Pocket Presence Chalkboard w/Alabama QB Blake Sims

Pocket Presence Chalkboard w/Alabama QB Blake Sims

Looking for an athletically talented backup-in-development? Blake Sims could be an answer. Photo by Iumotuen.
Looking for an athletically talented backup-in-development? Blake Sims could be an answer. Photo by Iumotuen.

When it comes to quarterback play, the feet usually tell the story. Blake Sims’ feet say a lot about his game.

Sims’ game has an exciting element of athleticism  and he has a pass-first mentality when he maneuvers a war-torn pocket. Ask him to get rid of the ball fast on plays that are extensions of the run game or isolate his decisions to a single side of the field and he displays workable accuracy for the college game that in many respects translates to the NFL.

I enjoy watching the Crimson Tide quarterback whose hometown is about 20 miles away from where I’m writing this post and I think he has an opportunity to compete in training camp for a roster spot as a developmental project.

However there is a difference between having good feet as a runner and confident, decisive, and accurate footwork as a passer that generates decisive, confident, and accurate plays in the passing game. Here are five plays where Sims’ feet say a lot about his current development.

Play No.1: (Climbing) – (Trotting) = (Patience)+(Control)

1st and 15 with 14:10 in the half form a 21 personnel weak-side twin receiver I-formation set with Sims under center and facing a 3-3-5 look with two deep safeties. Sims executes a five-step during his play-action fake. Sims sells the fake to the defense with good extension of the ball and his back turned to the line of scrimmage.

Sims finishes the drop facing the secondary and on the balls of his feet. It’s a good start this passing play, but when pressure arrives from the center Sims displays footwork that lacks patience and it’s indicative of a player who either needs more experience maneuvering the pocket or loses his composure under pressure. Based on what I’ve seen from Sims, I’m inclined to believe that his issue is impatience.

Note that Sims reduces his shoulder and slides inside the pressure while keeping is eyes down field. Great work to avoid the initial pressure and be in position to deliver the ball. However his decision to trot to the line of scrimmage rather than hitch or take more measured strides constrains Sims’ accuracy. The quarterback’s delivery on the run results in a short-hopped target and none of this was necessary.

One of the most common issues with pocket presence among young quarterbacks is resetting and throwing after maneuvering the pocket. There was enough open space around Sims to err on the side of measured steps and not rushing to the line of scrimmage. A slower approach not only gives Sims more control over his delivery, but also more time to scan the field and not settle for a tight-window throw.

Play No.2: Playing On Your Toes Helps You Stay On Your Toes

It’s accurate to say that Sims has potential because he’s a good athlete. It’s more accurate to say that Sims has potential as a quarterback because he does a lot to translate that athleticism into his performance of the position. Playing on the balls of his feet is one of Sims’ assets.

This 3rd and 4 with 10:38 in the half form a 1×1 receiver 11 personnel set versus a nickel look with one deep safety 13 yards over the tackle is a good example of Sims display he can be quick to adjust to obstacles. Ole Miss has its linebacker over the slot receiver tight to the formation bunched with the wing back and tight end. The cornerbacks have off coverage on the outside.

The combination of the coverage and Sims’ work from center produce a play that some might criticize the quarterback for frenetic play, but I view his performance as quick-thinking and in control. Sims looks left while taking a three-step drop and reads three defenders dropping to cover the zone of his primary read.

The quarterback adjusts well with a turn to the middle at the end of his drop. However, this marks the point where it’s plausible to criticize Sims for muddied footwork. His reactions with his feet are so fast and filled with nervous energy that it could indicate that zone drop confused him.

I initially thought so, but this is a constricting pocket with pressure approaching and while his feet are frenetic and the zone drop countered what he expected to be an open throw, I think there’s a spectrum between panic and Joe Montana. Sims’ feet get the job done and if this is his reaction on a play that crossed him up in tight quarters, he acquitted himself.

One reason Sims is successful is the fact that he’s playing on the balls of his feet. It’s an alert, athletic position that affords quick movement and control, which Sims displays when he pivots to the middle, spots the two receivers on either side of the linebacker’s zone drop, and he delivers a hard throw past the diving opponent for a six-yard gain and a first down.

There are multiple decisions to process in a short span of time. Sims has to come off his first read and decide between two receivers immediately as the pocket constricts, a recipe for disaster among many young quarterbacks not only for the decision, but the execution.

I often seen quarterbacks make the right decision but throw a bad ball in this situation and a lot of it has to do with the feet lagging behind the mind. In this case, Sims’ feet might be a little frenetic, but they are on-time and under him.

Play No.3: Predetermined Planning

Sims nearly hits Amari Cooper for the touchdown on this 2nd-and-goal fade with 4:25 in the half. It’s a quick, three-step drop from center that’s well-measured and in control. Sims delivers the ball with a trajectory that gives Cooper room to make a play in the air.

The receiver comes within inches of keeping his feet in bounds for the touchdown, but I assign more responsibility for the incomplete pass to Sims’ throw. Note the ball placement and position of the receiver.

This is a back-shoulder throw based on the depth of the break. If the route breaks closer to the back pylon then there is a better argument for a target to the front shoulder. It’s clear by Sims short drop, read of the coverage, and break of the route that he knew where he was throwing the ball before the snap.

It’s a confidently executed play, but it wasn’t planned with enough thought to the placement. A more seasoned quarterback may predetermine this target, but he’ll still read the position of the defender and make an adjustment to where he places the ball.

In this sense, Sims’ feet indicate his confidence, but also his inexperience.

Play No.4: The Eyes Are the Windows, But the Feet are the Window Frame

Whether it’s a runner, receiver, defensive end, or quarterback, a player can’t sell an opponent on some form of a double move without getting the defender to consider position and motivation. The eyes are often the motivation, but the feet frame that motivation with position.

Sims’ 53-yard completion to his tight end isn’t a perfect throw–in this case, it doesn’t have to be. The seam is wide-open and as long as the receiver doesn’t have to adjust his body too drastically to make the catch, the ball doesn’t have to lead the receiver under the ball. At the same time, it is something to consider when weighing how polished his deep accuracy is versus top NFL quarterbacks or projecting the accuracy if the tight end faced tight man coverage in trail position.

What matters most in this conversation is how Sims helps this route break wide open. Sims’ work begins at the snap with a rock-step looking left. His feet align the rest of his body to sell the look to the left sideline that moves the safety inside the right hash and gives the tight end a clean seam.

Alabama knows that the defender over top the tight end in the shallow part of the field is playing a shallow zone so this look-off creates an easier target if Sims sells the safety early. In this case, Sims’ creates the optimal situation where he only needs to deliver the ball to the general area for a big play.

Play No.5: When the Player’s Feet Reveals A Distrust of the Arm and Eyes

Sims faces a nickel look with three defenders deep with 2:44 left in the game from a 2×2 receiver 01 personnel shotgun. He fields the low snap, drops three steps looking right, and feels pressure as he turns to the middle and slides between the edge defenders, but he drops his eyes and abandons the pocket when he spots the linebacker outside the receiver on the cross.

Note Sims’ feet just as he brings the ball up, but decides not to release it.

The feet are in position for the throw, but Sims’ decision not to throw is a second-guess of his ability to make that play. It’s a tighter squeeze to hit this cross, but doable. It’s these bang-bang moments, like the second example, where a quarterback has to read and react rather and think. If he’s thinking, he’s slow to react and execution will be off.

In this instance, Sims wasn’t ready to accept that his feet where in the right position to make the play. It’s this kind of confidence he’ll need to exhibit more often if he wants to transition from college starter to a long-term, NFL employee.

There’s a lot to like about Sims’ if you’re framing the expectation of him as a developmental prospect with potential to grow into a reserve role in the NFL. Right now, Sims exhibits enough command of his body and mechanics to compete for a position, but the trust in following his progressions and processing the game have highs and lows that will be difficult for him to smooth out in a training camp in a new system and player with greatly limited reps that come with a player projected as a late-round option, at best.

If Sims decides football is his life and commits to gaining a foothold with a team, he has a lot of skills worth developing. However, his physical dimensions might have NFL teams writing Sims off. Don’t be surprised if the CFL comes calling if this happens.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece. 

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