This began as a comment to "In Defense of Kyle Orton" by theGreatGuessKowski, but grew to such length that it had to become a post of its own. So before going any further, I highly recommend reading his post here. It is a very well-presented apologetics piece and is well worth your read. More after the jump.
The launching point for me was GGK’s comment:
"Most people stop at proficient... and never push through to the Master stage. Case in point... I can play guitar, but I am certainly no Jimmy Hendrix. Jimmy learned how to play guitar just like me.... only he practice and practiced to become a master... while I stopped once I learned "stairway to heaven"..."
I love the music analogy, but it doesn't go far enough to explaining what makes a great musician - or in this case, play-making football player. Through both my undergrad and graduate work in music schools it became apparent that there are three distinct versions of the MASTERY level in any discipline. I consider the PROFICIENCY stage to be irrelevant, since in the NFL or the concert stage, PROFICIENT doesn't get the job done.
The three distinctions I will describe in relation to musicians as:
1) The perfectionist
2) The elemental force
3) The virtuoso
The Perfectionist could be described as someone who works tirelessly to assimilate anything you put in front of them. They have developed understanding of the material (playbook terminology/musical notation), textbook technique (but still limited), and an unquestioned devotion to their craft. They put in more hours than anyone, determined that no one outwork them in their quest to perform flawlessly.
But their greatest strengths merely hide their greatest weaknesses. They frequently lack natural ability, making up for it by sheer work ethic. Their performances, while amazingly accurate, tend to be devoid of charm, interest or fire. They refuse to take a chance in fear that their perfection be sullied. In addition, everything around them must be in perfect order for them to hold to their pursuit of perfection. ANY deviation from the expected situation - an out-of-tune key, an unexpected noise during the performance - results in a drastic drop in performance quality. They simply do not possess the ability to rise above their surroundings. The higher art is always out of their reach.
The Elemental Force is exactly the opposite. Mercurial, exciting and charismatic. They possess immense natural talent. Many of these types have unbounded technique, capable of taking on anything sent to challenge them, but it is uncontrolled and erratic. They revel in difficult situations. Their emotions and desire to create the massive effect and wow everyone often outstrips their preparation level. The Elemental spends excessive time determining WHAT they are going to do without enough time spent determining how to do it.
The result is a performance that is often breathtaking. Even the failures are exciting and memorable since incredible chances were being taken. In multi-artist performances, the Elemental Force is always placed last on the program for two primary reasons: No one else can follow, and it send the audience home happy and thrilled. Over time, however, the Elemental begins to lose what control they had. The grand effect becomes the ONLY goal, and the technique suffers. Eventually even their fans cannot fully overlook their flaws.
Finally, the Virtuoso. As expected, the Virtuoso blends the two schools, but in unequal parts. They are not half Perfectionist, half Elemental. A true Virtuoso has at their disposal huge natural talent, a healthy ego (often too much so), technique to burn, and a devil-may-care attitude towards difficulties and challenges. Like Elementals, they salivate to show what they can do when things do not go perfectly according to plan (incidentally, this is also a primary difference between a Virtuoso and a Prima Donna). And no matter how many times they have played a piece or been in a situation, they are constantly taking chances for grand effect. The only aspect of the perfectionist that comes into play is the work ethic. A virtuoso does not let their performance suffer due to something as pitiful as neglect of the basics. However, the pursuit of perfection is secondary to the pursuit of a grand performance.
So where does that leave us with our friend Kyle Orton? He is a textbook Perfectionist. As mentioned by theGreatGuessKowski, Kyle has been diligent in adapting himself to what he is asked to do. He spends countless hours learning the X and O's portion of the job. It has been speculated by some here on MHR that he dedicated so much to the technical side of the equation that he neglected the physical training necessary for the job.
He is accurate on short routes. Checks down quickly, and takes great pains to not make mistakes. Through personality or coaching, he will unfailingly choose to punt and live to fight another day than take a low-percentage risk.
He exhibits decent arm-strength only when perfectly planted and throwing in textbook form - any deviation results drastic loss of velocity and accuracy. He does not take chances, perhaps too aware of his own limitations. He is accurate and effective only when his surroundings are perfect. If his offensive line, running game and receivers are not all playing at flawless levels at the same time, the results are likely to be disastrous. And when a play breaks down, his reactions are to either throw the ball away or take a sack. Work ethic can only make up for so much when certain natural abilities are lacking.
Hendrix was indeed a master. However, if he had been content to be a brilliant technician, no one would know his name today. He took chances, secure in the knowledge that his natural ability coupled with his lifetime of hard work would be sufficient - not all of which came off technically perfect - but the result is Rock n' Roll history and the status of a legend.
I would add one thing. In 15+ years of dealing with professional musicians, I have never once met a Virtuoso who started out as a Perfectionist. Work ethic can be learned. Temperament cannot.