Marcus Mariota’s replacement is an intriguing NFL prospect in his own right. See why the Ducks made the right call to sign this red-shirt senior from Eastern Washington and what makes him a compelling option despite his physical limitations.
Let’s get this out of the way: Forget Drew Brees, Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, Teddy Bridgewater and Russell Wilson, Vernon Adams, Jr. is probably too small to start in the NFL. It’s not what I think; it’s the conventional statement you’re going to hear over and over again.
Most teams are afraid of anointing a 6-0, 190-lb. quarterback as the head of the team. Although we’ve heard concerns that smaller quarterbacks can’t access passing lanes we’ve seen that reason blown out of the water. The only remaining issue is fear of injury.
Good quarterbacking is built on layers of information, experience, and physical and conceptual maturation. Playing the position is a lot like learning a language.
These skills take time to learn and require layers of knowledge and experience to master. Most of us don’t have to learn how to navigate a Cover-2 Trap, but we all have to learn how to communicate the need to find and use a bathroom.
“Where is the bathroom?” is one of the most basic things we learn early on as we learn a language. But asking or intimating “Where is the bathroom?’ evolves as we accumulate life experience and education, develop our personalities, and express our intelligence and style.
A three year-old might say, “I need to poopy.” It’s a straight-forward, statement lacking sophistication and, although implied, the literal statement of the need to find a place to use the bathroom is not even a question.
As that child acquires more language skills and an understanding of setting, courtesy, and expectations of behavior, “I need to poopy,” evolves into “I need to use the potty,” and then, “May I use your bathroom?”
Education, experience, setting, and personal style transform this request to execute a basic function of human physiology into statements that incorporate imagery laced with humor, charm, and/or subtlety.
May I used your restroom?
Excuse me while I go powder my nose.
Where can a dude log out around here?
I need to shake the dew off the lily.
I need to take a pit stop.
Where can a guy pay the water bill around here?
It’s time to park my breakfast, where’s the nearest lot?
Throwing a football with velocity, touch, and accuracy is the quarterback’s alphabet, grammar, and articulation of words. Knowledge of offensive and defensive schemes is an understanding of setting to combine these factors in the same way that an adult usually knows that it’s cool to say, “I need to drain the main vein,” when having beers with this buds, but not so much when he needs to excuse himself during a client meeting.
In this respect, Peyton Manning’s game knows the right thing to say in almost every circumstance and he could say it with humor, irony, wit, or as blunt as needed. You could say the wobbly passes that, at their worst, traveled more like punts than passes could be equated to a strong southern drawl. They weren’t the preferred method of speaking and non-southerners love to mock it, but the speaker still gets the job done and people overlooked what they consider blemishes in the same way they might ignore a stuttering problem when listening to a scientific genius.
Ryan Leaf wasn’t as well equipped. He didn’t know the right thing to say and when people reacted negatively, he got flustered and usually made the situation worse.
Brett Favre could make the same initial faux paus of quarterbacking communication as Leaf. Instead of getting out of sorts, he made a career of using his style, personality, humor, intelligence, and experiences to compel, persuade, entertain, and thrill. Fans could count on Favre saying the wrong thing almost every week difference, but whether it was a wink, a pat on the back, or tall tale, he managed to make up or it and then some.
By the end of the game, you often forgot about the dumb statement he made in the first quarter. Unless you’re one of those annoying grammarians who doesn’t realize that there’s a time and a place to be an editor or instructor, you didn’t dwell on the fact that Favre sounded like an illiterate fool at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Not when he unfurled a side-splitting yarn filled with country wisdom that you’ll never forget.
Continuing with this quarterbacking-to-language arts analogy, Alex Smith is the anti-Favre who, in rare moments shows he can loosen up if he wanted. The Chiefs QB is a middle school grammar and composition teacher’s pet. His understanding of the rules is pitch perfect, his articulation is delightful, and he’s almost always courteous and respectful.
It makes his quarterbacking technically admirable, but formulaic and boring. But it doesn’t have to be. My bud Cecil Lammey likes to describe moments during Smith’s career, like the Saints-49ers playoff game, where he “goes ham.”
It’s a pleasant and mysterious shock in the same way you get to know that apple-polishing, brown-noser, A-student who you’ve come to expect to say “yes sir,” and “no ma’am” to his elders and always be appropriate until that one day he tells the perfect dirty joke or makes the spot-on, smart-ass retort and it leaves you spitting your drink through your nose. Once you hear this moment of of assholery from Smith, you wish from that point on he’d be that guy at least a little more often.
Speaking the language of quarterbacking with artistry and precision requires layers of knowledge and experience. It also relies on a speaker’s unapologetic confidence in his individual style and personality. Self-esteem matters and the NFL will test it hard.
With all that facing a prospect, few teams want to invest in guy they fear will have a high rate of absenteeism. When their guy has a problem being there and ready to compete, that time and those resources are wasted. It sets back the development of the supporting cast.
It costs jobs.
Keep all of this in mind when you watch whatever amount of these 45 minutes of me breaking down Adams’ game against Washington from October at the top of this post. Appreciate the positives–and there are many.
The Oregon quarterback can maneuver from all forms of pressure with confidence, control, and purpose and he has enough quickness and agility to change his plan in midstream. He can throw the ball on the move with accuracy, velocity, and distance moving to his left or right and he finds the right receivers to target even with defenders bearing down on him.
Adams manipulates defenders with his eyes, his movement, and with the ball. He’s far more than a spread quarterback operating a quick-decision short game; Adams has a playmaker mentality. Although not as physically talented or as polished and mature with the decision-making aspects of the game as his predecessor Marcus Mariota, Adams is a better improviser and more willing to attack downfield.
What Adams has over Mariota doesn’t make him a better prospect. Size matters to the extent that Adams will have to prove that he’s the exception. To do that, he’ll have to show his future team that he can protect himself from excessive punishment (which he does well at Oregon) and that he’s a fast learner with the decision-making components of quarterbacking that occasionally plague him in critical moments as a first-year starter in a new system.
If you ask me, the fact Adams played this well as a first-year starter in a new system a level up from his three years at Eastern Washington is a positive. If he proves a quick study and a durable option, Adams’ future is no worse than that a of a backup capable of helping his team in bind. One NFL personnel employee I know likes career backups with the mobility element because its harder for opponents to prepare for on short notice.
Adams has a lot of starter tools in terms of how he integrates his physical talents and the mental side of the game. If it all comes together, he could surprise. Unfortunately, we’ll still need the NFL to surprise us and give an undersized player a real chance. And that’s no small request.
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