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Should the Jets Play Sam Darnold Again This Year? (Part Deux)

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Lets try this again, shall we

New York Jets v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

I was elated to see many of you responding to my post and the outpouring of support for my thesis on why Sam should sit; wait... you guys overwhelmingly disagreed with my assessment. I must have missed that the first time.

I have to apologize for doing a poor job of writing by emphasizing the injury factor then neglecting the other key points of my argument. Accentuating the injury factor wasn’t my intention. It just came out that way. Sometimes my mind believes that other people are thinking right along with me so I don’t have to explain in detail my thoughts. My bad.

I did have a good time reading the comments, but it was a bit one-sided and those with opposing views were quickly attacked as dimwits. I was a dimwit by not focusing on other aspects of my argument until point #6 which led to the landslide of negativity. I will try again with proper passion but less ambiguity.

OK let me start again..

  1. I want the Jets to win a championship, and Sam Darnold is our best hope of doing that in the last 20 years or so. I have no other concerns about wins and losses. I don’t care. The Celtics lost by 33 points to the Lakers in the NBA Finals and won the championship. I will repeat. They won the championship. That’s all that counts. I realize people want to watch the next “savior” play. He really could be a savior but we have to do this correctly for him to be successful.
  2. I mentioned that Sam is 21 years old and didn’t start at USC until the 4th game of the 2016 season as a redshirt freshman. He started 24 games in college between the 2016-17 seasons. So as of right now he is 4 years removed from being a high school senior. His QB coach in college was Tyson Helton who was at UAB (2012), Cincinnati (2013), Western Kentucky (2014-15) and USC (2016-17) then moved on. His OC at USC was Tee Martin who was a running QB at Tennessee in 1999 and 2000. The reason I mention this is to stress the lack of quality coaching Sam received up until his selection by the Jets.
  3. The QB position is the most difficult position to coach. This is why it’s so hard to find a franchise type signal caller to lead a team despite the fact that rules make it easier than ever to succeed. This goes hand in hand with the lack of quality QB coaches who understand the science of the position.
  4. To be a great QB you must have the requisite talent and arm strength plus be smart, able to communicate, work harder than anyone on your team, be a leader, and have a technical skill at the position that borders on the perfection. The last point is most important; all the best QB’s of this era have been borderline obsessives about their technique. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees all have worked with the best QB coaches for extended periods of time. Brady works with Tom House about three weeks a year in the offseason. Brady is a 1st ballot HOFer who spends every possible minute with his family but spends about three weeks a year with Tom House. How important is that to him? Peyton Manning worked obsessively on technique from his time at Tennessee until his retirement. Peyton had a father who played in the NFL, and he was intelligent enough to understand the work and commitment it took to be a success.
  5. All great and successful QB have great technique; except maybe Cam Newton who has very spotty technique but is an extraordinary athlete. I still feel that Cam could have won that Super Bowl if he was more technically sound. He missed a couple of easy throws by bailing out and throwing off his back foot. It still hurts his accuracy, and if Cam wasn’t an elite physical specimen the Panthers might be looking to replace him. As it is Cam will never be a solid pure QB, and his team will suffer because of it even though he has the ability to put his team on his back and use is huge physical talents to get wins.
  6. Sam is not a gifted athlete, he is above average but not exceptional. His technique is poor, and I am being kind. When I grade a QB I look for technical skill as well as other factors including physical makeup. He does have a above average ability to process complex situations and that is a major plus. He sees things but does not adjust his body at the same time in order to create the best throwing motion and /or velocity. Let’s look at his very first professional TD throw.

When I saw this live I laughed because I was happy by the result but dismayed by the lack of technical skill. You may think I am overzealous about my technical commitment, but it is the only way to win in the NFL. Sure you can throw a few TD’s and win some games, but to be consistent and a consistent winner you have to be technically sound.

In this play Sam does so many things wrong. He looks at only one side of the field which brings all the defenders to that side. He wants to go to Sterling but he stares him down,and three defensive players are looking at him. The Jets had thrown short in the preseason and in this game so the defense was trying to take away the short pass.

He sees Robby Anderson beyond the safety racing down the side line, but he is manic. His footwork is poor, and he throws off his front foot with basically no leverage. Instead of dancing around in the pocket, if Sam had just looked off the safety, set his feet, and made an on-balance throw to the center of the end zone, it was a cinch TD.

He also could have kept his off elbow higher with his hand closer to his body. This would have facilitated a better arc on the ball while keeping better balance. His off arm usually should be much closer to his body but on longer throws if you lift your elbow up higher it gets you in the correct angle for the throw.

Instead the throw was short letting the safety get back into the play, and Anderson had to make a difficult contested catch. This is more of a fling than a throw. If Sam develops as a QB, he will look back at his first TD with a wry smile because he succeeded while doing so many things wrong.

This is a little more difficult, but the technique is still poor.

On this play he is rolling right, he is trying to throw on the the run with a defender in pursuit. He is trying to throw back but he has no idea of the proper way to do it. He ends up just jumping off the ground and flinging the ball.

This happened with a 21 point lead late in the 3rd quarter in the red zone. There was no need to rush things. In the NFL poor technique leads to poor results. One pass will be on the money, and the next one is intercepted. Sam needs extensive work on all aspects of his technique.

The correct way to throw an accurate ball on the run is...

He is right handed, and rolling to your right is actually a harder throw than throwing running to your left. When you are running left you just stick your left foot in the ground and pivot your body, because of your momentum your body will almost do it automatically. Once you are turned, you are now square to your target and can make a confident throw.

If you are rolling right (like in this play) it is a bit harder because your momentum is working against you. The correct procedure is the opposite of when you are running left. You have to stick your right foot in the ground and pivot with your left foot off the ground. It is tricky and needs some practice since you have to do it all in one motion. When I was working on this Thursday I watched Aaron Rodgers do it perfectly; watch this throw. It is perfection.

You see when Rodgers throws the ball his left elbow is almost as high as his shoulder, and his hand is near his body until he uncorks a 57 yard pass which moves his hand away from him while maintaining his balance. He does all this in one quick motion without thinking about it because it is now part of his natural skill set. He has worked so hard on the technical aspect of his game that it is automatic to him. It is like when you were taught to write, when you were young it difficult to learn, but now you write without even realizing you are doing so. It has become part of your natural skillset.

The reason Sam didn’t do it this way is because he doesn’t know how to throw on the run. He is doing it the wrong way, and all the reps in the world will not teach the correct way to do it. He needs to be taught how to do it and then practice it ad-nauseam.

7) You must remember the NFL rules and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Once the season is over, the Jets and NFL teams cannot coach NFL players until an official OTA session begin in 2019. So in 6 weeks the Jets will have no ability to help Sam with his technique or anything else. He must do everything on his own. He can’t even meet with an OC or any member of the Jets staff. Unless Sam finds a competent QB coach with time to dedicate to him, he will essentially be stalled in his development. The Jets could use this time to work with Sam without having to get him “game ready” by installing an offense for him.

8) One of the most misused cliques is the line, “Practice makes perfect,” which is a lie. Hall of Fame basketball player Jerry West said that, “Practice makes perfect,” was a misnomer, and only, “Perfect practice makes perfect,” was the right saying. You see, if you practice the wrong way you are teaching your body the incorrect muscle mechanics. This actually decreases your chance of developing the correct technique. So continuing to use the wrong technique will be detrimental to a young player’s development.

Teddy Bridgewater is in his 5th year in the NFL and was traded to the New Orleans Saints before the 2018 season began. In Teddy’s own words, he was amazed by the way Drew Brees prepares in the preseason, in the week before a game, and in pregame warmups. Teddy said it was an eye-opener, and it will change the way he prepares for the season and games in the future. He obviously didn’t see that type of preparation with the Jets or in Minnesota. If Sam Darnold is going to become a champion he will need to prepare like a champion, and he isn’t getting that type of instruction currently.

Many Jet fans are tired of the Patriots talking about the “Patriot Way.” Well the Patriot Way is outworking your opponent, and is why Josh McDaniels failed in Denver and why Matt Patricia was complained about when he took over at the Lions. Many players just don’t want to work that hard. Monday after the game is a normal workday in New England with meetings and tape sessions. When other teams are starting their week on Tuesday or Wednesday, the Patriots have all the peripheral work done and are doing field work.

9) To better understand my point, one must consider the difference between talent and ability. Talent is the requisite natural aptitude or skill to perform an activity at a high level. Ability is the proficiency to perform that skill at a exception level. Sam has talent but lacks the ability to be a proficient player right now, and continuing to play him I believe will hurt his development more than help it. I could see if he was going to be in this offense next year, but we all realize that is not going to be the case. He should spend his time on mechanics and in film study (with a competent coach) so he can better read defenses.

Look at it this way. If you were to genetically build a swimmer, you would probably make a swimmer like Michael Phelps. He is long, lean with flippers for feet and hands. It is why he is the most decorated Olympian in history. But what if Michael Phelps was never taught how to swim, and all he could do was the dog paddle. You would never had heard of him. All the practice in the pool using the dog paddle would not help his development. Only after he was taught how to swim was he able to become a legend. Let’s use this time to teach Sam how to become a legend.

10) People say the Jets should try and win every game, and I agree. But is starting Sam now give us the best possibility of winning? A rookie with poor technique gives us a better chance than a veteran QB who has won 23 NFL games? I know McCown is not a great QB, but he has been player of the week 3 times in the NFL with limited starts. Maccagnan has left this team bereft of offensive talent with a porous offensive line. The Jets would be an underdog most weeks no matter who is under center.

Lets look at some recent examples of QB’s good and bad...

Jared Goff

Jared Goff was an utter disaster under Jeff Fisher. The Rams didn’t use him in the first game but let him learn the offense until he was ready. He played the last 7 games and lost them all. He was 0-7 with a 54.6 completion % with 5 TDs and 7 Ints. HOF QB Troy Aikman went to watch preseason practice of Goff in his first month and thought he was a possible bust because he could not even throw a proper spiral.

The Rams fired Fisher and hired a young coach in Sean Mcvay who worked with Goff to understand his new offense and how to play the position. He used QB coach Zac Taylor to bring Goff up to speed technically, working feverishly on basic fundamentals of the position. MacVay added an offense that is fairly simple in it’s design and something similar to what Goff ran at Cal. In 2017 he went 11-4 (sat out the last game) 28 TDs and 7 Ints and 3804 yards (which would have been good for the 4th most in Jet history). You can see the results. It is almost a night and day difference, and all the reps Goff got under Fisher were almost useless in his transformation.

Pat Mahomes

The Chiefs traded a first the 27th and 91st picks in the 2017 draft plus their 2018 1st round pick to select Pat Mahomes #10 in the 2017 NFL draft. The Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been (along with the Saints Sean Payton) one of the top two offensive minds in the NFL for over a decade. He has gotten the most out of his QBs, and Mahomes was his new protege. The scouting blurb on Mahomes went something like this. The Texas Tech product possesses the prototypical size with the arm strength scouts drool over. Compared to a gunslinger like Brett Favre, Mahomes can make wow throws but also gets in trouble with poor mechanics and throwing into space.

The Jets don’t have any offensive minds even in the same zip code as Andy Reid, but Reid sat his new pupil for the year (played him in the last game of 2017) so he could work extensively on mechanics and to learn his offense. Alex Smith is a 13 year veteran with modest talent for the position but did well in Reid’s offense. I submit that Josh McCown (another seasoned vet) could have done about the same as Smith in the same offense. Other than Smiths escapeability, McCown has the same arm strength. McCown also has more knowledge of offensive systems than Smith. Neither was going to take the team to the Super Bowl, but they would make the Playoffs.

Mahomes has a much higher talent level than Alex Smith, but Reid chose to sit his new QB so he could work with him without the pressure of having to play in a game. Mahomes also has the ability to throw accurately side arm because he played shortstop in his youth and refined the skill. As you can see this year, that time on the bench was well-spent as Mahomes now orchestrates one of the top three offenses in the NFL. Reid is desperate to win a championship, but he still chose to wait a year so he could tutoring his young apprentice. Of course Reid didn’t have 700 sports reporters/personalities/TV journalists/cab drivers and a few million other people to complain about not starting his 1st round pick. It wouldn’t have changed his mind but he would have had to endure it.

Mitchell Trubisky

Mitchell Trubisky was the #2 pick in the 2016 NFL draft having started only one year in college. Trubisky was fortunate to have Gunter Brewer as his OC at North Carolina. He was taught good mechanics by Brewer who has been coaching football for over 30 years. Brewer now is the WR coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.

Trubisky’s first year with Chicago was not good under John Fox’s archaic offense. In 12 starts Trubisky went 4-8 with 7 TDs and 7 Ints and a completion % of 59.4. To throw 7 TDs in 12 games in the NFL is beyond horrible, and Fox was let go by the end of the season.

Matt Nagy was brought in after being Andy Reid’s OC for 2016-2017. Nagy had to work with Trubisky on his inexperience and get him to believe what he saw, then pull the trigger. Nagy’s offensive system, like Andy Reid’s offensive system is player-friendly and easy to use. Nagy has been trying to scheme to get Trubisky’s first read open so he doesn’t have to scan the field. It’s a work in progress, and in this situation offensive reps are exactly what Trubisky needs since his technique is adequate but his experience is limited. So far, so good with Trubisky. He has 20 TDs and only 9 INTs in 10 games, and the Bears are in 1st place.

Each one of these three young QB’s went through a hard struggle their first year and were rescued by an innovated offensive coach who built a system around their skill sets. These coaches also worked hard to fix what ailed them and that fixing continues today. Most if not all these kids come out of school too early and need much more coaching then they have received already.

Some people wonder why a kid would enter the Draft if he wasn’t ready to compete and be successful at the pro level. The answer is probably twofold; first they don’t realize how far their abilities are from being able to compete. Second they are told where they rank in the Draft process, and since they were all high picks they are risking a boatload of money if they were to get hurt in college. This money can make an entire family wealthy for decades if spent wisely.

.......................

There are no shortcuts in the NFL. You can’t just throw a 21 year old kid on a football field with minimal talent around him thinking he is somehow going to get better. This is not 1960 where you could do that, and the QB was not as vital as it is today. You need a comprehensive plan for success which starts by having a QB who knows how to throw a ball correctly.

Can Sam complete passes with inconsistent mechanics? Yes. Will he be a consistent passer? No. He also brings the ball down low to start his motion which slows the release of the ball. Safeties will read this and begin to break on the throw quicker with a better chance of breaking up the play or getting an INT. It also increases time in the pocket, which means a higher probability to be sacked. Also a sack fumble is a distinct possibility when he brings the ball up to throw, DE are now taught to hack at the ball. You see QB’s barely get off a pass before being hit. Split seconds make a huge difference. I only know the basics. I am no expert, but if I can see flaws in his delivery then an expert would probably wince in agony.

Sam needs help and needs it badly, I can only hope that this regime is sent packing and a new squad gets a tutor who is knowledgeable and can work with Sam one on one. Any reps he gets now will only make changing his mechanics that much harder and of course there is an injury factor to remember.

The current management team running the Jets is clueless. They are probably playing Sam in some ill-fated attempt to deflect criticism from their culpability in this team’s roster. I only wish they would see the season is lost and use the remaining time to work with Sam to at least fix his mechanics, but I am wishing on a star.

The good news is that a throwing motion can be altered and fixed. Aaron Rodgers was very rigid and held the ball too high coming out of Cal, which is the way Jeff Tedford taught him. Rodgers spent years reshaping his throwing motion, and now is so refined he makes it look so easy. He doesn’t always do things like he was taught because he has evolved beyond that. He can throw accurately from any platform. He can make up throws few will try because he is so balanced no matter what he does.

If you want to see excellent mechanics in a throwing motion watch Rodgers, Brady or Luck. Andrew Luck had some of the best throwing mechanics I have ever seen in a player coming out of college. He is not as good and athlete as Rodgers or even Sam but he is always on balance and he throws such a nice catchable ball.

I wanted to reflect on some of the comments you made in my first post but their were so many good retorts wouldn’t want to be remiss by forgetting some of the best lines. I do not have the time or energy to respond to them all.

I appreciate the time you took to read this, and I hope you know I only want what is best for Sam and the NY Jets.