Stanford QB Kevin Hogan: A Study in Pocket Presence

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan: A Study in Pocket Presence


Hogan has underrated awareness in the pocket. It’s a skill set that could set the table for his overall game to flourish.

By David Igono

Pocket presence is a skill that is fundamental to a quarterback’s success in the NFL. Stanford senior QB Kevin Hogan has three desirable traits that flow into pocket presence:

  1. His ability to manage edge pressure.
  2. Averting interior pressure.
  3. Climbing the pocket with poise.

Hogan has underrated awareness in the pocket. It’s a skill set that could set the table for his overall game to flourish.

Athleticism is highly valued at all positions in football. At the quarterback position, athleticism is contextual. The ability to extend the play and exploit the defense is the hallmark of an athletic quarterback.

Savvy quarterbacks blend athleticism with high football intelligence. Hogan integrates these skills against a perfect pressure package from Notre Dame:

Let’s give credit where it’s due, not only did the Fighting Irish get multiple guys to the quarterback, they blew up the initial offensive play call, which looked like a screen to the running back. Conventional 2nd & long wisdom would say that the QB will mostly likely eat the ball for a sack or worse, throw it away quickly, risking an intentional grounding penalty.

Hogan does neither.

As he braces for a hit from two defenders he angles his body to the boundary sideline. This is crucial for two reasons:

1. In the college game, the hashes are wider apart than the pro game. This splits the field up into two vertical parts. The “boundary” side of the field is the portion of the field where the distance from the ball(at the snap) is the shortest and the “field” side is the remaining area. In the play above, Hogan knows that he has less distance to run if he takes off to his right. This also forces the pursuit angles of the defense to change, buying him more time to make a better decision.

2. By rolling to the boundary sideline to avoid pressure, Hogan is able to get out of the tackle box by merely staying on his feet. This means he can throw the ball away without the risk of intentional grounding.

And yes, he gets style and creativity points from the Romanian judge for the double spin as he moves to his right. He wisely protects the ball and the offensive possession while scrambling to safety before throwing the ball away.

The last four words of this piece on LeVeon Bell’s transition to the NFL come to mind when the topic is decision-making. Sometimes the best play is taking exactly what the defense gives you.

In another demonstration of mitigating pressure off the edge, Hogan rolls left, avoids two defenders, and hits a wide-open receiver for a first down on this play:

I’m a big believer in a quarterback’s footwork being a reflection of his thought process. When a quarterback can fuse clean footwork with shoulder or head fakes and ball handling it creates pure agony for a defense. Case in point is this play where No.95 for Northwestern has Hogan dead to rights after this play fake:

In most cases, the defender has an easy sack or forces the quarterback to work into his teammate’s pressure. But neither happens.

It’s important that this play happens during the first quarter of the first game of 2015. No.95 completely underestimated Hogan’s ability to extend the play. Watch the defender’s run up to Hogan and he never once chops his feet or lowers his hips to exert maximum impact.  It’s definitely bad technique from the defender, but I believe Hogan set up No.95 and the defender compounded the situation with poor technique.

Hogan also has his own technique issues to address. His accuracy suffers because of a flawed delivery and it’s an area where Hogan must improve if he wants to maximize his development. However, I believe it’s easier for a quarterback to improve his passing mechanics than to teach the pocket presence that I see routinely from Hogan’s game.

Don’t believe Hogan sets up defenders? Watch this clip:

That is cold-blooded.

Stanford has three wide receivers to the field side with the intent of a running a screen against the three defenders (3 on 3). To the bottom of the screen Stanford has two receivers covered by two defensive backs (2 on 2). USC has three down lineman and sends linebackers on a blitz against the five offensive lineman (5 on 5). USC also has a free safety that’s not in the picture at the snap.

With the incoming pressure Hogan has two options most quarterbacks commonly take: He can throw the ball into the ground at the feet of the intended receiver or try to force the pass to the receiver to make a play on the screen.

Again, he does neither.

Hogan learned during the pre-snap phase of the play that if USC sends pressure on the edges there would be nobody in the middle of the field to stop him except for the free safety who begins the play with a back pedal to centerfield. USC played the numbers game and lost.

Note the pause Hogan utilizes to freeze the rush half a beat longer before he bursts up the middle.

That is the definition of the music that happens between the notes.

Hogan climbs the pocket with an authority and intuition that belies a quarterback with latent ability. Most quarterbacks will hurt you when given more time to throw. Time to throw downfield is either created or taken. Time can be created through play action or keeping extra bodies into block. Time can be taken by navigating the pocket to find a receiver downfield.

Hogan is very adept at taking time from the defense and climbing the pocket to attack it. Climbing the pocket as a quarterback takes a combination of poise and grit that not all master.

Not all these attempts are home runs, but they still illustrate how a quarterback with more time can destroy defenses.

This is s terrible drop by the receiver. Hogan also make this catch harder than it needed to be. With a more compact delivery and a crisper throw, this attempt is likely to have been completed.

Stepping up in the pocket between oncoming rushers to deliver a strike that would have moved the chains is required trait at the next level. His footwork is clean, although his end product still needs refinement.

Hogan has an economy of motion that allows him to play within himself under pressure. He also has a knack for breaking tackles that comes in handy when he extends plays.

Hogan’s eyes are downfield as he climbs the pocket. Note how he effortlessly slaloms the humanity around him before he releases the ball.

Brilliance in the pocket is only truly rewarded with an accurate pass. This pass is high and Hogan must improve his accuracy on the run to reap the benefit of the extra time he earns to find receivers. Still, it’s evident that Hogan is comfortable amongst the morass in front of him.

In this final clip, Hogan climbs the pocket while showing his agility and footwork in close quarters:

That little jump pass at the end to his running back prevents the pass from being tipped by either of the defensive lineman in front of him. Unlike the prior play, his ball placement is good and a positive play is executed. This play showcases Hogan putting the whole process together.

It’s these nuances to Hogan’s game shed some light to the depth of his understanding of playing his position.

Pocket presence is an aptitude that is fundamental to a quarterback’s transition to the NFL. Kevin Hogan has enviable traits that speak to his competence in the pocket. He repeatedly shows that he can handle pressure of the edge and minimize risk. He doesn’t get flustered with a pass rush up the middle of the pocket. He also climbs the pocket with a mastery that speaks to his potential ability as a quarterback at the next level. Hogan has an understated proficiency in the pocket that will serve him well in his development in the NFL.

David Igono is a former West Virginia University defensive back. He also played two seasons of arena football. A longtime draft anorak, he considers the 2014 RSP the inspiration for approaching the process more intentionally. Follow him at @d1gono.

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