the Raiders who spent 17 NFL sea­sons with four fran­chises.

Gan­non doesn’t think many of the QBs com­ing into the NFL are pre­pared to stay on the field. He’s not talk­ing just about wins and losses, ei­ther.

“If you re­ally study a lot of them, they’ve been through sig­nif­i­cant change with the coach­ing staffs, the co­or­di­na­tors, the sys­tems. And there is no carry-over and no con­ti­nu­ity, and so they are con­stantly learn­ing.

“While they are learn­ing, they are not to­tally versed in pro­tec­tion schemes. When you are un­sure, some­times you make a mis­take, like with (de­fen­sive) guys com­ing off the edge and you did not an­tic­i­pate or didn’t know you should an­tic­i­pate it.

“Watch the masters, guys like Brady or Brees or Rivers, they don’t take a lot of un­nec­es­sary hits. They see the pro­tec­tions, have an un­der­stand­ing of scheme and where they are vul­ner­a­ble, where the pres­sure is com­ing from. So they get the ball out.”

An­other thing those vets do is throw the ball away when a play won’t work. Move on to an­other down. Mean­while, you haven’t taken yet an­other hit — maybe the shot that sends you to the side­line.

“They think they can make every play,” Gan­non adds of the young­sters.

Since Gan­non re­tired af­ter the 2004 sea­son, the de­mands on a col­lege quar­ter­back have changed so dras­ti­cally that the game they play be­fore reach­ing the NFL can have as much re­sem­blance to pro foot­ball as mar­bles does to bowl­ing.

For ex­am­ple, even passers op­er­at­ing some­thing akin to a pro-style of­fense in school do not need to process in­for­ma­tion at the line of scrim­mage.

They al­most ex­clu­sively work out of the shot­gun or pis­tol. Their tar­gets are pre­de­ter­mined and there is lit­tle ad- lib­bing. They aren’t work­ing be­hind cen­ter, so they don’t un­der­stand the pro­tec­tions. And they are sketchy on func­tion­ing as pocket passers.

Their train­ing and in­stincts in col­lege lead them to leave the pocket and scram­ble more of­ten than is safe when they are in the NFL.

So can it be changed to make the tran­si­tion eas­ier?

“It is not go­ing to (im­prove),” Gan­non says. “I don’t think the col­lege game is go­ing to change. I think part of it is coach­ing — they get these kids for what­ever time each week and that is it. They are not coach­ing them for the next level, nor is that what they are hired to do. They are coach­ing them to win now, to be­come con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons.

“There’s also a prob­lem at our league level. You have too much turnover, co­or­di­na­tors are fired all the time. You could have a young guy work­ing with a dif­fer­ent co­or­di­na­tor and dif­fer­ent sys­tem year af­ter year.

“We also need to look at who is coach­ing some of the po­si­tions. You see with some (teams), qual­ity con­trol coaches are pro­moted to work with the quar­ter­backs, or tight end coaches are pro­moted to coach the quar­ter­back. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Oddly, the one young quar­ter­back who shows the most prom­ise of suc­ceed­ing in a pro- style at­tack is Wentz, who went to an FCS school, North Dakota State. Of course, the Bi­son are a pow­er­house at that level.

Wentz seems to un­der­stand the me­chan­ics of quar­ter­back­ing in the NFL more than his peers.

“I re­ally like Wentz’s game, I think it is built for a lot of dif­fer­ent styles of play,” says Gan­non, who had many dif­fer­ent styles when he played.

“He can sit in there, has the strength like a Ben Roeth­lis­berger, can shake off a would-be sack, has some quick­ness to him. He can find a lane and step up and then throw, and has the in­tel­li­gence you like at the po­si­tion, a guy who can process a lot of info and re­ally cut down on the mis­takes.”

Yet, as any­one on Broad Street in Phil­a­del­phia will tell you, Wentz tore up his knee and is done for the sea­son.

Kansas City quar­ter­back Alex Smith (11) does some­thing spe­cial for his “un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated” of­fen­sive line­men dur­ing the hol­i­days.

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