Kurt Warner Q&A: How the Game Is Changing for QBs—and Parents

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 10, 2015

Former quarterback Kurt Warner smiles during San Francisco 49ers NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Kurt Warner needs little introduction: two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl XXXIV MVP, 2008 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, four-time Pro Bowler and (bank on it) future Hall of Famer.

Since retiring in 2009, Warner has become an NFL Network analyst, high school football coach and pitchman for a company, Unequal Technologies, that sells supplemental inside-the-helmet padding.

Warner took a few minutes recently to speak to Bleacher Report about quarterback issues and controversies around the NFL, as well as the concussion concerns Warner faces as a high school coach and the father of two youth football players—and how he believes the product he endorses can help.

In the conversation, Warner also endorsed Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater and Ben Roethlisberger. The read-option and no-huddle offenses? He's a little less enthusiastic about those.

Bleacher Report: The Redskins and Robert Griffin III are embroiled in an ugly quarterback controversy. You found yourself in some strange quarterback situations over the years. What can players and the organization do to keep a quarterback controversy from getting out of control?

Kurt Warner: The quarterback position is a position where it is easy to divide a team. Guys are there every day. They see certain things, and they gravitate to certain guys. It's really a tough thing.

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When a decision is made like they made in Washington, the bottom line is you have to respect the decision whether you agree with it or not. Then you have to go out and play football. I think most players are really good with that. They separate their personal feelings from the football decisions and go out and do their jobs. But it's a tough thing. There's loyalty that's built for different players. There are players who believe certain guys should be playing or give them the best chance to win.

It's much easier when your team's winning. When your team starts to lose, that's where a lot of these quarterback controversies divide a locker room. The key, as a pro, is to be a pro.

B/R: Ben Roethlisberger faces Tom Brady in the season opener. You faced Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLIII. What were your impressions of him then, and what are your impressions of him now?

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Warner: I have always thought Ben was a really good quarterback, but I think he is one of those quarterbacks who just gets better and better every year. Early in his career, he was great at extending plays. He was decent in the pocket, but he was more about creating and doing that extra thing, and [the Steelers] had a good defense.

Over the years, he has continually and gradually gotten better and better as an in-pocket passer. He doesn't have to depend about that ad-libbing stuff anymore. He sees the field, he gets through his progressions, he can make all the throws and he's got good timing.

I think he has become one of the best quarterbacks in this league. I've really enjoyed watching him progress like that. He plays the quarterback position how it's supposed to be played.

B/R: Tom Brady is now 38 years old. You won 10 games as a 38-year-old quarterback. What adjustments do older quarterbacks have to make to stay productive?

Warner: It depends on the kind of quarterback you are. For me, as a pocket quarterback, there wasn't much adjustment as I got older. Players like that have the possibility of playing longer and playing at a high level longer.

That's why Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and all those guys are able to be successful later on in their careers. They're not changing the way they play the game. It's a mental game that they play with their right arm. It's not so much about the physical traits.

I think we see, as guys get older, the physical traits start to dwindle. Maybe their arm's not quite as live as it was. They can't run quite as fast. But for these guys, that's not really a huge part of their game.

B/R: Do you think Brady, Manning or Brees has lost velocity?

Warner: When it comes to velocity and such, I think it's all a relative term, anyway. When I played, I didn't have the strongest arm, and in a game I never threw it as hard as I could, either.

As long as you know what you are doing and how to anticipate and throw, I don't think you need all that much physically. All those guys are plenty talented enough, physically, to still be able to make all the throws they need to. Even if they dwindle—and you can probably say Peyton Manning has after his injury—they are still smart enough and understand how to anticipate. You can still see the kind of success they can have.

B/R: You played for Ken Whisenhunt when he coached the Cardinals. Now he is in Tennessee with Marcus Mariota. How will they mesh?

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Warner: I really like Marcus. He's got a huge upside. From what I have seen and heard from Coach Whiz and others, he has the potential to really succeed. He has the intelligence, and obviously the physical skills, to do it.

Coach Whiz has always had great flexibility with regards to the offenses he has been in, really working it around what the skills of the quarterback are. I think they are going to mesh well. How quickly they jump in and have success, I'm not really sure.

B/R: Whisenhunt had his greatest successes with you in Arizona and with Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh: a pair of pocket passers. Are we oversimplifying when we say that his system is designed for pocket passers, not a mobile quarterback like Mariota?

Warner: I think Coach Whiz has grown over the years. I think he is more comfortable, or has more knowledge, of the dropback-type game. If Coach Whiz, or most coaches, believes that some kind of read-option or pocket movement is what's best for his team, he'll go and research it, study it and try to find out the best way to put Marcus in positions where he can achieve as much as it's possible for him to achieve.

I think he's very familiar with the dropback game. He's probably less familiar with the other part. But I don't think he's going to limit himself. And I think that's what being around different guys has taught him: We're all dropback quarterbacks, but we all still play the game differently. He's been very flexible about putting all those pieces together for us to succeed. I believe he will be open to learning and developing a system that fits Marcus well.

B/R: Were you ever asked to run a read-option in your career?

Warner: No, not in my NFL career, although I did run it in Arena Football. We ran the read-option with a pass option off of it. We actually ran a lot of it back in the day, before it got popular in pro football.

B/R: What do you think of the read-option as an NFL strategy?

Warner: I think it's a great change-up, especially with these athletic quarterbacks. I don't believe it's a world you can live in. I don't think you can continually expose your quarterback to hits, with the size and speed of the guys on defense now. I don't think you can make it the primary part of your offense. But it makes the defense respect the quarterback position as a runner, which in many cases they don't. It is a great tool, but I don't think it's a mainstay.

I think if you are smart running it, I think you can make it more prevalent. A guy like Russell Wilson does a great job of being very judicial.

B/R: What about Chip Kelly's offense?

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Warner: In a system like Kelly's, I don't think every zone-read you see is really an option. I think many of them are, "We're giving it [to the running back], we're giving it, we're giving it, OK, now we have the option." It's for select moments where the quarterback can keep it and make a big play and protect himself, but they aren't going to subject him to all those hits. We're just going to hold that back-side linebacker or end with our quarterback, even though we have no intention of him keeping it 25 times per game.

B/R: What about the no-huddle element of Kelly's offense?

Warner: I don't really have a problem with it. I just think that when you do that much no-huddle, it simplifies the offense. I don't think you can do nearly as much as you can do otherwise. It's the give and take. Will the speed of the game, and wearing the other team down, be a bigger benefit than trying to move our guys around and put them in a perfect position to succeed or attack?

What you see with Philly's offense is that it has the ability to succeed. It's a high-powered offense. I think we have also seen really good teams, that play good zone defenses, have been able to succeed against it. That's because of the simplicity of what the Eagles do. They run a lot of plays over and over again. Against certain teams, it's really, really good. Against other teams, it's neutralized a little bit.

I think like any system, it comes down to the quarterback—and you'd better have a really good quarterback, specifically in that system, if you want to have that consistent greatness.

B/R: What young players are you excited to watch this season?

Warner: The guys I am interested in watching are the second-year quarterbacks: guys like Teddy Bridgewater. I thought he was the best quarterback coming out of that class as far as being pro-ready. He's shown that. I think he's ready, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, to really have a strong second year. I'm intrigued to watch that. How good can he be?

Blake Bortles had a great preseason. Can he take that step? Derek Carr. I think a lot of people are talking about him and the huge upside there. Now you add Amari Cooper and some pieces there.

Even Johnny Manziel: I know he's not slated as the starter right now, but I think he has made some moves, and you are hearing a lot of positive stuff about him. I'm ready to watch that whole class as they go into their second year, because that's usually where you make the greatest strides, to see how good that class can be.

B/R: Your children play football now. What positions do your sons play?

Warner: One son is playing flag football right now, and he's a quarterback. One plays high school football, and he's a wide receiver.

B/R: How did he end up at wide receiver?

Warner: I don't think he wanted the pressure of being a quarterback, whether that had to do with being my son or having the ball in your hand and having to make those decisions. But he's a big, athletic kid that really gets it. He's got good speed, so I think he was drawn to being able to catch the ball.

I can understand, because I wanted to be a wide receiver when I was growing up, too.

B/R: In addition to being a football parent, you are also now a high school football coach. Do other parents approach you with their concerns about concussions and other major injuries?

Warner: I wouldn't say I hear it a lot, but I hear it. I hear a lot more parents ask me about it, especially if their kids are younger. There are different issues for different families and kids: what they do, how they play. I think there is different timing for all of that.

What we know about football is that it's a violent, physical sport. There's nothing that's going to prevent concussions. But when it comes to head trauma, my goal is to make sure that I find the best stuff out there to protect my kids as best as I can. I did that with Unequal, and we have had tremendous success with it.

It's not just about Unequal, though I think they are the best on the market for what they do. My goal is to encourage parents to understand as much as they possibly can about concussions. Know the signs that can get you the proper help. It's protecting your kids by understanding that, yes, there are helmets out there, but there are better helmets. Some parents just buy whatever helmet's on the rack. They don't even know how to fit their kids for a helmet.

I think we are at the point now where we know more, so we can do more. We know better; we've got to do better.

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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