Learning to “Drive” with Oklahoma QB Landry Jones

Okahoma QB Landry Jones drives the Sooner Schooner pretty darned well, but to become a professional he has to develop a subtler understanding of his vehicle. Photo by elevenamx.

Spring is here, flowers are in bloom, and now’s the time to look at next year’s NFL Draft prospects. A player I didn’t see much of the past two years, but I intend to watch a great deal in 2012 is Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones.

Jones considered leaving school a year early to enter the 2012 NFL Draft, but wisely chose to stay for one more. Not that I have a definitive list of reasons why Jones made the right choice, but one of the things I would like to see him improve upon is his decision-making. This is true for most college quarterbacks heading to the NFL, but I think Jones could use another year to master the speed of the college game before he tackles the challenge of the pros.

Jones has the fundamental tools to develop into a good pocket passer in the NFL. However, like Tom Brady, he’s not going to wow anyone with his athleticism. This means his skill at finding the open man, manipulating the defense, and delivering the ball with uncanny accuracy will need to be top notch for Jones to maximize his potential.

As with most college pocket passers, there needs to be more levels of subtlety to his game. Here’s a common play concept (thanks to Smart Football’s Chris Brown) that Oklahoma executes where Brown made a solid decision, but will have to develop a mindset that balances patience and aggressiveness to execute with greater efficiency in the NFL.

The play is know as “Drive” and Brown provided me the link to iTeach, iCoach, iBlog, the site that explains the concept.

The order of the reads for the QB is: 1. H – Drive 2. Y-Dig, 3. RB “Burst” . This is what is referred to as a ” triangle read,” for the QB – he does not look deep. Drawing from iTeach, iCoach, iBlog.

Jones and the OU offense try this concept versus Iowa in last December’s Insight Bowl on 3rd and 4 with 12:07 in the first quarter. However, OU varies the formation and personnel that they use to run it. Instead of the 11 personnel, 2×1 receiver, shotgun set in the diagram the Sooners begin the play from a 10 personnel, 1×3 receiver, shotgun set.

Jones motions tight end James Hanna, the outside slot receiver, across the formation to the narrow side slot before the snap to set up the concept.

The purpose of this initial look is to disguise the concept from the defense while giving the quarterback a chance to make presnap coverage read with the motion of a receiver. Iowa is playing zone and the motion from Hanna forces the middle linebacker James Morris to make a coverage adjustment, moving to the shallow area of the sideline, accounting for the running back on a vertical  – in this case a wheel route – and then accounting for the shallow route in the flat.

At the snap Jones has his three basic reads as seen from the diagram, but the “burst” route from the RB in the drawing is handled by the wide side slot receiver and the out outside vertical route is now the running back running a wheel route. This is an example of the type of variations offenses use with one concept to disguise what they’re doing, but still retain some basic concepts.

The “Drive Concept” in a different personnel and formation set. Jones is likely instructed not to look to the vertical route in orange, which should widen the coverage of the shallow flat defender and help create an opening in the middle of the field.

Here’s a camera angle from Jones’ point of view after the snap.What you’ll see is three receivers to the right flooding one region of the field with a fourth coming to that side from the other side of the field.

The coverage appears to be Two Deep as Jones takes the snap and begins his progression reads.

Jones immediately looks to his first two reads, which with the help of the running back running the wheel route clears the middle of the field.

Jones, with the help of the route progression, is manipulating the safety, but he’s not gauging the depth well enough to see the space that will come open on the dig route by the tight end.

However, the problem I have with Jones’ decision-making here is that he should be gauging the depth of the safety. If he did, I don’t think he made an accurate diagnosis of the defensive back because there’s enough space for Jones to have made the throw on the 10-yard dig route. This will become more apparent within the next couple of steps when the tight end hasn’t finished his initial release, but the safety begins his retreat.

The position of the safety’s hips should indicate to the QB that he has enough room to hit the dig route if the tight end clears the linebacker, but Jones doesn’t demonstrate the patience to wait for it.

While there is pressure coming off the edge to Jones’ right, he has a clean enough pocket to take a hitch or two, and wait for the dig to develop.This is what I believe we should expect in the NFL.  If he makes this hitch step, h would see the tight end coming open before his break and the huge swath of open zone to deliver the ball for a first down. Instead, Jones comes off the dig route and looks to the “Burst” on the shallow cross.

This is why climbing the ladder with a hitch step is so critical to good pocket passing. One hitch and Jones would have seen his TE Hanna coming open on the dig route for a wide open, 10-yard gain and a first down. Instead, he checks down.

The hitch also buys Jones a little time in the pocket because he would have changed the angle of the edge rush and had more time to make the throw. Instead, Jones gets “happy feet” and shuffles he feet about a half-step to wait for his “Burst” to clear the shallow linebacker tied up with the “Drive.” Meanwhile, the “Dig” is wide open and if hit in stride, he could conceivably turn the play down hill, split both safeties and have a long gain – especially, when considering that this “Dig” player is a tight end that ran a 4.39-40 at the NFL Combine this spring.

Look at the beautiful passing lane Jones has to hit the dig route to a 4.39-speed tight end running wide open under a safety with a huge crease up the middle to turn it up field. These views in the film room after the game have to keep QBs up at night.

Jones dumps the ball to his outlet slot receiver running a shallow cross – “the Burst.” he did a good job to deliver the ball to the inside shoulder of the receiver so “the Burst” could turn up field and inside the the linebacker. However, Jones also waits too long to deliver this throw. he should have begun his release as the receiver cross under the linebacker tying up the “Drive” receiver. Instead, he’s tentative and waits too long until the receiver crosses into the last possible window on this shallow cross.

“X” marks the last possible spot where Jones needed to begin his release for the “burst” receiver on the shallow cross to have room to avoid the linebacker Morris in the flat. However, Landry doesn’t show great recognition on this play.

This is what I mean by Jones needing to develop a balance between patience and aggressiveness. One of the great skills of quarterbacking is anticipation. What’s not always apparent about anticipation is that depending on the route it requires varying levels of aggressiveness or patience. The deeper route to the tight end required patience. The short route to the slot receiver required more decisiveness. Jones doesn’t wait long enough for the first route and waits too long on the check-down. The result isn’t good enough to generate a first down.

This placement of the throw doesn’t look like a problem at this snap shot, but the linebacker has the angle against a receiver that has to alter his current momentum to avoid the tackle. Not happening…a short gain results, and OU punts.

The receiver spins into the defender and is wrapped immediately for a three-yard gain. As I mentioned at the beginning, Jones is far from the only viable NFL prospect at the position that has these types of issues. However, what I explained is the difference between an acceptable college decision (in some case) and acceptable pro execution from a veteran pocket passer.

For more analysis of skill players entering the NFL, download the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse.

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