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Breaking in a new starting Quarterback at the University of Miami

Learn the process coaches go through to prep for a new era at QB

Pittsburgh v Miami Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Coaches Mark Richt, Jon Richt and Thomas Brown will be the triumvirate involved in selecting the Hurricanes’ new starting Quarterback for 2017. Barry Jackson was on top of this in his recent article in the Miami Herald. The approach the coaching staff will use has sounded like the best will win, regardless of seniority.

I’ve personally broken in a number of new Quarterbacks heading into my fifteenth season as a high school coach. I can admit, I have done much the same as the Miami coaches did in their first season. I tried to implement some schemes I knew our offense wasn’t ready for yet (inside zone read, RPO), whether it was a QB that wouldn’t run or not having the WR’s to execute, knowing next year was what we were planning and learning for. Miami’s “next year” season went 8-4 and ended on a high note. Brad Kaaya however left and now the coaches have to start over, again. There are a number of QB’s on the roster with varying talents and aptitudes. Malik Rosier has guts, Jack Allison the strong arm, Evan Shirreffs is liked by the coaches, Vincent Testaverde the legacy, N’Kosi Perry the raw skills and Weldon the fiery competitive nature.

You’ll hear pundits say “so and so has a package of 5-6 plays in” and while that’s true for a Jabril Peppers at “QB” series (Wildcat for every formation that has a RB at QB), running different plays with different Quarterbacks isn’t necessarily a package, it’s just calling different parts of your playbook for different guys. I’ve been a part of multiple programs where we’ve either played a 2-QB system or have been forced to due to injury, and our playbook is our playbook. What changes is the use of parts of said playbook. For one QB, you may run power, split zone and outside zone, while for another you may run inside zone read, outside zone, and power read. The playbook isn’t different, it’s just different pieces of the same book.

Below, I spoke with coaches with a combined coaching experience of 47 years between the college and high school ranks and asked how they go about prepping new QB’s and selecting a starter heading into a spring with a new Quarterback.

Aaron Avery, Ponte Vedra High School, QB Coach (8 years)

Q1) You just graduated a record setting QB in Nick Tronti (signed with Indiana), and he was a big part of leading you to the state title game. How do you start to replace a QB like that heading into spring?

A1) The first thing we did was evaluate each and every QB we have returning. What can that guy do well and what does he need work on? Which of those guys are closest to being ready to play? What do we need to do to ensure the maximum amount of growth for each QB during the off-season and spring? For us we have things in our throw game that are non-negotiable. We have to play a guy that can make certain throws and certain decisions.

Q2) How do you approach the playbook with a new starting QB?

A2) Once we have identified the couple guys that are most ready to compete for the job, we make subtle changes to suit that player’s strength. Whether it be with the QB run game or particular drop back concepts, you have to cater to what your QB does well.

Q3) What do you look for in a QB race, what makes one player stand out over another?

A3) The most obvious thing we look at first is production. Who is producing at a rate which will allow us to continue to win. The second thing we start looking at are intangible type attributes: competitive disposition, trustworthiness, and leadership. Our QB doesn't have to be a rah-rah style leader but we need a guy that commands the respect of his team mates by how he approaches his craft.

Mike Gregory, Tampa Catholic High School, Head Coach (11 years)

Q1) You once coached two Division 1 Quarterbacks in Christian Green (FSU) and DJ Williams (Grambling) both seniors, on the same roster on the way to the state title game… how did you balance the egos and keep them both happy?

A1) It wasn't as difficult as one might imagine because both were great kids and both were very humble and willing to do whatever it took to win. In this situation, one was clearly more athletic and more dynamic with the ball in his hands and we made a staff decision to keep the ball in his hands as a Q more often than not. The one thing we did do was allow the "backup" to play WR anytime he wasn't playing Q. We also got him plenty of practice reps and structured our offense for his more dropback style. We also were sure to mix him into the game at Q in certain game-planned situations and got him plenty of film. He was very much a team player and understood the plan, and it worked out for all involved. The biggest reason for that success was the communication within the coaching staff, creating the plan, communicating that to those kids and the team, and actually executing it.

Q2) How did you handle practice reps without a clear cut #1? How did you handle 7on7? How did you handle team period?

A2) Depends on the situation. In a QB battle during the spring or fall camp, we will have them split equal reps using the same script of plays for both. We try to film all of the drills and chart the results. Film, stats, and general command of the offense and feel of the entire coaching staff will all contribute to determining a starter.

If there is a clear starter (in season), we will script 8-10 plays for the starter and 4-6 of the base game plan plays for the backup depending on the period and planned number of plays.

Q3) Do you scale back the playbook at all with a new starter going into spring ball?

A3) We will scale back, but not due to our Q situation. I think that decision needs to be based on the experience and comfort of the entirety of your offensive personnel. Our returning Q is very smart, and can handle quite a bit. If we weren't young in other spots in our offense (mainly the OL), my answer to the question would be "no".

However, if it was only our Q that was inexperienced and we didn't know how much he could handle, I would throw as much as we can at him to see what he can retain and then scale back if needed. I always want to challenge our QB’s to learn as much as they can within reason and allow them to earn command of the entire offense if they are able.

Dan Oswald, Willamina High School, Head Coach (24 years) / Former QB

Q1) Are you a guy that believes in offering the new QB's little chunks of the playbook or throwing it all at them and seeing what sticks?

A1) I do not believe you throw the whole playbook at your QB. Yes, he is supposed to be an extension of the coaching staff but we need to control his learning curve. Each QB is going to be different and we as coaches need to quickly access their ability to learn.

Q2) As a former college QB, how did the college coaches approach you regarding moving into the starting spot?

A2) While having played for and coached with many different styles of head coaches I have seen one great inconsistency- the lack of grading the QB position. At times where I might not have been the starter I was never told why. In coach speak (not the Coachspeak podcast which you should pick up on Stitcher or iTunes) you hear, ‘We feel as if he gives us the best chance to win.’ Yes, but why is that? ‘He has the intangibles.’ That is where the grading comes into play; it takes away the question marks.

Q3) How should a coach approach the possibility of a two-QB system, or having very little separation?

A3) My second Head Coach, Bill Singler, was always honest and straight forward. I had played the worst game of my life that Saturday. Sunday he met with me and told me I had to compete for my job the next week in practice. He didn't pull the rug out from under me. I was able to focus and step up to the challenge that week in practice while fighting for my job which I was able to hold onto. I think a QB can’t worry about losing reps every series because of one bad throw.

Sean Davidson, Assistant Coach (4 years) / Former QB

Q1) Once you signed to play QB in college, did they send you the playbook before hand?

A1) They sent me a playbook and game film to study.

Q2) When you came into the program as a freshman, how did they split up the QB’s?

A2) The three returning QB’s got the majority of the reps, freshman started out with five reps during 7on7, and five reps during team. You had to make the most of your chances like the cliche says.

Q3) Would it have helped to have been an early enrollee and started in the spring?

A3) Yes. Just being around the team and learning everything and about the expectations means a lot. I would’ve benefited most from a strength and conditioning stand point, even though I had a private trainer for S&C it helps to push yourself when you’re with the team in front of the coaching staff.