There are certain traits coaches look for in a quarterback that seem to be universally agreed upon. John Skelton and Kevin Kolb have exhibited these traits from time to time, but owning the attribute is what matters. A Q can get away without having some of these characteristics but there seems to be one quality he cannot do without.
Size is important but a Q can do without. Most NFL scouts want their Q’s to be 6’4″ or 6’5″ and 240-plus pounds. Quarterbacks take many beatings throughout the course of an NFL season, some more than others. Collateral damage and mitigating that damage to a Q’s body is found in his frame and DNA. Although there have been many bigger quarterbacks that have had injury problems, most NFL scouts agree that body mass helps to absorb some of the impact. There will always be exceptions to this rule, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are the most notable exceptions, but there’s a reason why the vast majority of Q’s in the league have big bodies.
Although John Skelton has a prototypical frame for playing quarterback in the NFL and Kevin Kolb is on the slighter side, this quality is not fundamental to playing the position well.
It’s not arm strength. Yes, most quarterbacks in today’s NFL must have the arm strength to throw the deep in, the deep out, the seam route and the go but there have been some notable quarterbacks that have had fine NFL careers that lacked prototypical arm-strength. Chad Pennington had a successful career and yet struggled to throw the ball in the air over 40 yards.
This is not Kevin Kolb or John Skelton’s problem.
Having a quick release is something that most NFL coordinators and head coaches feel is a prerequisite to playing the quarterback position well but it’s not the most important attribute a Q should have. With today’s fire-zone schemes and complex coverages, passing windows in the league have become smaller and close faster. This is why Tim Tebow (along with accuracy) has struggled to be a successful passer. He just can’t get the ball out soon enough to get most balls into a quickly closing window.
Although Kolb gets it up and out quicker than Skelton, a quick release or lack thereof is not the difference between the Cards’ quarterbacks.
Accuracy is important when evaluating a Q but it’s not a deal-breaker. Brett Favre was never the most accurate quarterback but he certainly experienced a ton of success in his storied career. Being accurate helps a quarterback’s stats but doesn’t ensure he is going to be good. The NFL is replete with accurate passers that never made it in the league.
Kevin Kolb seems to be more accurate than Big Red Skelton, but this won’t be the fulcrum that tips the scales one way or the other.
Command of the offense is something that seems to be more of a luxury for most quarterbacks in the league and is critical to success but it is not the most important quality of a Q. Cam Newton did not have what most coordinators would call a “command” of the Carolina offense last year but knew enough to make plays and good decisions while letting his supreme athleticism and talent take over. The intelligence of many Q’s fluctuate and their understanding and complete grasp of the offense is different from team-to-team.
Both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have struggled with command of the Cards’ offense, getting in and out of the huddle and calling plays correctly. They are not alone in this regard and there are others that struggle with this attribute but it’s not what I believe to be the most important prerequisite.
Reading coverage correctly and the ability to transfer what you see into a good decision is more esoteric than any other quarterback quality save for one. Reading coverage deals with the tangible of using the eyes in pre-snap reads to anticipate what an opposing defense might do and what coverage they might jump into. Taking the ball on the snap and watching where they go after the snap deals with the Q’s ability to think quickly and make sound decisions based on what he sees. This characteristic of quarterbacking is very complex and extremely important for all the greats…and all the others. But it’s not the most important attribute a Q can have in my opinion.
Kevin Kolb has had more experience at reading coverage but the gap between he and Skelton seems to be closing.
The most important attribute/quality/trait/characteristic I think a quarterback can have is pocket presence. Many of us call it poise or having poise in the pocket. It’s the ability to manage the rush, using mobility in a confined area, keeping your eyes down field, knowing when to pull it down, buying fractions of a second, feeling pressure, having a sixth sense, and the ability to escape the rush, get out of the pocket, extend the play and make something happen when all seems lost.
This attribute seems fundamental to playing the position well. Michael Vick had excellent years as a scrambling QB but didn’t achieve status at the position until he proved he could throw from the pocket. All the greats shared the common denominator of profound poise in the pocket: Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. It’s not that they always stayed or stay in the pocket, it’s not that they were/are mobile, it’s not that they all had/have great ability to throw on the run either. But they all had/have great poise or pocket presence. The success they experienced came/comes from the pocket.
It seems to me if a Q is hyper-sensitive to the rush, pulling down balls, feeling too much of the rush without keeping his eyes down the field, it doesn’t matter how big he is, how strong his arm is, how quick of a release he has, how precise his passes are, how well he reads coverage, the decisions he makes or the command he has of the offense. None of it matters if he doesn’t have poise in the pocket.
Although a Q can use his arm strength, quick release and accuracy when out of the pocket, running quarterbacks that don’t show poise in the pocket and can’t seem to make throws from the pocket are chewed up and spit out — unless your name is Cam Newton.
And most quarterbacks are not runners, they’re passers. How can a Q use his strong arm or quick release if he is looking to pull the ball down and run? How can a Q use his accuracy if he can’t stay in the pocket, where the vast majority of his success should come from? How can he read coverage well and make good decisions if he’s constantly feeling the pressure and pulling the ball down? And having command of the offense is all well and good but if one cannot execute that offense because he lacks pocket presence in a league that requires you throw the ball efficiently, how can that command be applied?
Having poise or pocket presence seems to be THE prerequisite to playing the position consistently well over time. If a Q doesn’t have this innate, fundamental quality, how much of the other attributes that NFL decision makers value in a quarterback can he use?
And this is why I think John Skelton is going to win the quarterback competition. He shows great poise in the pocket. Maybe he could learn to develop and improve upon all the other qualities one looks for in a Q?
Or maybe Kevin Kolb will show profound pocket presence and play great against the Raiders.
If that happens, disregard the above.