Ross Tucker at The Athletic writes about how hard it is to make a decision in a quarterback competition without preseason games. He strikes a nerve with me when he addresses the importance of seeing what happens when a quarterback can be hit.
“You see, they can and will chart every throw and decision [quarterback Mitch] Trubisky and [quarterback Nick] Foles make throughout camp. They’ll grade who is more accurate, who is making better decisions, etc., but in all instances, the quarterback will know he can’t actually get hit. Without naming names, I played with a number of quarterbacks during my career who looked awesome in practice wearing the red no-touch jersey but were totally different when they had to go out and do it inside the stadium with a defense trying to take them down. I really don’t know if it was just the pressure of being in a game situation or the knowledge that they were subjecting themselves to physical harm, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? All that matters is how they perform in the games that actually count and when the defense is going to do everything it can to get to the quarterback and inflict harm.
“But don’t just take my word for it. I asked some former quarterbacks for their opinions to make sure my observations weren’t off base.
“‘Most NFL fans don’t like the preseason, but for quarterbacks, whether they are in a competition or backups looking for live reps, the preseason is an extremely important aspect of getting ready for the season,’ said Sage Rosenfels, a veteran of 11 NFL seasons.
“‘There is nothing like live reps. Some quarterbacks excel in practice, when you don’t have the fear of getting hit, and then clam up during real games. The preseason helps tremendously in the evaluation process.'”
This has been on my mind for many months now as I have thought about what went wrong with Trubisky last season. My guess was that, despite having a “live scrimmage” in practice, the first snap Trubisky took against the Packers in game 1 was the first one he had taken without a red jersey on since January. That means it was the first snap he took where he could actually get hit. The guess here is that his eyes dilated in a way head coach Matt Nagy should have, but didn’t, expect.
That, along with the fact that Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Petine is the equivalent of a junk ball pitcher who will throw every wrinkle he can at a quarterback to confuse him, had Trubisky seeing ghosts. Nagy addressed Trubisky’s lack of confidence game after game after that and it certainly looked like it was many weeks before Trubisky recovered from the experience.
How many times did we hear Trubisky and Nagy talk about how good a play looked in practice after failing to work in a game? It’s a refrain we hear many times in many different circumstances. The reason is obvious. Everything is different once the live bullets start flying.
To his credit, Nagy apparently learned his lesson last season and by all accounts he was planning on playing his starters in the preseason this year, quarterback competition or no. But now, with no preseason games, is when we find out if he really learned anything.
Nagy will undoubtedly use the “live scrimmage” approach out of necessity rather than by choice now. And now the crucial question is this: will the quarterbacks still have the red jersey on during that session? If not, there’s a chance that Nagy will choose the right player in this competition. And that player will have at least a chance of being prepared for what’s in store for him in game one when it all becomes real.