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‘Coaching up’ a rookie quarterback

Denver hasn’t shown much promise in this arena; is there reason to be optimistic things will be different going forward?

Oklahoma v Oklahoma State Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

An interesting Twitter timeline about Johnny Manziel’s interview on the Dan Patrick Show yesterday caught my attention.

Andrew Perloff highlighted some of Johnny Football’s better comments, including this one:

In our MHR chatroom that sparked a conversation comparing Manziel and Paxton Lynch. Not a comparison that their personalities were the same, but that more mentoring/developing of the pro-style offense could have helped.

At least that was my viewpoint:

My intention here is not to rehash the Paxton Lynch experiment - what he did/didn’t do right, why he didn’t become QB1, why Broncos didn’t play him more, etc. etc. etc. I imagine that ugly debate will reappear in the comments. Knock yourselves out.

But I do find it useful to consider how much of a role a coaching staff - and to an extent, the entire quarterback room - should play when it comes to helping these young college QBs develop into pro-style signal callers.

In my view - it’s a lot.

As my tweet above indicates, there is plenty of onus on the player to come to a new team, come into training camp and spend significant time in the playbook and in the film room getting a handle on the NFL-style offense and up to speed on the faster, more complex defenses, recognizing from the outset it is going to take study and work to make the big leap from college to pros.

But since the college offensive game has been vastly different from the pro game for years now, there is definitely some accountability on coaching staffs to mentor their rookies in the system to give them the best chance for success - and I feel confident in saying that some of Lynch’s troubles in Denver are due to a lack of truly “coaching him up.”

Some anecdotal evidence

If we just consider two rookie quarterbacks thrust into starting positions in 2016 - and then consider changes in 2017 - we can see how coaching made a difference - for better or worse.

Dak Prescott wasn’t expected to be the starter in 2016, but an injury to Tony Romo jettisoned him into the QB1 role. Aided by an A-list running back in Ezekiel Elliott, a top offensive line, a simplified playbook and a big mentor in Romo (who was highly involved in game-planning), Prescott thrived.

Jared Goff came to Jeff Fisher’s L.A. Rams that same season and was thrown into the starting role as expected - and struggled mightily, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.

But changes in the QB room - either mentors or coaches - put both young quarterbacks on a different path in 2017.

Prescott no longer had Romo, and fellow backup quarterback, Kellen Moore, had been cut. Moore was recently named the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach for the upcoming season, and Prescott could not be happier, crediting Moore with helping his development tremendously his rookie year.

“It will help a lot,” Prescott said in February. “We have a great relationship. The moment he became quarterback coach, we shared a message and I told him exactly the things I wanted to push me and challenge me, and I know he’s going to do that. He’s so smart, he knows the game so well, he can only benefit me.”

In Goff’s case, the maligned rookie turned a big corner when his new, young head coach Sean McVay realized that the best way to put his college phenom-turned-pro-disappointment in a position to win was to not expect him to read the defense like a pro QB when he had little-to-no experience doing that.

So McVay read it for him.

A little helicopter parent-ish, you say? Perhaps. But it worked.

And it turned out to be a smart coaching move that will likely pay big dividends down the road because enough repetition and study and mentoring will likely help Goff pick it up - even if it requires hand-holding first.

Broncos’ coaching slated in 2018

As expected, the moment I tweeted that Lynch probably experienced the same lack of mentoring from the Broncos as Manziel had from the Browns, the not-so-unique replies were that Vance Joseph and his offensive coaches couldn’t help last year so why should fans be optimistic anything would be different this season?

And to the credit of one reply, when was the last time the Broncos developed a quarterback project? Fair question. Virtually every good quarterback the Broncos have had, either came as a seasoned vet (Manning, Plummer, Morton) and/or had pro-ready skills (John Elway, Jay Cutler).

But here are three answers - Bill Musgrave, Mike Sullivan, Case Keenum.

Although Musgrave wasn’t able to turn the Broncos’ offensive woes around mid-season when he took over as offensive coordinator in November 2017, that would be a poor barometer given that it was middle of the season and the turnstile of quarterbacks was on full tilt due to injuries. But his more recent past QB resume speaks louder.

MHR’s Jeff Essary pointed out Musgrave’s strengths when the QB coach was promoted:

Bill Musgrave was instrumental in the Oakland Raiders offensive turn-around astheir offensive coordinator in 2015-2016, and was the main reason Derek Carr developed and improved the way he did.

Carr went from completing 58 percent of his passes, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, with a 76.6 passer rating in 2014, to 63 percent completion at 7 YPA, with a 96.7 QB rating in 2016, and cut his interception total in half in his second year with Musgrave.

Sullivan, who was offensive coordinator with the Giants the past two years, was quarterback coach before that, helping Eli Manning have his best seasons in the NFL.

Finally, Keenum - who has his own personal story of revival as an NFL quarterback - will bring a veteran presence that hasn’t been in the Denver QB room since Manning retired in 2016.

If the Broncos go with a rookie quarterback at No. 5 in the draft - and possibly even for Lynch moving forward - there is valid room for optimism that Musgrave & Co. will be a big boost for their initiation as starting NFL quarterback whenever it arrives.


Despite the smokescreens and subterfuges (thanks, Klis) over the past few months, the Broncos still seemed poised to go after a quarterback with their first-round pick.

And while it’s no given, the high-caliber QB class lends itself to the Broncos picking one to set themselves up for the future.

But even if the Broncos don’t go QB immediately, they still need to consider the plight of their current back-ups and do much better preparing them for pro play.

This 2012 reflection from former pro linebacker Ryan Riddle is an excellent reminder of the difference in level of play between college and the NFL - and one he was completely unprepared for. It took Eric Mangini coming to the Jets and imposing discipline for study and work ethic (in spite of player resistance) to help Riddle get game-day ready for the NFL:

Self-discipline becomes the difference between a Peyton Manning and a Ryan Leaf. Without it, you are destined for a lackluster career either ending faster than it started, or being forever known as one of those guys who had all the talent in the world but squandered it away.

Offensive and defensive schemes in the NFL are so complex that players often must first prove they can function within the system without compromising the entire unit before they are even allowed on the field, despite their physical ability. To accomplish reliability against committing mental errors on a consistent level takes a ton of reps and tons of studying during your free time.

This is just for achieving a level of competence, mind you. In order to truly become great, you have to take that dedication even further.

Obviously - as noted early on - there is much accountability on the players for getting prepared for the NFL experience. But most don’t come in with an NFL pedigree like Manning or Elway, knowing the rigors of professional football.

So it’s crucial a coach intervenes to bring his QBs along - or face the likelihood that his QB will be on the Dan Patrick Show in five years lamenting that the team who chose him did nothing to invest in his football success.

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How much onus is on the player vs. the coach when it comes to the quarterback being ready to play and lead his team to win in the NFL?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    50/50 - even between the coach, player
    (199 votes)
  • 0%
    100% on the player
    (3 votes)
  • 29%
    Coach plays a role, but it’s minimal compared to the player’s responsibility
    (90 votes)
  • 4%
    (15 votes)
307 votes total Vote Now