Develop The System To The QB For Best Results


“He’s a system quarterback.”

I’ve heard that term much more often with the advent of the zone-read scheme so many college teams are running these days and the fast-paced, one-read game like Oregon uses.  Real system QB’s were the option quarterbacks of the wishbone days or the Nebraska and Oklahoma option era of Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer, respectively.

The fact is just about every player at every position has some need to “fit” into the right system to take advantage of specific talents or limit deficiencies and maximize potential whether it is on offense or defense.  A stand-up rush linebacker (think Clay Matthews) is going to be better utilized in a 3-4 than a 4-3 defense.  A run-stuffing middle linebacker doesn’t fit well in the “Tampa 2”, which needs fleeter, pass defending abilities to flourish.

Tim Couch was the No. 1 pick in 1999 and proved to be a system quarterback, but his Kentucky offense threw the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage a high percentage of the time and his failure was just one of the Cleveland Browns many missteps along a bad road.  There are a lot of people saying Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Baylor’s Bryce Petty need the right system to be successful, simply because they both came out of read-option offenses.  There are some QB’s that do need special offensive systems to give them their best chance at success, but neither Mariota nor Petty need that style to be productive at the next level.  This limited analysis of Mariota’s rather amazing physical abilities and quality throwing mechanics frustrates me and exposes a lack of understanding of the game.  Petty is being credited with having the most natural throwing ability of all the draftable QB’s and looks like a lot of passers making a lot of money in the NFL right now.

Russell Wilson is shorter than most NFL passers in the modern era and is benefitting greatly by having a strong running game that uses more play-action and roll-out passing than most teams employ.  On the contrary, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have such limited mobility that their systems are built to take advantage of their quick minds and great arms.  The Washington Redskins are Carolina Panthers are trying to find ways to fit unconventional style QB’s into their systems and finding it hard to get consistent play.

I had a free-agent workout for the Washington Redskins during Joe Gibbs’ tenure and their workout was quite a bit different and much more challenging than other teams that I had already had worked out for.  The Redskins system regularly threw deep sideline routes and required deep drop-backs and a pretty big arm (Doug Williams type) to accomplish, while the more popular West Coast systems (Joe Montana types) were looking for timing and anticipation, much more to my liking and abilities.

For the most part, NFL teams are still looking for tall, pocket passers with strong arms to lead their teams to the promised-land.  And since the vast majority of Super Bowl wins have come from that mold, you can be pretty confident it will stay that way.  Colleges can recruit any players that fit their system.  Pros try to do the same thing, but are limited to the draft and free agency to find those guys that fit what they want to do, but will also take a player based purely on athletic ability and try to coach him to play their way.

Real success, especially for the QB, comes when coaches can open themselves to new ideas, expand and improve the system and marry it to the player’s best attributes.  Unfortunately, many coaches are old dogs that don’t like new tricks and just want players to do it their way and end up missing great opportunities.

About Jeff Carlson

Jeff Carlson

Former NFL quarterback, training youth QB's in Tampa, Florida. Football Analyst for Bright House Sports Network and Football Insiders.