Support my attention-whoring ways by following us on twitter!

Get the SKOdcast imported directly into your brain!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can Tim Tebow be Fixed? What about Jay Cutler?

When I think of Tim Tebow, I think of Kyle Boller.

You see, Kyle was drafted in the first round in 2003 because of a strong final year at Cal. Up until his last year, Boller had been a tremendous disappointment, for his cannon arm had completed just 45% of his passes, thrown for just 1721 yards a year, and compiled a lackluster 36-38 TD:INT ratio. Then famed QB guru Jeff Tedford took over at Cal, and Kyle threw for nearly 3000 YDs with a 28-10 ratio his senior year. His rocket arm and great size (6'3", 220) led Brian Billick and the Ravens to take a chance on his continued improvement and made him the Ravens QB of the future.

The Ravens, however, had overlooked that Boller, in his best year, completed just 53% of his passes. Boller's accuracy issues hadn't really gone away, so much as a new system and better coaching hid the rest of his flaws. In the NFL, Boller's accuracy proved to be his undoing, as he struggled through nine years in the NFL to a 56.7 career completion %. That is, in all fairness to the Ravens coaching staff, a tremendous improvement over his college career (47.8%), although it came at the cost of running a conservative short passing game (Boller averaged 5.9 YPA, 10.4 YPC, and just 133 YPG in his career) that rendered any offense with Boller at the helm completely impotent.

The point is, quarterbacks that can't throw the ball accurately in the NFL aren't likely ever going to do so.
There's no point in "developing" them. Time and coaching won't fix the issue. Since 1992, there have been 8 young QBs (players within the first 3 years of their careers) other than Tebow who have completed 50% or less of their passes with at least 250 attempts. Of those 8, one is Drew Bledsoe, one is Kerry Collins, and the rest are Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Craig Whelihan, Browning Nagle, Stan Gelbaugh, and Akili Smith.

That's not a good group to be associated with. While Drew Bledsoe did eventually become a competent NFL passer, few observers his rookie year would have associated his low completion % with a poor throwing motion or mechanics so much as Drew's oft-mentioned tendencies of staring down receivers, forcing passes, and getting hit in the pocket as a complete statue. Kerry Collins somehow went on to have a lengthy career and racked up tons of passing yards, but his accuracy never really reached anything more than "barely acceptable" with a career completion % of 55. The rest of those names...well, yeesh. Odds are, if you can't complete even half of your passes, you're never going to be a consistent NFL passer.

So why is it we still hear even some rational people talk about fixing Tebow? While no one seems willing to devote a roster spot to the task, there are many people who seem to think that, with time and coaching, Tebow could be "fixed" and develop into an accurate passer. The fact of the matter is it's almost impossible that he could make anything more than a marginal improvement in his accuracy, like most of the passers mentioned above.

Does this mean no quarterback can be "fixed"? Why do I waste time still believing in a guy like Jay Cutler, then? While no one's arguing that Cutler has the accuracy issues of Tim Tebow, there are those who think he's "peaked" and that the Bears are wasting their time hiring Trestman and going through the motions of trying to "fix" Jay, when he may already be everything he's going to be. I disagree with this, naturally, and a lot of it has to do with the answer Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals head coach and long time QB coach/OC recently gave to a question over whether quarterbacks can improve their accuracy and mechanics:
“I think you can improve all phases of their mechanics,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Some guys, if the flaw is so difficult in their throwing motion especially from the trunk up, it’s going to be hard. But the majority of accuracy problems are your legs. Guys overstride, they understride, they put themselves in bad positions and stress themselves. Fundamentals, that’s why golfers go to the driving range every day. Tiger (Woods) is a great player, Rory (Mcllroy)  is a great player, but they go to the driving range every day. Quarterbacks need to go to the driving range every day.
“You want to be more of a teacher than a swing coach. When you are a swing coach, you know you have problems.”
Jay Cutler is not an inaccurate quarterback. He's never going to be the pinpoint artist that a guy like Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is, but he can, and has been,  an accurate passer in the NFL on a consistent basis. In Denver, in a West Coast Offense, Cutler completed 62.5 % of his passes while still averaging a still very good 11.8 yards per completion. His completion % has dipped to 58% the last two years largely because he's attempted more deep passes (Cutler went deep on 15.9% of his attempts last year, and his yards per completion the last two years is up to 12.2), but also because collapsing pockets and inconsistent coaching have exacerbated his infamous mechanical issues. While no one would knock Cutler's fairly standard over-the-top delivery or his natural release and arm strength, there's no denying that his footwork can be absolutely abominable at times, and therein, actually, lies the hope. Cutler's work in Denver is evidence that Trestman absolutely can make Jay into a more efficient passer by eliminating some of the sloppy footwork, giving him more high % throws to convert, and hopefully providing him with a clean pocket.

In the end, you can't fix a quarterback if the problem is accuracy, even though every year some guy like John Skelton or Derek Anderson will have enough of the rest of the package to convince some coach to try. Kyle Boller, even under ideal circumstances, was never going to hit all of the throws necessary to be an NFL quarterback. Tim Tebow won't either. What often gets mistaken for accuracy, however, is consistency, and that's where a guy like Jay Cutler offers the continued potential for improvement. 

So what should Tebow do? I'm not telling him to hang up his cleats or accept a move to tight end. What Tebow offers, that so many of those other young passers did not, is his mobility. While the NFL suddenly seems to be overcome by mobile passers who can also deliver the ball with accuracy like RGIII, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, I don't know that Tim Tebow can't be effective with his set of skills. The Broncos were close, although their offensive successes were overrated due to their winning streak. If a team was willing to accept what Tebow offered them and gave up any pretense of making him something he's not, I still think there might honestly be a chance he could run an option-based offense (think something like Paul Johnson's scheme at Georgia Tech) to great successs in the NFL, with his established talent at throwing the deep ball keeping defenses honest against the run. It would be a ballsy move, one most likely to be laughed at, but before the success of the guys mentioned above people would have laughed at the idea of running the option in the NFL, period.

Sadly, the best opportunity for this exact scenario to play out has passed. The Jets, with absolutely nothing to lose, refused to try to ride the Tebow train as far as it could take them, and it now seems highly unlikely Tebow will ever get a chance to be "the guy" on a team that has no reason not to try something unorthodox. It's a shame, too, because the NFL could always use something different, and while Tebow may not be "fixed," he might still have been the answer for someone.

No comments: