The NFL’s Shameful Impatience with Black Quarterbacks

We are just a month removed from the NFL Network airing a special on the history of players and the importance of Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Even here I wrote an epilogue on the enshrinement of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson’s into the Black College Hall of Fame last month. Outside of these circles you’ll hear comments as though every racial barrier has been eradicated and they haven’t. You have NFL experts pitching the notion Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson should switch to WR at the NFL Combine last weekend.

Are you serious?? Why is that even being asked?? Why isn’t this being asked of Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or Sam Darnold?? To many black former players and to this historian, it reeks of those in NFL circles who wish to keep the quarterback position white and that is a problem. It unveils what many of us have talked about in private circles for years and we’re talking about this today.

Now Colin Kaepernick situation withstanding, someone undoubtedly will mention “Julian Edelman was a qb in college and he switched.”  Yet he was a marginal talent at Kent St in the Mid America Conference where he threw for 1,820 yds 13 TDs and 11 interceptions as a senior. Hardly NFL material. He was not an electrifying talent that ran for 1,571 yards 21 TDs before tossing 30 more scores with just 9 ints and another 3,543 yards in a Heisman winning year. So lets kill that noise right off the top.

Its the audacity of having it come up in the first place when the young man has earned the right to be drafted as a quarterback. It pulls back the veil of the long ago thought that blacks weren’t to play the thinking positions and were asked to switch positions going into the pros.

Quick question: Who holds the Denver Bronco record for touchdown passes as a rookie?? *jeopardy music* The answer is Marlon Briscoe with 14 in 1968. Yes he has held the record for 49 years… not John Elway…not Tim Tebow…not Jay Cutler. In fact if you add Elway and Tebow’s rookie TDs together you would still only have 12. Briscoe’s reward?? He never quarterbacked in the AFL or NFL again and was switched to receiver. He won Super Bowl VII and VIII in Miami but the point we don’t know is what could he have developed into??

One aspect that rears it’s head are coaches and general managers impatience with wanting to get black QBs on the field. Why is it you rarely see black QBs groomed to be placed out there once they’re developed and ready??

What happens is the black quarterback is inserted for an element of excitement. Fans get behind the team. The team’s coaches don’t further develop the game of the quarterback and lock into the same plays. Opposing defense catches on to the quarterbacks tendencies within 2 years and the fans turn on the quarterback when he isn’t effective. Then hit Twitter, social media and the blogosphere about how they need to draft the next best thing. Sound familiar??

Its the same reason you didn’t see the Kordell Stewarts & Duante Culpeppers have long careers as backups once they weren’t starters. However a Ryan Fitzpatrick (7 teams looking for his 8th) and Josh McCown (8 teams) have been terrible yet hold clip boards and play without distinction for 28 years and not a playoff appearance between them.

If Duante Culpepper went from throwing for 4717 yards and 39 TDs to out of the league in 6 years, how did Fitz and McCown stay so long?? He couldn’t help develop a young QB as a gray beard George Blanda-type?

Even Doug Williams who won Super Bowl XXII with the most electrifying game in history was cut by the Redskins 1 year and 1 day later. In NFL Films Black Star Rising in 1995, Viking DE Jim Marshall expressed how “black players weren’t allowed to be 2nd tier players and had to perform just to be on a team.” That it was different for their white counterparts in the 1960’s. This still seems to hold true with the quarterback position.

This is where and how many of these black quarterbacks are thrown in before they’re ready. “If the play isn’t there take off and run the football” and not develop the QB fully before defenses catch up to them. This is what happened to RGIII, Kaepernick and would have happened to Russell Wilson had he not had such a great defense and running game. Its on the offensive coaches to gradually mature these scramblers into pocket quarterbacks. Landry did it with Roger Staubach and Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren did this with Steve Young. It takes years… it takes commitment.

Aside from Warren Moon down in Houston the one time I saw an organization really develop and commit to black quarterbacks has been the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did Andy Reid help develop Donovan McNabb to a QB who led his team to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance… it goes further back than that.

Go back to the late Buddy Ryan and Randall Cunningham. Keep in mind Cunningham was drafted the year before Ryan got there. Buddy was hired in 1986 and worked to get the most out of the players on the roster. First he would deploy Cunningham as a wildcard, only on 3rd down packages and by 1987 had him on the field once he developed to the point he could play every down. He hired Doug Scovil to be his QB coach. It was Scovil who tutored BYU QBs as their coach in the early 80’s with Jim McMahon and Gifford Nielsen. So he had developed pro quarterbacks and bonded while working with Cunningham.

Ryan and Scovil helped develop Cunningham into the NFL’s ultimate weapon. He led the Eagles to the playoffs over the next 3 years in ’88, ’89, & ’90. Tragically late in the 1989 season Scovil died of a heart attack at Veteran’s Stadium and it derailed an Eagle team with a chance at the Super Bowl. Without his coaching confidante, Cunningham fell prey to the LA Rams and Fritz Shurmur‘s confusing “Eagle Defense” with 2 linemen and 5 linebackers on the field. They lost an NFC wildcard playoff 21-7 at home in a drizzly rain and couldn’t make offensive adjustments.

Yet they never would have made it that far had Cunningham been thrown to the wolves without proper coaching and just “go make a few plays with your legs.” He would have been replaced by 1989 instead of 3 straight trips to the Pro Bowl and coming in 2nd in the NFL MVP voting in 1990. It was this fundamental structure being coached fully “how to play qb” is what allowed an older Cunningham to be 1998’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In that season Minnesota went 15-1 with the highest scoring offense in NFL history with 556 points. He did it from the pocket and framework of the offense.

Keep in mind Ryan and Scovil didn’t draft Cunningham yet polished a raw talent into something special. What Lamar Jackson brings to the table rivals what Michael Vick did as a quarterback a generation before. Yes he can get by on his legs when he doesn’t get through his reads. However I hope the staff that takes him has the patience and vision to start him when he is ready and further develop him to perform within the framework of the offense.

So the issue before us has several facets to it. One is the lack of commitment to fully developing black qbs to be more than an offensive anomaly for a few years. Another is the stereotypes and prejudices we see surrounding that position from the executive level. When Bill Polian suggested he switch to WR it made my blood boil and I have written about him here on his brilliance as a general manager.

While I know Polian doesn’t harbor those prejudices, after all he hired Tony Dungy to be the Colts coach, it raises an eyebrow because of the sensitive past it invokes. His voice carries weight in other NFL boardrooms and he could have damaged Jackson’s draft status. While I don’t agree with Polian’s assessment I do disagree with Jackson having his mother as his agent. He needs an agent who knows in NFL circles what to look for in a team. The scouting process to make sure the right organization will put the plan and succession in place for Jackson to be the most successful.  The Chancellor of Football can get you in touch with Adrian Ross or Leigh Steinberg…its not too late.

Dedicated to the memories of Buddy Ryan and Doug Scovil

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Whither Johnny Manziel – Kicked out of Manning Passing Academy

Returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Early last December we had the first redshirt freshman win the Heisman Trophy. Everyone marveled at “Johnny Football’s” mobility in and out of the pocket. His touch once he threw the football during games, and a slew of YouTube tricks to marvel at. Yet no one thought of the light that would be shown on a 20 year old kid. The scrutiny that would follow him off the football field has led to an off-season of setbacks. All of which culminated with his removal from the Manning passing camp.

In the ever-changing world of social media, there is light where there has never been before. Any anonymous person, can take a picture of you while in the middle of devouring a cheeseburger, and link it to the rest of the world via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc… Caught in this lurch are the first generation of athletes who can’t escape the limelight of the media, now that the American populace has become a part of it. Athletes are having to mature faster and think quicker on their feet in regards to what their actions can possibly cause.

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram had just cooled from the Pouncey twins sporting “Free Hernandez” ball caps. This of course in reference to former Florida Gator teammate Aaron Hernandez, who has been accused of murder. Now comes the story of Manziel being released from the camp run by the Mannings. He’s been blown up on social media for a series of transgressions this off-season. Pictures of him in drinking establishments although he’s not 21. The rest of us football fans have taken to social media, to express ourselves about Johnny Manziel and his celebrity.

First and foremost, let’s not forget this is a 20 year old who was at a football camp. The camp is there to mentor and train hundreds of prep school and college signal callers about the nuances of playing the position. Of course they were covering 3, 5, 7 step drops, Pistol shotgun mechanics, and footwork. Here is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner attending a football camp to help the next generation.

Although he has a lot of light on him for various reasons, he was kicked out of the camp and now has to deal with the embarrassment on ESPN and social media all alone. The Chancellor of Football’s take?? I would think higher of the Mannings had they sat Johnny Manziel down and mentored him about professionalism and kept things in-house. Between Archie, Peyton, and Eli, there is nearly 40 years of NFL experience between them. Just like Johnny, Peyton and Eli grew up affluent also so they could identify with his position. This isn’t a poor college student who can only afford to go home and train out of the spotlight only. To boot him out and say”Oh we’d invite him back” while he now has to be a 20 year old in damage control mode. Understand he doesn’t have an agent to coach him and he could always say the wrong thing in front of one of these cameras.

Yet lets ask ourselves a question: What were all of us doing at 20 years of age?? Are you kidding?? I went to parties at schools in four different states let alone be a real high profile college KID. Don’t let social media warp your level of perspective. Does he need to calm down some?? Yes…why not have some compassion for his situation and sit Johnny down?? The Mannings missed a golden opportunity to mentor him in something more important than football…life.

To get him to slow down and understand how living in the fast lane has derailed many careers, or worse. To know how his life is being scrutinized by future employers. To understand the 15 minutes of fame young girls, and other fans who want to befriend him will do with this instant media, can paint him in a negative light. Naturally someone may say it’s not their responsibility to tell him that. The reason they had him there in the first place was they had the platform to teach young quarterbacks about playing football. Why not take it a step further with him instead of let him twist in the wind from a P.R. standpoint?? He has no one around him to tell him NO. He’s hanging around other 20 year old kids who are more popular because they hang out with “Johnny Football.’ Don’t forget there are limited hours his college coaches can talk to him in the off-season due to NCAA regulations. Not one of them could have sat him down for a 15 minute heart to heart conversation??

We do have to keep in perspective that he’s only 20 yet let’s empathize with what he’s dealing with also. If I tapped you on the shoulder and told you I have pics and vids of your behavior to upload to facebook from you at 20, how wide would your eyes get?? Exactly. For what we’ve heard this off-season give this kid a break, he’ll learn from this. The number one thing for him is he’s just a few weeks away from where he needs to be… back in school and in the safe haven of practice at Texas A & M. I hope he’s learned a couple lessons.

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A Trip To New York In The Near Future

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Just like last year, one of the nation’s college quarterbacks is starting to leave his contemporaries behind. Last week The Chancellor placed his first vote for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for Geno Smith of West Virginia. What does he do for an encore? A 4 touchdown performance on the road in a 48-45 win over Texas. Now this isn’t the first time the Mountaineers have shocked on a national stage.

Less than a decade ago, West Virginia rose to prominence when Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, abandoned the Big East Conference only to have WVU revolutionize college football with their run first spread option play. Eight years later they jump to the Big 12 and now have college football’s #1 rated passer. Talk about coming full circle.

For the year Geno Smith has 24 touchdowns without an interception. With his team facing new competition in a new conference, you have to appreciate what you’re seeing. It would be different had he faced these teams in previous years and knew what to expect from his opponents. This puts him ahead of even Robert Griffin III’s performance last year in Big XII play. The question is can he keep up this blistering pace?? Well, considering the fact WVU dropped 70 on Baylor last week, you can’t bet against him. With the success of RGIII and Sam Bradford in the NFL, his stock is rising dramatically for next year’s draft.

Of course we’re getting ahead of ourselves here but when you look ahead to the four games against ranked teams, he faces Oklahoma and Kansas State at home. However, the trip to Stillwater and Oklahoma State looms large in the distance. If Smith continues his play and can go 3-1 against TCU and these teams, the Heisman is his. If WVU can go undefeated for the season beating 5 ranked opponents, they have a legitimate shot at the National Championship. Both of these eluded Pat White and that great Mountaineer team of nearly a decade ago.

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Baylor’s Robert Griffin III Takes Home the Heisman Trophy

Robert Griffin III outruns Andrew Luck for the 2011 Heisman Trophy

Congratulations to the 77th Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. He was easily the most electrifying player this year, a Cam Newton-lite if you will. It may have been a benefit Newton didn’t win it last year. Although he was swirled amidst off field allegations, had he won it last year the voters may have looked to give the award to another type of player this year or position. However if you look at Griffin III’s season in a vacuum, he deserved it hands down.

All he did was lead perennial doormat Baylor into the National spotlight completing 267 of 369, for 3,998 yards, 36TDs to only 6 interceptions. He was also a threat on the ground where he ran for 649 yards and another 9 touchdowns. He’s just 353 yards away from a 5,000 yard season against stellar competition and still has an Alamo Bowl showdown with Washington to pad his stats further.

Statistics don’t tell half the story. It was this electrifying talent that led his teammates to believe they could play with anyone. It started with his destruction of #14 TCU’s highly ranked defense, to the tune of 359 yards passing and 5 touchdowns in building a 47-21 lead. After the Bears offense grew cold, Griffin proved his mettle driving the Bears to the winning field goal 50-48 and a collegiate star was born. This was the first great early game of the season and talk of Griffin III’s exploits were showcased on national television.

Then really grew steam when he performed the coup de gras against Oklahoma. His Baylor Bears were ranked 22nd and were taking on media darling Bob Stoops and his #5 ranked Sooners. You have to understand the Bears were 3 weeks removed from losing badly to ranked #4 Oklahoma St. (59-24) and #23 Texas A & M (55-28). Their confidence was shaken as a team going into this game and it was do or die to find out if they were for real.  Griffin, who passed and ran his team to a 38-24 fourth quarter lead in one of the game’s of the year, dazzled early. Once their momentum crested, the high powered Sooners sprang to life and rallied to tie the score 38-38, with 2:38 to go.

With Oklahoma holding all three time outs, the Bears came out conservative and ran a dive showing they were content to go to overtime. Stoops called the first of his timeouts, which showed the Sooners wanted to force the Bears to punt the ball back and give the Sooners a chance to win it in regulation. Baylor’s body english looked defeated and Waco was completely silent. Armed with the knowledge of what Oklahoma intended to do, it was Griffin III who charged back to the huddle to breathe life in his team. He completed two strikes in the heart of the Sooner’s zone to put Baylor in field goal range reversing the momentum. Instead of waiting to kick the winning field goal, on first down he scrambled to his left and fired a 34 yard touchdown to Terrance Williams with :08 left. BALLGAME!!

By the time he engineered a 48-24 trouncing of the 22nd ranked Texas Longhorns, it was obvious this was the best player in all of college football. He led the Bears to a 4-2 record over top 25 teams. In the aforementioned games with Oklahoma and Texas how’d he do?? Against Oklahoma Griffin III ran for 98 yards while throwing for 479 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then you had him toast up the Longhorns rushing for 36 yards and 2 TDs, while throwing for 320 yards and 2 more scores.

Buoyed by these three signature games, it was impossible to hand the Heisman to another player. He carried his team into national prominence and backed up the press clippings with performance. The Baylor Bears went 9-3 with him at the helm and had their best record since 1986. Now further that distinction with bringing the school it’s first ever Heisman winner. So what does he do as an encore?? We suspect a 500 yard performance (rushing and passing) and a high draft status in April.  With the Colts eyeing a pure drop back passer in Andrew Luck, it looks like many teams would vie for his services. Right now, the Cleveland Browns are on the clock.

For if he’s Cam Newton-lite, he may be just as deadly in his rookie year. We’ll have time for that later. As for right now, congratulations Robert Griffin III. You deserved your Heisman with a performance for the ages.

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2011 Heisman Campaign: Doug Martin of Boise St.

Boise St’s talented Doug Martin

Heisman Trophy

One of the nation’s best running backs wasn’t even a guaranteed starter at his position just two years ago, let alone last year. Would you believe he was a complimentary back and special team standout who switched to and from safety several times at Boise State?? At 5’9 201lbs, he runs with a Mark Ingram-like low center of gravity, yet unlike the past Heisman Trophy winner, Martin has an explosive burst. He began the 2010 season as a complimentary option to incumbent starter Jeremy Avery and just flat unseated him. He wound up rushing for 1,260 yds on just 201 carries, had a whopping 6.2 yards per carry average and 12 TDs. Yikes! What would he have done if he had been the undisputed starter at the beginning of the season??

He exploded at the end of the season when he dazzled the nation with one of the best performances in college football against Nevada.  Boise St was ranked #3 with a 10-0 record and traveled to play Nevada, who was on a 10 game winning streak, and were 10-1 with a #19 ranking. This was the last hurdle for the Broncos to push to play in that elusive National Championship Game. In a nationally televised game, the Broncos sprinted out to a 24-7 lead thanks to 2TDs by Martin. The last of which was a 51 yd sweep to the left that left Wolfpack defenders gasping for air as he sprinted into the endzone for what appeared to be a clinching touchdown. Yet the Wolfpack furiously fought to get back into the game tying the score at 24 with 5:10 left in the regulation.

The Boise offense had been stifled for the better part of two quarters when they turned to their dynamic junior running back. In what should have been a last possession time consuming drive, Martin accidentally showcased his flare for the dramatic. On 1st and 10, he took a routine screen pass, set up blocks with a few electrifying moves and powered through an attempted tackle and exploded for a 79 yard touchdown. The play was stunning by itself yet when his team was playing pensive and they needed it most he came through. Alas the finish to the game robbed the Broncos of their shot at playing for it all falling 34-31 in overtime. However that Saturday night in front of an ESPN audience Martin amassed 152 yds on 24 carries for 2TDs while gaining 78 yards on 3 receptions and another touchdown. Two of his scoring plays were from 51 and 79 yards out.  For the season he had 11 plays of over 25 yds or more and 3 that were over 50.

After receiving a slight from the Bowl Committee and having to play December 22 in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, the Broncos again had a national television audience tune in. After both teams started off sluggish, Martin moved the crowd with an 84 yard touchdown run in which he outran the entire secondary the last 50 yards to the endzone. He had another breathtaking cutback run of 32 yards and finished the day with 17 carries for 147 yards and 1 touchdown in a 26-3 win. When the lights came on and it was time to perform, he played his absolute best.

So why the high expectations on Doug Martin? He finished with 6, 100 yard games and if he carries the football to the tune of 250-275 times this season he could rush for 1,700 yards and over 20TDs in the Mountain West Conference. He rushed for 15TDs in a complimentary role in 2009 so those numbers aren’t far-fetched.  His stock is clearly on the rise and this is an NFL ready running back. As we debated the merits of a Boise St’s legitimacy to play for the National Championship last year, we expect some flack because of the Broncos schedule and conference. Until you realize

  • LaDainian Tomlinson -TCU Hornedfrogs WAC- 13,404 NFL Career Yards, 144 rushing TDs & NFL record 31TDs in one season
  • Walter Payton – Jackson St – SWAC- Former NFL All Time Rushing leader with 16,726 yards rushing
  • Jamal Anderson-Utah WAC- Ran for Atlanta Falcon record 1,750 yards on NFL record 410 carries in 1998
  • Mike Anderson-Utah WAC – Ran for NFL rookie game rushing record 250 yards against New Orleans Saints 2000

2011 Boise State Bronco Stadium Banner of Doug Martin

Just to name a few of the merits of those coming from smaller schools and their ability to compete with their BCS Conference School counterparts at the next level. Take a look at Reggie Bush for example….yet I digress. Ahem it’s at the collegiate level we’re talking about. As the video illustrates Martin can avoid the big hit with his quick feet yet when contact is imminent, he explodes into tacklers with the mentality of a defensive player. If you approach Boise St’s Stadium, you’ll see these huge banners of Kellen Moore and a few other players, yet its the one to the left of this column that will catch your eye. Keep your eye out for him this season and in next April’s draft. You haven’t heard the last of this talent and with an injury free season could be the best in the country and worthy of the Heisman Trophy.