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Does height matter at the quarterback position?

The ‘Canes might start a sub-six-foot QB in 2019.

NCAA Football: Savannah State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tate Martell has been deemed eligible for the 2019 season and the faithful down in Coral Gables, FL are thrilled inside the Carol Soffer IPF. The former five-star and Elite 11 quarterback has a clear shot at the starting quarterback job at Miami under new head coach Manny Diaz. I have already covered what Martell can bring to the Miami offense back in January.

The new Miami offensive coordinator, Dan Enos, has done a fantastic job in his career of improving quarterbacks accuracy and timing while also working his system to fit the strong suits of the passer. With Tua Tagovailoa, Enos had a drop back passer who could use his feet to escape when needed. When Tua wasn’t in the game, or was out with an injury, Enos relied on the legs of Jalen Hurts. Coach Enos also improved Hurts accuracy and feel of the game, as was evident in the 2018 SEC Championship Game.

The biggest question mark surrounding Martell isn’t his eligibility any more, it’s his stature. Tate is listed as 5’11 and many feel that quarterbacks under six-feet-tall will struggle in power five college football. I spoke with three football coaches, all of which played the quarterback position in either high school or college, about the “height conundrum” surrounding Martell and other quarterbacks.

The argument for being tall

The argument for being tall is really an argument for being tall enough. One college quarterback coach told me he feels height is system based, but that in the NFL height matters because of the amount of West Coast Offenses being ran in the league. However in college, if you’re not running a West Coast system, you can get away with being under six-foot-three. He felt that being six-foot-three or taller gives the quarterback an advantage when trying to see in the pocket and the shorter QB’s lose sight lines to their targets.

One key point for being tall was that the WCO has many reset routes over the ball and thus hidden behind the average offensive line which is six-foot-five. Coach believed that shorter quarterbacks either need to have plus mobility like Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel or have plus-plus timing and anticipation like the probably-not-six-foot Drew Brees.

Keep in mind of Miami’s four scholarship quarterbacks, only two are over six-three. True freshman Peyton Matocha and N’Kosi Perry are both six-foot-four, while Martell is five-eleven and Jarren Williams is six-foot-two. Williams seems to have the most zip on the football while Perry can drop a beautiful dime on deep passes with elite touch.

87th Rose Bowl Game Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The argument for height is just a number

A second coach I spoke with is a wide receivers coach and former college quarterback. He felt that height doesn’t matter at all. The justification being that Kyler Murray tore up opposing defenses while standing under five-foot-ten. The offensive coordinator’s job is to create and call protection schemes that will open passing lanes where the read routes will open up. That’s what this coach felt Lincoln Riley did well for Murray and the six-foot-one Baker Mayfield. If you want your quarterback to throw a crossing route the the slot, make sure the QB has time and that the lane is open just past the offensive tackle.

The bigger concern than height is hand size, and we’ll get into hand size in more detail later. However, this coach feels hand size will be an issue for Murray as he tries to adjust from the college sized ball to the NFL ball- which is slicker and fatter than the NCAA model. Deflategate aside, the PSI of the football and hand size is really important for a QB when passing in the weather you will encounter throughout an NFL season.

Regarding height and passing lanes, let’s take a look at the offensive line of the Oklahoma Sooners and the Arizona Cardinals. The Sooners 2018 offensive line averaged just under six-foot-five while the Cardinals line averages just over six-foot-five. The Sooners also had linemen on the bench that were six-foot-seven and six-foot-nine while the tallest Arizona backups six-foot-seven and six-foot-six.

Thus, if Murray can ‘see over the line’ of the Sooners, he should be able to see over the line of the Arizona Cardinals or whomever else drafts him in the 2019 NFL Draft. Another former college quarterback and current high school quarterbacks coach concurred with the sentiment above. This coach joked, “I was six-foot-three and sucked, Drew Brees isn’t six-feet tall and he’s the most accurate and prolific passer in NFL history.”

An Argument for hand size

To further the argument for hand size, one of the biggest hands in NFL Combine history was Brett Favre at 10.38”. Favre is only six-foot-two. The average American male’s hand size is around 8.5.” Considering Favre is in the NFL Hall of Fame and had a great career playing in Green Bay doesn’t seem as a surprise if you think hand size is what matters for QB’s. While Favre played most of his career outdoors in Wisconsin, Brees has spent his career in San Diego and New Orleans but at 10.25” has a really large hand, especially for his height. Russell Wilson, another QB short in stature, measured in at 10.25” as well.

When it comes to Martell I don’t know his actual hand size, but the tweet above seems to state it’s big enough for college football. Teammates have also been quoted as saying Jarren Williams has an NFL caliber arm as he competes for the starting role against Martell and Perry.

What does this all mean?

What this really means is that Dan Enos is going to have to create a scheme that will suit Martell and Williams’ other positives, such as Martell’s speed and play making ability, and Williams’ arm strength. Like Murray, Martell has excellent speed. Like Mayfield, both have a slight disadvantage in not being six-foot-three but being tall didn’t improve the arm strength of Miami Hurricane legend Ken Dorsey, nor has it stopped Mayfield from completing almost 64% of his passes as an NFL rookie with the Browns.

For every every Dan Marino (6’4), Cam Newton (6’6) and Joe Flacco (6’6) there’s equally been terrible tall quarterbacks such as Brock Osweiler (6’8), Paxton Lynch (6’7) and Jim Druckenmiller- the latter of which was not only six-foot-five but also had over 11” hands. Then again there’s Hall of Fame and Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Steve Young who are both six-foot-two, and Super Bowl Champion quarterback Russell Wilson as a trio of guys under six-foot-three who have rings.

What does this mean for “The New Miami?”

What this means for “The New Miami” is that height shouldn’t matter, but hand size should. If Martell can’t grip the football enough to get consistent, accurate, tight spirals then he’s nothing more than a glorified running back. If Martell’s hand is as big as advertised, it’s just a matter of Dan Enos drawing up a scheme that opens passing windows where Martell needs them to throw the football. The same goes for Williams, he’s not as short as Martell but he’s not above that six-three line, either.

It’s also a matter of allowing Martell to get out in space on bootlegs and sprint outs while also utilizing his strength- his speed and ability to make reads. Martell has looked smooth on his read option game with a nasty late pullout. Coach Enos can allow for more clear lanes for Martell if he utilizes the swing-guard-tackle counter that the Sooners used with Murray and Mayfield, the swing-dart I wanted Miami to install this fall, and the swing-draw Enos used at Alabama and Miami ran with Malik Rosier under Mark Richt.

Run-Pass Options in general will help open lanes for all of the quarterbacks on the roster. RPO’s put defenders in conflict and allow the quarterback to declare their read and throw around defensive ends or flat defenders while they either declare quickly to their assignment or stand flat footed and slow. If Martell is in fact the starting quarterback in 2019, I foresee RPO’s and read options being the playbook.