In Improv88's excellent and thoughtful post about Kyle Orton (which rebutted an also insightful post by TheGreatGuesskowski, found here), he very articulately compared being a QB in the NFL to being a musician. This is a very accurate comparison because both require a great deal of natural talent and hard work to master and require one's best performance under the most extreme pressures in their fields. While I agree with improv88's principles, I have a different take on how to apply them and it is as follows (a bit reorganized from the verson i posted in the comment section of Improv88's post for better clarity in conveying my train of thought - with some new added tidbits)...
I am a musician as well. I am a jazz saxophone player who studies with Gary Thomas (for any serious jazz fans out there, I say this is not to name drop, but because I think it's really friggin' cool that i get to do that!) weekly. coming into my undergrad I was billed by my teachers as an "elemental force" type, an unrefined player with a lot of potential, but few of the physical skills to realize it. The reason I was billed as such was for my ability to think musically at a fairly high level more quickly than many - not because i was already to play all of my scales faster than anyone else. Many of my peers (and other very knowledgeable relative experts) didn't recognize what I was bringing to the table mentally because i did not have sufficient control of my instrument physically to convey what i was thinking, but an expert in his field who is superior evaluator of talent, like gary was able to see the potential in me.
In a fairly short amount of time, I was able to (with better coaching from a great teacher, Gary,) practice better and overcome my physical shortcomings (i'm now fairly strong technically). This took a year or two for the first rapid improvements to take place, and now I'm widely regarded as a much better player with much more potential than i was when i first arrived at conservatory.
I think we will see similar improvements from kyle orton this year. It wasn't until the summer after my freshman year that i was able to really work on my technique and apply al that i had learned during my first whirlwind year in a new place, under a new teacher. I made a TON of progress during that summer break - my "offseason", if you will. I believe we will see similar marked improvement from orton in his first offseason after a year with a new coach who is a superior evaluator of talent, a great teacher and an true expert in his field.
McD sees orton as a superior talent because of his mental abilities and knows that his physical attributes can be coached up. this is the same reason why he saw cutler as being of marginal potential and traded him for a killing, because his arm strength and physical technique could not get much better but he was lacking in the decision-making-department.
Miles Davis (IMO the greatest musical improviser of all time), was great because he had all the technique and proficiency, but knew when it was better to play just one note. it is his judgement in application of his mastered technique that made him unique and great.
One natural ability that separates orton from other QBs and often goes unnoticed is his FANTASTIC decision-making. orton has the arm to air it out and make risky deep throws like cutler (okay, not just like cutler because he has the strongest arm in the league - but orton is strong enough) often does, but knows that it's better to make the shorter completion and not risk an interception. it is this self-awareness that makes miles davis the greatest improviser of all time and has made manning the best QB in the NFL today, that will make orton a great quarterback.
orton has many natural talents that get written off as hard work. his decision-making, as i have just explored above, is the most obvious first choice, but there are others:
his ability to lead and motivate a team is another. a pure perfectionist could not inspire his teammates to new heights the way orton does, and would not command the respect of his teammates because they would not follow him if he were lacking sufficient natural talent. if the cues that are coming from his teammates (especially the veterans who have the best understanding of the game, i.e. dawkins, bailey, etc.) and coaches are any indication, they think orton's the real deal.
his aptitude for picking up complex systems quickly (as McD has praised many times in the media) is also a natural talent that was developed with hard work, and is not just the product of work without any kind of innate predisposition.
I would say that Improv88 is on the right track, but looking at it from the wrong angle. Anyone can lift weights and get stronger and throw a ball farther (like anyone can practice scales and arpeggios and learn to physically play notes on their instruments faster), but certain people will just never be able to think fast enough to execute with the precision and control that it takes to be a top level jazz musician or to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Orton has the mental ability. in terms of intellect, he is an elemental force. he does not make mistakes and is capable improving immensely in the future. In closing, it should be fun to see some great things from orton this year.
Alright guys, who's next in the rebuttal chain?
Update: theGreatGuessKowski has written his own rebuttal post which is also an excellent read. It says much of the same things I have been saying in this post about orton, but without all the extra musical stuff. It can be found here.
Update #2: I think I fixed the formatting (and a couple of type-o's) this time. Sorry about that guys -- I was caught up in the great discussion over on the thread of Improv88's post. Really insightful stuff, MHR. It's a pleasure to be a part of this community.