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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Position Prognosis: QB

In the wake of the Greg Hardy nonsense, let's take a stab at an easy
position group, quarterback.

Way back, the idea of a running quarterback at all used to provide me a
bit of fear.

It's easy to capture the imagination of the 'freebie' bit that a runner
gives you. It's easier now than three years ago, but 15 years ago,
Dameyune Craig was all the rage. All I wanted was a guy who would
execute the offense properly, and Craig just didn't look like that.
Inconsistent from one snap to the next, the backup battle of Craig v/s
Jeff Lewis held people's attention while the brittle Steve Beuerlein
handled his own business, running the offense. If it weren't for
Steve's age (and the eventual issues between he and George Seifert that
got him cut), it wouldn't have mattered, but for most years since, the
backup QB has possibly mattered more than it should (often disastrously,
from Randy Fasani to David Carr, the sad reminder that exactly one QB
backup has exceeded expectations since the already-expeerienced
Beuerlein - Matt Moore. Remember that guy?).


You have Cam Newton, and then a traditional QB backing him. That's how
it's always been. It's not that anyone's not familiar with Newton, and
outside knowing how he'll play with the ankle fixed, there's not much to
say. Derek Anderson, once a Pro Bowler in this offense, and seemingly
snakebit by being around Brady Quinn just like most things Quinn brings
his dark cloud of misery around, has always been enough as a backup, and
I'll get on Anderson a bit more later.

This year, Carolina reached out in free agency and changed that up a
bit.

Having held Jimmy Clausen (a bystander casualty of the Quinn misery,
perhaps) on IR last year, it was somewhat expected that Clausen wouldn't
make the '13 team anyway, and come '14 as a free agency, he's a backup
Bear fighting for the 2nd spot with Jordan Palmer.

Enter Joe Webb.

Since the start of Cam Newton's second year, there's been this urge.
Remember when Newton was just a guy who ran around? That magical dive
against Cincy in preseason, his scramble TDs and occasional QB draw
early in '11? Then it became a part of the offense, and later in 2011
the read option became a legitimate NFL play. It became officially
adopted by about 20% of teams in 2012, and since it's been a pretty flat
curve (Buffalo, I guess, adopted it, certainly Chip Kelly in Philly, but
even with Philly's success, there's no real push in '14 to further it
league-wide).

Nonetheless, since '12, watching Newton run that part of the offense,
there's been a push to draft a backup with a similar skill set to Cam
Newton. Problematically, you don't realize how unrealistic it is to
find a guy who fits most of the criteria of (6'5, 240 lb QB), (QB who
runs 4.6 or so), (QB that can run and throw), (QB with massive arm).
There was one guy who fit most of that bill in last year's draft, Logan
Thomas, and despite more playing time, he was far too raw for that.
Meanwhile, fans push guys like Tajh Boyd.

The most famous of the "we have to have more than one Cam Newton"
sweepstakes? Russell Wilson.
Drafted a few picks after Jacksonville picked a punter (yes, that
happened), Wilson was the first new-breed mobile quarterback to win a
Super Bowl. Since he played for three years at NC State, a lot of the
locals here adopt him even though he left for baseball and Wisconsin
(some of which isn't totally his fault). A ridiculously accurate
Wisconsin QB under Paul Chryst's Coryell O, he made sense. But a 3rd or
4th for a backup was a lot to ask.

It's also a lot to ask for a player who's being designed to run a small
part of the offense. Now, that said, it's not like Wilson the prospect
was a run-only QB. He has enough arm, and I don't know if I really
breached the "can he overcome his height" thing, but I don't remember
arguing he couldn't be an NFL QB (and I argued that on Tim Tebow, better
at winning than throwing, and mystifyingly, not that good at running the
read option sometimes, often missing his reads). I don't know that
anyone saw Wilson winning a ring in year 2, though it's hard to say he's
as much of the "why" as Newton in Carolina.

Nonetheless - the idea of a running backup had a more limited value to
me than to others.

This year, we'll see how that goes. Webb is a running quarterback.
6'4, 230, so he has some size. He clicked in faster than Newton at
combine, a year earlier. In a bit of a nod toward "we're kinda loading
up for preseason", in the same way that the team stated RB Tyler
Gaffney's pass blocking will give other players a better look in
preseason, I guess Webb will be running the read option in exhibitions.

I don't know how good he'll be - he was an OK passer at
Alabama-Birmingham, and hasn't had much time to play pro QB. As a
rookie, he was a QB - he was 15/26 for 129, 2 INT in a relief role, and
started the next week with 17/26, 195 yards (no TD/INT); he had a
rushing score in each game.

in '11, after the Vikings threw Christian Polder on the pile, Webb was a
solid backup, but ended up being pushed to WR by '12 fulltime. An adept
runner who seems worth about 60 yards/1 TD on average when playing QB,
he adds that ability. I don't know how strong his arm is, but he seems
setup to take the dumpoff most times. I don't know how well he does at
reading the defense, either.


I still believe that running the offense is more critical than more
easily running a small part of the offense. A Derek Anderson Carolina
Panthers team, good or bad, probably executes what's needed from
Carolina more (make the third down stuff happen, be efficient, but test
the D deep now and again, manage the game). That's still a team that
helps the defense out more.

The team gave Anderson a two year deal for the first time since he'd
shown up here; it's been year to year prior. Webb won't test Anderson
for #2 and I don't think that's how things should go. There's no
doubt that Webb is a talented player who can become something better
than he's been, too.

So, that said, I don't know if I believe the team will keep all three
QBs. But preseason should be interesting. You'll get to see more of
the full offense in preseason, and it's not like running the read option
a few more times will give anything away.

I'm also excited to see a little Matt Blanchard. An accurate 6'3, 225
lb backup, he spent time on the practice squad last year.
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