California Quarterback Mechanics: What Should We Expect from Kevin Riley?

Rodgers

Any difference you see in how the quarterbacks grip the ball?

The thing missing from Riley's game -- and we've heard Tedford say it a bunch this offseason -- is consistency.  And I think a big key, maybe the biggest, is his mechanics.  Good mechanics allow a QB to make the same throws over and over without a lot of variance.  If Riley is going to take the next step, he needs to be able to make all the throws with consistency and ease, even when he's tired and even under duress.  That is the mark of a good quarterback.

This is one of the highlights from the discussion we conducted with one of the brightest football minds in the blogosphere, The Bear Will Not Quit. In addition to the position previews (click here for the quarterback one!), we will be talking with him a little bit about what to look out for this season from each position, and get into some hard core football discussion. It's extremely titillating. Check it out (with some additional thoughts from Hydro, and additional photos!) after the jump.

 

1) What were the mechanical differences you saw in Kevin Riley's game from 2007 to 2008? What do you feel caused those differences?

You could really do a whole post (frankly, a book) just on QB mechanics.  But, the short answer is I didn't necessarily see a change in Riley's mechanics from 2007 to 2008 per se, so much as I saw (in both years) a lack of consistency in mechanics, and some sloppiness and lack of soundness from the standpoint of what we're accustomed to seeing in Tedford QBs.

Watch the brief clips below of Rodgers vs. USC 03 (only a few, wish I could find more from 04), and of Longshore 2006.  Rodgers and pre-injury Longshore look pretty similar: always on their toes, feet keeping consistent distance, legs only slightly bent, ramrod posture, of course the (in)famous high ball carriage, the snapping release that starts from the earhole (no arm windup), the short twisting throwing motion across the body, and the calm feet in the follow-through (rarely jerking the back foot off the ground or letting it swing forward).  (Longshore was a little sloppy in the first clip vs. Minn, but after that he tightened it up)

If I could point to themes for this style of mechanics, they would be (1) the absence of wasted motion, (2) centralizing and streamlining the muscles used to throw, and (3) elimination of movements that detract from accuracy.  Not that different from good golf swing mechanics.

Rodgers 2004 (watch from 4:00-4:15 mark)

Longshore 2006

Riley has never really looked like either of these vintages.  In 2007, he was pretty raw mechanically.  The thing about Riley though is he's got such natural ability and feel for the game.  I think because of that, the coaches (to their credit, in my opinion) pretty much kept it simple for him and just let him just turn it loose in 2007, figuring that you'd do more harm than good trying to monkey too much with his mechanics for just two starts, neither of which were necessarily planned well in advance. 

If you watch the clip below of his Ore St. start, you see marked differences from Rodgers or 06 Longshore.  He throws with a wider base and a bit more loose, relaxed posture.  He holds the ball lower and then drops it way back before throwing.  He arches his back backwards as part of his windup, as if to heave it.  And he lifts his back foot pretty significantly on the follow through, letting it lazily swing about.  Basically, Riley has that sort of easy, gunslinging, baseball-ish way about his throws that are in one sense the antithesis of the Tedford way.

But he has a whip for an arm, the ball comes out of his hand like silk (unlike Longshore - I never liked the way the ball came out of his hand), and he has the knack for making plays.  These are things you can't coach, and should handle with care when trying to teach mechanics.   

Riley 2007 vs Oregon State (unless you are dead inside, do not watch after 3:03)

In 2008, Riley did incorporate some Tedford-type mechanics, but also regressed from them in other ways.  A quick example is that first scoring drive vs. Ore (see below).  On the one hand, his posture improved and he started getting the ball cocked at the earhole right away, ready to throw quickly.  On the other hand, look how wide his feet are.  And watch what a huge arm windup he takes - he pulls the ball almost an arms length behind him before letting it go.  And then there's the active back leg on the follow through (especially his pass at the 1:58 mark)

Riley 2008 vs Oregon


The thing missing from Riley's game -- and we've heard Tedford say it a bunch this offseason -- is consistency.  And I think a big key, maybe the biggest, is his mechanics.  Good mechanics allow a QB to make the same throws over and over without a lot of variance.  If Riley is going to take the next step, he needs to be able to make all the throws with consistency and ease, even when he's tired and even under duress.  That is the mark of a good quarterback. 

Hydrotech: One of the first things I always notice is the QB's weight transfer.  I check to make sure he's stepping into his throws and there is a forward weight transfer.  You don't want QBs throwing flat-footed or with a backwards weight transfer or no weight transfer.  You also don't want QBs stepping in a direction other than the direction they want to throw.  The next thing that has to happen with the throw is that the arm must be in sync with the body and the weight transfer.  So I check to make sure the arm motion isn't ahead of the body, or lagging too far behind the body.  The arm's motion through the release is also important.  You don't really want guys side-arming the ball or using a Rich Gannon-esque 3/4ths release.  You really want guys with a nice over the top release so you get less batted balls.  Some of the finer points I look for is whether the QB pats the ball.  Patting is bad because it tips off the DBs that the QB is about to throw (ironically, this is a much bigger problem in the NFL rather than college).  Also, you want QBs with a nice compact and fast throwing motion.  You don't want windmill throwers like Bryon Leftwich.

Rodgers

Can you tell the difference in the throwing motions of our last four QBs?

2) What sort of difference do you feel Ludwig will make with Riley? Do you feel his coordinating style meshes well with Kevin's freewheeling play better than Cignetti?

I can't really speak to Ludwig's "coordinating style" too much per se, as I haven't really observed him in the past the way we've all had a chance to observe Cal coordinators throughout a season.  All I have to go on is some of his playcalling in the past, notably the Alabama game most recently, and the few comments Tedford made at the coaches' tour this summer. 

In terms of the Alabama game, I don't know how much you can take away from that beyond his play calling and game planning.  Coordinating is so much more than that in terms of working with a QB - it's molding your QB's skills and mental approach, it's directing the offense to suit his skills, all over the course of a season, week in and week out.  Plus that was a different system at Utah (and when he was at Oregon before that.)  

But watching that Alabama game, and keeping in mind Tedford's comments from the coaches' tour, if I take anything away about Ludwig's style, it is that he will bring more multiplicity to the offense in terms of attack points.  I think he will try to run defenses ragged around the field (especially early in games), hitting spots all over the field, creating more matchup problems, and generally trying to create imbalance in defenses. 
 
I also think we will see him using Riley's feet a bit more, both on design runs and on moving the pocket around, much the way Tedford used to use Rodgers.  And I think we'll see more short, rhythm passing.  It won't just be about executing bread and butter plays to perfection and then mixing in some deep balls and the occasional misdirection the way Cal did last year (which is a fine system by the way - it has served teams like USC very well). 

In terms of the effect on Riley, I think it will help him if for no other reason than because, like any QB, he will be more comfortable and have more opportunities if defenses are guessing.  Because there is so much room for error when you throw, and so many bad things can happen, you like at least some of your pass plays to catch defenses out of position by scheme (as opposed to just because your guy is faster and your QB can put it on a dime).  That is easier to do when you are more multiple because defenses are constantly adjusting, showing their coverages to certain formations, and guessing.  

Dscn3894_medium

via assets.sbnation.com

Last year, the offense was a bit less multiple than in years past, and as a result, the only thing that really kept defenses honest was Best's speed and the threat of a few very well timed back breaking play calls (mostly screens and the occasional trick play).  That left quite a few instances in which pass plays were run against defenses that were in good position to at least have a chance to defend the pass.  That created more pressure on Riley and his receivers to execute the passing game to greater perfection, because though many of the pass plays were good calls at the time, defenses were still a bit more prepared for them.  It just created less margin for error, which is a tough thing for a young QB and young WR corps.

If Ludwig brings some more multiplicity to the offense, there are going to be bigger openings from mismatches and blown/missed coverages, and plays are going to be made in the passing game.  And more short, rhythm passes should mean more completions.  Those plays (and more experienced receivers) tend to give QBs confidence.  Like any QB, once he's confident, Riley should perform better. 

3) What are the things you'd recommend Cal fans to look out for when they're watching our offense this season to know if Riley is performing well or struggling?

The big one for me is third down and red zone pass plays.  That's where you see how well a QB is playing.  Good QBs find ways to advance the ball in crunch time, be it scrambling to buy time, running for yardage, or throwing a laser into a keyhole with confidence. 

The other thing I look for with Riley in particular is what I call the "free throw" passes.  These are the passes, usually shorter ones, where guys are wide open and Riley just has to make a nice, easy, quick touch pass to them.  He missed on several of these last season.  He does a great job on the really tough passes, which is a testament to his talent.  But he has to be able to make the easy ones too, without thinking about it.  That's a big part of keeping the offense humming.

2904508827_56242cf5e4_medium

via farm4.static.flickr.com (Click here for original photo link)

4) How can fans figure out when a quarterback is at fault for a bad decision, or when a receiver is at fault for a bad route?

The short answer is you usually can't without knowing the play call.  Sometimes, if the TV shows a bird's eye view and you get a chance to replay it a few times, you can see some things that indicate one or the other. 

For example, the receiver might adjust his route if he sees a hole in the coverage.  Many offenses call for receivers to do this and for QBs to know the receiver is going to do it.  But sometimes, the QB might not notice the hole and therefore not expect the receiver to make the adjustment.  Thus, the QB might throw just beyond the WR to where he would normally be if he hadn't adjusted.

Sometimes from a bird's eye, you can see these holes, in which case you could perhaps conclude that the QB didn't make the read.  (But even then, without seeing the playbook, there's no way to know for sure if the play even allowed for the receiver to have made an adjustment in the first place.)

Obviously, if the QB or WR talk to each other afterward, you can also deduce that someone got off the page. 

And keep in mind, bad decision vs. bad route is not always the either-or dichotomy.  Sometimes it is both.  Sometimes a receiver does something wrong, and a QB makes a bad throw to that receiver. 

And sometimes it is neither.  Sometimes QB and WR execute perfectly but defenders make great plays.  Sometimes linemen miss blocks and alter QB throws one degree.  One degree at release can mean several feet by the time the ball gets downfield.

Hydrotech: Most of the time I'm inferring from the situation to determine whether the QB made a mistake.  The reason why I'm inferring the situation is because I don't know a lot of the plays that Cal runs.  So I'm checking to see the QB's reaction, and the receiver's reaction for clues as to what happened to see who was at fault.  But I'm also checking to see how the WR ran his route and if the QB threw a well placed ball.  The type of route can sometimes give clues as to what happened.  Certain routes demand certain execution and ball placement.  The defense can influence the offense too and change things.  Since I'm not privy to the Cal playbook, I'm often just making educated guesses as to what should have happened and who is at fault.

We will have more interviews with The Bear Will Not Quit as we move closer to the season opener.

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