Hidden Quarterback Gems? There Might Be Some for the Bears.


East Carolina’s Shane Carden (above) is a puzzle to me. I get the impression talking to many fans that they like Carden because they think he’s an underdog – a small guy who could make the kind of story that can be a source of inspiration to the average guy. Former Bears director of scouting Greg Gabriel practically slots him into that category as he summarizes Carden’s chances in the NFL:

“Overall, I see Carden as a very good college player who lacks the top traits needed to be a starter at the NFL level. He is smart, instinctive, and a leader. He just lacks the necessary physical traits. He can become a very good backup who will win some games if needed. If he becomes a starter, he will be a guy you are looking to replace. He is a good third day selection.”

Fair enough. But there’s a problem when you look at the details of Gabriel’s evaluation:

  1. “Slightly undersized” at just under 6-2, 218.
  2. Average athlete with average speed. Plays faster on tape.
  3. Agile with quick feet.
  4. Excellent production in college.
  5. Some wind up but above average arm strength.
  6. Smart, good instincts, good decision maker.
  7. Top notch intangibles. Leader, top worker.

So what’s not to like? A 5 second 40 time? Good grief, since when do you have to be Michael Vick to throw from the pocket? And 6-2 doesn’t exactly make him Doug Flute.

Curious, I took a look at the video of the East Carolina – North Carolina game below.

This is a great tape to look at. Carden was under good pressure from the North Carolina defense. He wasn’t perfect, as you can see. But there’s a lot of good here. His arm is plenty strong enough and he throws a pretty deep ball.

Generally speaking, Carden didn’t panic under pressure. As Gabriel implies, he actually is a pretty good decision maker. He scans the field and frequently throws to his second or third receiver in a progression.  Even an interception early in the game was a ball thrown to an open man.  This is crucially important, as highlighted by the comments of former 49er coach Bill Walsh:

“The ability to read defenses is not something that players have learned to a high degree coming out of college. Even if they have, the pro defenses are very different. But most systems require quarterbacks to look at primary and secondary receivers, usually based on the defense that confronts him. You can see if he locates that secondary receiver — or maybe even an emergency outlet receiver — with ease or with a sense of urgency.

“This should work like a natural progression, not a situation where it’s — “Oh, my gosh, now I must look over here … no, over there.” You can see which quarterbacks handle these situations with grace. These are the types who have a chance to perform with consistency in the NFL.”

I think I see that here.

He was often reasonably accurate on some tough throws under pressure. There weren’t many anticipation throws but North Carolina defense covered the East Carolina receivers well and often forced Carden to throw into NFL-type, tight coverage – which he did reasonably well.

Carden feels the rush pretty well most of the time. Perhaps most impressive to me, he also moves well in the pocket to avoid it while keeping his eyes downfield.

On the downside, he does have a windup and his release isn’t as quick as I’d like. But the ball comes out reasonably quickly all things considered. He must have shortened his release quite a bit before the combine where I didn’t even notice it. He also occasionally stares down receivers.

The current quarterback class has been much maligned after some showings at the Senior Bowl that reportedly weren’t good. But I’m starting to think that there are some underrated jewels in this draft. Looking beyond more highly rated prospects like Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley, I see a lot to like in Carden and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.  I haven’t even gotten around to looking at Sean Mannion yet.  Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune sees the Bears’ quest for a quarterback as “almost the impossible dream”.  But the Bears might be in better shape to take a good quarterback in this draft than anyone knows.

On the Vanishing Fullback Position

Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post says that the Broncos are going old school under new head coach Gary Kubiac by bringing back the fullback:

“‘Everyone wants to be an innovator. No one thinks you can get a head coaching job if you are just turning around and handing the ball off. It’s not sexy. But when you need to run out the clock and get those tough first downs, some of those spread offenses can’t do it,’ [Broncos fullback Howard] Griffith said. ‘You have to be able to run. Some people consider it old school. It’s just football, and you need a fullback.'”

I think most teams agree.

The power running game is still healthy and ever-present in the NFL and it just makes sense to attempt to overload the point of attack with blockers. There’s no better way to position a man to do that than to line him up in the backfield where he can read the situation and provide help at the most effective point. Renck elaborates:

“Griffith found himself in an unusual position with the Broncos. He was an electric college running back at Illinois but embraced a selfless role. His vision as a runner helped him as a blocker for Davis. He anticipated how plays would develop, freeing him to pick up weakside defenders off the script.

“‘It’s funny, because I have run into O-line coaches, and they want to know what our calls were on the backside plays. There was never any calls made. We just knew from the defensive alignment where I would go,’ Griffith said. ‘It happened by accident in practice, and where I picked up the most dangerous guy on a play, and we just kind of took it from there.'”

The “disappearance” of the NFL fullback is overrated. It’s true that more than ever teams like to spread the defense out with an extra wide receiver or run more double tight end sets, which puts the big men in a better position to run a pass route. But 23 teams still used a fullback last year and of the teams like the Bears who are left and who don’t list one on their roster, almost all still have plays that call for one. They just line up a “tight end” in the backfield who they have designated to be the fullback on those plays. That would be Dante Rosario on the current Bears roster.

No matter what you call it, the fullback isn’t going anywhere. Except where the ball is.

Totally Inept… And Still Better?


I’ve been as tough as anyone on the Browns.  And its well deserved because they really are the definition of dysfunctional. Pat McManamon at ESPN elaborates:

“From general manager Ray Farmer being suspended four games because of illegal in-game texting, to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving with two years left on his contract, to first-round pick and expected face-of-the-franchise quarterback Johnny Manziel finishing rehab, to former All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon facing another suspension for substance abuse, headlines have not been kind to the Browns. And that was all within the past few months.

“‘Let’s face it,’ [owner Jimmy Haslam] said, ‘it hasn’t been the smoothest start in the world.’

“Since the family bought the team for just more than $1 billion in October 2012, the Browns have been through three head coaches, three general managers, seven quarterbacks and (in two full seasons under Haslam) 21 losses in 32 games.”

And yet with all of that, Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com had to admit this:

“[I]t’s hard to dispute that those moves made the franchise look like it didn’t know what it was doing.”

“On the other hand, the Browns really did take a step forward on the field last season. Granted, a 7-9 season isn’t ‘a step forward’ in most places, but in Cleveland it is. That was the Browns’ best record since 2007.”

How bad is it when a franchise can be about as inept as it gets – a total embarrassment for an entire city – and yet it’s still an improvement?

Better Lives Through Chemistry

Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked about his thoughts on the Bears offseason moves. I find one aspect of his response to be interesting:

“What’s a little troubling for me is the fact the Bears have added 12 new players off other teams with the majority of them signing one-year deals. On one hand you worry about how all the new faces and personalities will mesh. But on the other, that concern is assuaged somewhat by the fact that everybody in that locker room, regardless of how long they’ve been Bears, is coming into something new under [Bears head coach John] Fox and [Bears general manager Ryan] Pace. So that situation could actually bolster chemistry and camaraderie between the players and all the new staffers.”

Team chemistry is one aspect of what Pace has done that I hadn’t considered much. And if there’s one thing that needed to change about this team, it was the chemistry. Last year’s team was soft as butter with one opposing assistant coach calling them “the biggest bunch of front-runners in the league”.

We all know that the Bears have purposely added natural leaders like veteran safety Antrel Rolle. But a lot of the chemistry remake was probably to some extent inadvertent as Pace and Fox were just trying to fill holes with stopgaps. Nevertheless the effect is probably going to be real. Bear fans have every reason to believe that this will be an entirely different team with an entirely different attitude, especially on defense where the turnover is greatest. In my mind, that can only be a good thing as there was no place to go but up.