Tag Archives: Blaine Gabbert

Still Searching For The Answer at Quarterback

How’s this for a knee-jerk reaction?

John Beck isn’t the answer at quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Yes, last Sunday was only one game. Yes, last Sunday, he made his first NFL start in over three NFL season and close to four years overall. Yes, he finished last Sunday’s game without the services of his starting running back, best wide receiver, and 40% of his team’s starting offensive line. All of those are true.

Here’s my retort: when you watched the game last Sunday, did we really see anything from Beck that, at any point, made you think: “wow, I know it’s only his first game in four seasons, but I really think we have a chance with this guy”? Emphatically, no.

Anyone who’s being completely honest with themself would admit that Beck showed us that he’s an average quarterback, at best, with a little bit of mobility. That’s it. There’s nothing special, or even above average, about his game. Again, being honest, the only reason that myself, among many other Redskins fans, rallied behind John Beck was that he wasn’t Rex Grossman. That’s about it. It’s not like we saw something in 2007, or even this past preseason, that makes us believe that there’s something to this guy. Hell, this is the guy that Grossman beat out for the starting job. Decisively, I might add.

At this point in time, we just have to let Beck finish out the season. Because, really, what other choice do we have? There’s no point in going back to Grossman. He was a below-average quarterback, and he showed nothing different when he was the Redskins starter; there’s nothing to gain by going back to him (except maybe draft positioning). And it’s not like we’ve got some third guy at quarterback, waiting on the bench. Our third string, pratice squad quarterback is Jonathan Crompton, a guy who wasn’t even in camp with the Redskins and signed with the team just days before the regular season started.

Honestly, I’m sick and tired of the patchwork quarterbacking this team has rolled out over the past decade. 21 starting quarterbacks in 19 years, since the end of the Gibbs I era. That’s just ridiculous on so many levels. Even with the new hope found from the Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan, we’re still busy rolling out retreads like Donovan McNabb or castoffs like Grossman and Beck, and being told to have patience and faith.

Damn it, we’ve had nothing but patience, faith, and hope for the better part of two decades now. Enough is enough.

Quarterbacks aren’t like kickers, where there’s five capable guys waiting by the phone for tryouts, ready to take the incumbent’s spot if and when necessary. In today’s NFL, more than at any point ever in the history of the league, a team’s success lies with the performance of its quarterback.

Just take a look around the NFL, as of late October, 2011. The resurrection and current success of some of the league’s top franchises, both currently and over the past decade, began with finding their franchise quarterback – usually capitalizing on an early pick in the draft – and then putting together the rest of the team around that.

Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year, and went to the playoffs two of the three years Aaron Rodgers has been the starting quarterback (yes, I know Rodgers was drafted 24th overall; if you remember that draft, Rodgers was legitimately in the running to be the top overall pick, and only fell to #24 after Smith was drafted because so many teams were afraid of the risk and cost associated with drafting a QB, given the high bust rate between 1997 and 2004). I’ll make the argument, right now, that Rodgers could very well be the best quarterback in the entire game – especially with Peyton Manning gone – even over Tom Brady.

In addition to having him as their starting quarterback in two Super Bowl wins, Pittsburgh has never had a losing season since drafting Ben Roethlisberger. The Giants have never had a losing season since drafting Eli Manning (outside of Manning’s rookie year in 2004), and they also have a Super Bowl ring to show for it. The Chargers have never had a losing season with Phillip Rivers (the third member of that 2004 draft class) as their quarterback , and have won 11 or more games in three of the five season’s he’s been the starter.

Indianapolis drafting Peyton Manning, and their subsequent success, should go without saying (at least until this season). Philadelphia ruled the NFC East for the better part of a decade, after drafting McNabb. The Bengals won two division titles with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback. Atlanta won their division twice this decade, behind two different highly-drafted franchise quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Matt Ryan). Joe Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs every season he’s been the starter. Detroit has been slowing down over the last few weeks, but looked like one of the best teams in the league through the first five weeks of this season, largely in part due to Matt Stafford’s play.

Even Mark Sanchez, who has looked erratic and inconsistent at times (and that’s being polite), has led the Jets on 7 fourth quarter comebacks, 9 game-winning drives, in less than two and a half seasons as the Jets starting quarterback. And, of course, that’s not mentioning the fact that he’s helped take the Jets to two straight AFC Championship games. Heck, even Vince Young took the Titans and Tim Couch took the Browns to the playoffs once.

Along with intense pre-draft background searches and character interviews, the sophistication of many college offenses, along with draft preparation camps and private coaching from ex-NFL coaches and coordinators, have made some of the recent top draft picks more NFL-ready than we’ve ever seen. If you count every quarterback drafted in the first round between 2008 and 2010 – Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow – all but Tebow (a known project and considered a reach overall) started very early in their NFL career and are firmly entrenched as their team’s starting quarterback for at least the next decade. And while the jury is still out for most of the guys from the 2011 draft class – namely Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder – Cam Newton is well on his way to joining the formerly mentioned entrenched starters as well.

In contrast, take a look at teams like Miami, Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, Kansas City, and yes, Washington, who’ve foregone the draft route and tried raiding other teams’ rosters or plugging in retreats at quarterback. These are among the teams with the longest playoff droughts in the NFL (you could argue that Kansas City’s playoff run was a huge fluke last year given how bad that team has been this year, and even despite all the offensive statistics they’ve put up under Matt Schaub, the Texans have never made the playoffs in the history of their franchise).

Yes, I know: drafting a quarterback is far from a perfect science, and there’s often as much of a chance of missing as there is of getting the right guy. For all the guys mentioned above, one could easily throw out names like Ryan Leaf (gigantic douche), David Carr (still in the NFL, but just never quite seemed to get it), Joey Harrington (more interested in being Elton John than John Elway), Akili Smith (overrated because of physical attributes while ignoring only one year of college football experience), Byron Leftwich (lazy work ethic and lousy teammate by numerous accounts), Alex Smith (no arm strength and gimmick college offense), Vince Young (overall IQ equivalent to a bag of hamburgers), Matt Leinart (more interested in partying and chasing tail), and Jamarcus Russell (couldn’t stay away from questionable characters, purple drank, or buffet lines), among others, as retorts. All of them, except Alex Smith (who seems to have finally caught on to some extent), have been colossal misses, setting back the fortunes of their franchises for years.

Even the Redskins had to deal with this after they tried to take this route – although not necessarily with a high draft pick – by drafting Jason Campbell, which obviously failed. Campbell was a better physical prospect – and human being – than he was a quarterback. The revolving door of coaching staffs and offensive supporting cast did hurt his development, but he was just one of those guys whose mind and football acumen weren’t nearly as good as his physical skills and talents.

But as we’ve seen, the “acquisition” route at quarterback hasn’t exactly worked either, and we’re once again in a position where we have to hit the reset button. Beck, Grossman, or whoever else we can dig up (Kellen Clemens) will suffice for the 2011 season, but not a day past that.With as many as six guys (maybe more) who could carry a first or high second round grade in the 2012 NFL draft
(assuming they all declare for the draft) – Andrew Luck of Stanford, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Matt Barkley of USC, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, Nick Foles of Arizona, and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M – if there was ever a year that Shanahan was to find “his” guy that he could groom into the next franchise quarterback of this team, it would be this year.

But for now, even while John Beck remains the starting quarterback, the search for the Redskins franchise quarterback continues.

This column was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

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With Shanahan & Allen, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Right now, if you ask ten different so-called NFL experts, draft pundits, and Redskins fans alike the question of: “Who do you think the Redskins are going to take with their first round pick” you could very well end up with 10 different answers.

First, everyone thought they were going to take Cam Newton. If not Newton, then Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, the other “blue-chip” quarterback in this draft. Then Phil Taylor, the nose tackle from Baylor was the hot name. When it looked like the former two wouldn’t be available and it would be a big reach to take the latter, we started throwing out other possibilities. Perhaps they’d take someone like defensive end JJ Watt from Wisconsin or defensive end Robert Quinn from UNC to upgrade the defense. After the scouting combine, the new hot name linked to the Redskins – despite no other credible evidence out there supporting this idea – is wide receiver Julio Jones from Alabama. And, of course, you’ve still got “the field”: other shots-in-the-dark possibilities like running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, cornerback Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue or any wild guess really.

Here’s what I think. When it comes to the Shanahan/Allen regime, they thrive on secrecy and misinformation. They’re the opposite of that bungling fool Vinny Cerrato, who if you were playing in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, he would have let you know what cards he had before you even flipped the Turn or the River cards.

But even with this new found secrecy in Redskins park, historical precedent has shown that with Shanahan and Allen, look for the most smoke, and you’ll likely find the fire. Last year, the name of Trent Williams started emerging more and more as the guy the Redskins would take with the 4th overall pick, even though he may not have even been considered a top 10 pick late in the winter. The debate raged on, regarding whether the Redskins should take Williams versus a guy like Russell Okung, who most considered to be the more “NFL-ready” guy. Okung had all the accolades (two-time All American, Big 12 lineman of the year, Outland trophy finalist) and was even projected by some to be the first overall selection in the whole draft.

But Shanahan and Allen saw a guy with enormous potential and upside (even greater than Okung’s), and someone who could be dominant in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. Even on draft day itself, when rumors swirled that the Redskins would make a trade up to go get Sam Bradford (turns out there was no basis for this), or that they were seriously considering taking Eric Berry (not even close), they stuck with their guns throughout and zeroed in on taking Williams.

Really, that’s really the only evidence or precedent we have to go with, if we’re trying to predict exactly what Shanahan and Allen are going to do. So what exactly can we extrapolate from this?

Here’s my thought: even with all of those names mentioned above, as speculation regarding whom the Redskins may end up taking with their first round choice, who’s the one guy whose name is consistently linked with the Redskins, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense right now?

That would be University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

If you read between the lines and take samplings of well-connected media guys, player agents, and the always-secretive guys “who know a guy who knows something,” the Redskins and Jake Locker’s name keep popping up together.

And to me, it makes a lot more sense than you might think. Let’s be honest: Mike Shanahan didn’t come to Washington to have Rex Grossman to lead him to a Super Bowl (or anywhere at all, really). Rex is the placeholder, at best. And Shanahan and Allen have to realize, at this point, that they’re at least a year or two away from being a contender for anything, given how pathetically bare the cupboard was left for them when they first arrived.

Locker has as much upside as any quarterback in this draft, not named Cam Newton. From my armchair quarterback point of view: I want three things from my quarterback: accuracy, loves the game of football as much as anything else, and a guy that his teammates would go to war with any day of the week. Those three things matter more than anything else, if we’re projecting future success in this league.

From all accounts, Locker aces the latter two. His intangibles are second to none. Even all the other accoutrement you could possibly want from your franchise quarterback – arm strength, mobility, frame – he grades out as an “A+” in all of those areas as well. He already had some experience in an NFL-style West Coast offense, playing under Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington, which will slightly minimize his learning curve when making the jump to the NFL.

Now, as far as accuracy goes; yeah, there’s a lot to be desired with that. He’s streaky, erratic, and still has a ways to go with his decision making. There’s still a lot to develop with him, as far as his throwing rhythm, reading defenses, and footwork.

But here’s my thing with Locker: unlike guys in the past who were all athlete and none quarterback, Locker wants to get better. He wants to learn how to be better. He wants to be coached, and doesn’t just want to show off his athletic marvels (arm strength and running speed). Again, you can’t find a single person that doesn’t love Locker as a person or as a football player.

I’ve made my belief pretty clear when discussing other quarterbacks in the past, especially for one that’s as “raw” as Locker: they should hold the clipboard for as long as possible, and learn from the sidelines. Let him soak up as much as possible in the classroom first, and then take his reps with the scout team, throwing to scrub wide receivers, and improving his game the old-fashioned way: through hard work on his own. And if the Redskins happen to be out of playoff contention come early December, then it’s ok to let Locker onto the field and get some reps in real-time; but only after he’s had time to get some “seasoning” on the bench, first.

Only those fans with the highest prescriptions on their burgundy and gold glasses will think the Redskins are a legitimate contender for anything in 2011. They just have way too many holes to address on both sides of the football.

But biggest of all those holes is the future of the quarterback position. Drafting Locker at least gives you an answer at that position, especially if he turns out to be a success.  And really, how many guys in the league would you take over Mike Shanahan, when it comes to developing a quarterback? Shanahan got Brian Griese and Jake Plummer to lead his team to AFC West titles, and had Jay Cutler throw for a mind-bending 4500+ yards (still his career high) in only his third season.

Is there a big part of me that fears Locker may be the second coming of Heath Shuler? Absolutely. But there’s a bigger part of me that’s absolutely intrigued by him as well. If he was just a physical specimen that played in a gimmick offense in college for a season or two, I’d be a lot more worried. But I think there’s a ton of potential there that, if developed properly, could lead to some very promising results.

So either I really believe all of this about Locker, Or maybe I’m just convincing myself into buying into Locker, because that’s who I think will be the quarterback of the future for the time being in Washington.

This article was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com