Should NFL Teams 'Redshirt' Quarterbacks?

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterMay 20, 2014

David Maxwell/Getty Images

There are positives to rookie quarterbacks taking a "redshirt" year as they learn how to study pro tape, scout opponents, work on their mechanics and improve their overall functional strength in the weight room. 

Think of it as a gradual progression for these young quarterbacks as they adjust, or transition, to the speed and talent level in the NFL game. 

But are these quarterbacks really developing without live game reps while they run plays on the scout team in practice?

Today, let's discuss the benefits of rookies such as Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr playing this season while gaining the necessary experience to truly develop as pros.  

The Truth About the Scout Team

The No. 2 quarterback in the NFL might get two or three reps each team period during practice in the regular season, but that’s about it.

The rest of the time is dedicated to the starter as he preps for Sundays. Those are valuable practice reps based on the game plan installed plus the multiple fronts, coverages and blitz packages the opposing team is going to run that weekend.

May 16, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) throws during rookie minicamp at Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves the rookie quarterback—the one taking a "redshirt" year—in charge of running the "cards" on the scout team (opponents' plays drawn up by a quality-control coach) to get the No. 1 defense ready for game time.

And those reps are worthless.

Sure, quarterbacks can focus on their mechanics, eyes, etc., when they take a three- or five-step drop during scout-team periods.

However, scout-team coaches will tell these quarterbacks where to throw the ball based on the "card" shown in the huddle. And interceptions, poor technique or lazy footwork won't be reviewed (or corrected) during film sessions.

Remember, when the offensive scout team is on the field, it is considered a defensive drill. And because of that, there is no accountability for throwing picks or forcing the ball into coverage when you are trying to get the No. 1 defense ready for game day.

Based on my experience in the NFL, this applies to both sides of the ball (scout-team defensive backs are told to bite on double-moves during practice). And I believe this can force young players to develop bad habits on the field from a technique perspective as the season progresses.

It's a situation for quarterbacks that doesn’t lead to true, pro-style development when they are stuck running the opposition’s playbook in a static setting that isn’t graded by the coaching staff. 

The Value of Live Game Reps in the Regular Season

No matter how a coach scripts practice, it is impossible to replicate the speed, physicality or the level of competition that players see on game days in the regular season.

And that includes the preseason reps these young quarterbacks get during the month of August against backup defensive talent aligned in basic coverage schemes.

Think of Cover 2 or Cover 3 with some off-man. Schemes that feature very little pre-snap disguise or pressure. Line up and play. That's the drill in August. 

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

However, when paychecks are handed out in the regular season, the pro game is fast, violent and complex.

Quarterbacks will see multiple-coverage looks, hybrid fronts, true edge speed, combination calls in the secondary and professional defensive backs that will make them pay for leaving a ball to the back shoulder on the out route.

It's game-plan stuff that doesn’t show up during a spring OTA or a minicamp in June when the veterans are just trying to stay healthy before they can get out of town for a month prior to camp starting.

But to see those unique defensive looks, and adjust to the ridiculous pace at which this game is played on Sundays, watching a veteran from the sidelines isn’t going to cut it.

These quarterbacks need to play in order to improve—because nothing can replace game reps from a developmental perspective.

The Ability to Make Corrections off the Game Film

Rookie quarterbacks are going to throw picks, take sacks and make questionable decisions during their first seasons on the field.

And that should be expected as they adjust to the NFL.

However, those mistakes provide an opportunity for young quarterbacks to make corrections and use the film as an actual teaching tool throughout the season.

ALAMEDA, CA - MAY 16: Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders participates in drills during Rookie Minicamp on May 16, 2014 in Alameda, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I believe film work is at the core of every productive NFL player because of the ability to self-scout. This allows players to study their own technique and how opposing teams target both their strengths and weakness based off the film.

Plus, it gives players the opportunity to see their mistakes and make the necessary corrections to fix technique or footwork issues before they suit up again the following week.

Yes, there are positives to studying veteran players on the film. This gives rookies the opportunity to "steal" and incorporate some of those same techniques into their own game.

But without the tape to self-scout your own game (or your own mistakes), it can slow the developmental process. 

Put these rookies on the field, let them face some adversity and find out if they can make the necessary corrections to survive.

Let the Rookies Compete 

I can see the positives and negatives with both sides of the argument when it comes to sitting rookie quarterbacks or pushing them out on the field. 

For many, there is value in rookies watching from the sidelines for a year (or even two) as they begin to grasp the pro game. This gives them the time to progress until they are ready to run an NFL offense on Sundays. 

However, there is nothing better than learning on the field in a true, competitive environment that demands accountability. 

And that's why I don't believe in giving quarterbacks a "redshirt" year to run the scout team if the roster situation allows them to play meaningful snaps as a rookie. 

Instead, give these rookies a chance to compete for a job and the opportunity to use the teaching tools provided by live game reps in order to truly develop.  

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 


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