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A Tale of Two (or Three) QBs

Beware of the ides of March or April


Those of you who have read my articles know I have been involved with NFL scouting from the outside for a long time. I have been acquainted with numerous coaches/scouts/players over the years. I saw a lot. Some of it wasn’t good, but I won’t go into those negative aspects here. I mention it only to inform you I have had a well-rounded education. It goes back as far as the original USFL which began play in 1983.

I vividly remember the 1986 college season and the Draft that ensued the following year. The Jimmy Johnson coached Miami Hurricanes were a near unanimous #1 rated team after the regular season scoring over 38 points a game and giving up just over 12 a game. They had played the #1 Oklahoma Sooners and beaten them convincingly 28-16 to become #1.

They were one of only two undefeated teams in college football by seasons end with the other being Penn State. Penn State was not very highly regarded even with legendary coach Joe Paterno. They were initially outside the top 5 despite starting 6-0. They were able to move up (after the Oklahoma loss) by beating then #2 Alabama. This set up a (possibly) dramatic showdown between the #1 and #2 ranked teams. Each team played and won 11 games during the regular season.

The college football bowl system was much different in 1986 as teams in conferences had ties to certain bowls. This kept all the bowls happy since they could possibly have a national championship game if their designated conference had the #1 team. 1986 was an outlier though since both Miami and Penn State were independent teams with no conference affiliations. Yet Miami could have easily stayed home, played in the Orange Bowl against any ranked team other than Penn State, won, and still have been crowned National Champion.

Miami had never played in the Fiesta Bowl while Penn State had been there three times, winning each game by an average of 13 points. The Fiesta Bowl had never hosted a championship game and only started playing on New Years Day a few years earlier. With the help of NBC, which ponied up some significant money to increase team payouts, a true National Championship game between Miami and Penn State was born. They even played it on a Friday January 2nd which had also never been done before.

Back in the day Miami was a premier program. They had a number of great players over the years. I mean Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was a backup defensive lineman behind Warren Sapp at Miami in the early 90’s.

Miami showed up in Tempe wearing military style fatigues. The game was being talked about as Miami Vice meets the Pennsylvania Dutch. Miami was led by future Jets QB Vinny Testaverde who had thrown 26 TDs and only 4 INTs in 11 games.

In the game Miami would amass 445 yards of offense to Penn State’s mere 162. Yet the game was decided on turnovers as Penn State recovered two fumbles and intercepted Testaverde 5 times in the game with the last INT in the end zone from the Penn State 5 yard line with 18 seconds left in the game. Penn State won the game 14-10.

Testeverde (6’ 5” 235 lbs) was a strong armed, physically solid QB who was a leader on major college team. He played in huge games for an enigmatic coach so he was used to pressure and the assumption that his team would be successful.

Despite the loss in Tempe, Testaverde was the first pick in the 1987 Draft by the inept Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Fraft was full of interesting players including Hall of Famer Rod Woodson who was selected at #10 and John Bosa (father of Nick and Joey) at #16.

Testeverde’s coach and GM was Ray Perkins. As a player, Perkins was an All-American wide receiver at Alabama who played with Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler.

Perkins was also the offensive coordinator on a Buccaneers team who won only 4 games in 1987. Teams didn’t start college QBs right away back then as they needed to adjust to the pro game. Even though Testeverde played in a pro style offense at Miami, he played in only 6 games the first year starting 4. His QB coach that year was a smart, young Marc Trestman (future Bears coach) who moved on the following year to become the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.

In 1988 Testeverde (age 25) took over control of the offense as the Bucs moved on from Steve Young and Steve DeBerg. Despite a decent offensive line, the Bucs offense was poor (Ranked 22nd of 28 teams), and Testeverde was awful. Testeverde was the QB for all 5 Tampa Bay wins that year while throwing for 3,240 yards. Yet his 47.6% completion rate along with 35 INTs and only 13 TD throws were worrisome to outsiders. The truth was a bit different.

The Bucs offense was predictable without any dynamic elements. The team would often run on first and second downs then throw a low percentage long pass on third down. Testeverde would often have to throw a deep sideline pass over a defender while deep safeties would have time to read the play. Worse yet he had zero coaching on the sideline. He would sit alone on the bench after a failed series without an consultation with an offensive coach. He didn’t have any offensive guidance while he was in Tampa. Never did he have more TDs than INTs in his 6 years there. This was not the only instance of this in Tampa.

The Bucs had another QB of note that they drafted a few years earlier in Steve Young. Young didn’t play in Tampa right away as he went to the USFL which offered more money. When the USFL folded the Bucs held his rights and brought him in to the team in 1985, but he only played in 5 games (with 1 win). In 1986 (age 25) he played the entire 14 season winning only twice. Young had a 53.7% completion rate that year throwing 363 passes for only 2,282 yards with 8 TDs and 13 INTs. Young wasn’t amazingly experienced, but he had played two full years in the USFL for the LA Express. He was traded to San Francisco after the ‘86 season where he played sparingly until taking over full time in 1992. Steve Young is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Testeverde eventually made his way to the New York Jets in 1998 which was sort of a homecoming since he went to Sewanhaka High School on Long Island. In New York a well schooled head coach named Bill Parcells had assembled an incredible coaching staff. Testeverde had Charlie Weis as an offensive coordinator and Dan Henning as his QB coach. Weis would become head coach at Notre Dame. Henning was previously head coach at Boston College. That year Testeverde had a 61.7% completion rate (which was very good for that era) with 29 TDs and only 7 INTs. Testeverde was 12-1 as the starter (Glenn Foley was 0-3) and did so while Curtis Martin struggled all year with 369 carries for only a 3.5 average per rush.

The Jets that year made it the AFC championship Game and held a 10-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter but a blown coverage by Otis Smith led to a 47 yard gain and eventually a TD. A fumble on the ensuing kick off followed by another fumble, and an INT led to the Jets demise, falling a game short of the Super Bowl to the eventual champions.

The following season Testeverde would tear his Achilles tendon in the first game of the year which pretty much ended his season. He came back to play an additional 8 seasons in the NFL, but his mobility was compromised which hurt his effectiveness.

The current Jets have brought in Aaron Rodgers to much fanfare and at much cost. Jet fans have turned their back on Zach Wilson because he didn’t satisfy their desires at QB. I have read numerous statements about never seeing Wilson again, and that he is beyond saving at this point. Such vitriol for a still 23 year old kid who is a near mirror to the Testeverde saga.

Wilson is a kid who grew up in the mountains, attended Corner Canyon High School in Utah, and went to BYU. He was 21 when the Jets drafted him. He had never seen a metropolis like New York before in his life. He certainly never had experienced the voracious press that descended upon him.

Wilson came to the Jets who had hired a new coach (of a defensive mindset) and a new offensive coordinator (Mike LaFleur) who had never been an offensive coordinator previously. He was the passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach at San Francisco. He had never coached a QB before, especially not a very young one. Wilson also had a QB coach (Rob Calabrese) who had never been a pro QB coach before. He was a high school QB coach when he left college.

The offensive coordinator wasn’t a help to Wilson. He couldn’t be because he didn’t know what to tell Zach. LaFleur had never instructed a QB before. He basically got the job because his brother was friends with the new Jets coach and he worked alongside Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. LaFleur also had problems with receivers in Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore who called him out in practice. He didn’t know how to adjust his game plan at halftime, and he didn’t allow for any changes in a game plan due to weather conditions. Of the three Jets QBs who played in 2022 not one had a completion percentage at or above 59% for the year; that is a very telling stat considering Joe Flacco (former SB winner) was under 58%. LaFleur was replaced at season’s end for his inability to create an offense regardless of the QB. The Jets hired an offensive coordinator that the new Jets QB (Aaron Rodgers) had worked with.

As for the 2022 season the Jets won 7 games. 5 of those games were with Zach at QB. Joe Flacco was the starter in 3 games with a single win coming from the fact the Jets recovered an onside kick against Cleveland. Since only 3 of 56 onside kicks were recovered (5.3%) in 2022. I would say that Joe Flacco’s win was rather lucky.

Mike White was 1-3 despite playing against the Bears, Vikings, and Seahawks who were in the bottom half of the league in defense. The only win came against the Bears who couldn’t score against the Jets defense. White even lost to the laughingly bad Vikings defense when he couldn’t help the team score from the 1 yard line.

Bottom line is that Zach Wilson had little instruction on how to be an NFL QB in a huge market like New York. After a terrible offensive game he was torn apart in the media because he had a poor press conference and didn’t take full responsibility for the loss. He was easy prey for the press to get a quality headline the next day. No one called out Mike LaFleur for poor preparation and lack of imagination. The Jets lost a game because they couldn’t score from the one yard line even though every team was using the “mosh pit QB sneak” with great success. LaFleur didn’t think to incorporate that into the offense until later in the year which is inexcusable.

Bottom line is that Zach Wilson has more talent than at least half the starting QBs in the NFL. He just needs to mature. He has shown great ability but has also made numerous bonehead plays that have cost the Jets games. He is a young QB who is early in the learning process. He has also had some injuries that really hurt his development such as the first preseason game.

I showed you Vinny Testeverde who threw for over 46,000 yards and Steve Young who is a Hall of Fame QB who struggled. Both those players were 25 years old when I highlighted them. They players later on. Zach Wilson is 23 years old right now. How do you give up on talent when he had to run for his life and had very little help for offensive coaches?

Everyone got what they wanted when Aaron Rodgers became the new QB; to heck with the cost. Still I read ramblings as many want to run Zach Wilson out of town. Be careful what you wish for because once Wilson gets his sea legs in the NFL, he may come back to bite you on the rear, and you will be wondering how that happened. Well I just told you.