December 2015 – Two Journeys…One Goal

Success on the scale achieved by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks over the last few seasons, OR Cam Newton’s Panthers and their current 12-0 streak inspires the rest of the football world to dream. Can we learn anything from their success? Do we have players with comparable talents that could bring OUR team something similar…even BETTER?

Seattle has won a Superbowl with Wilson at QB, lost another and are pushing for a playoff berth in 2015. Carolina is 12-0 and has assured themselves of a playoff spot this season. The ONE factor that has got both teams to where they are now is FAITH. Despite innumerable detractors, both Seattle and Carolina have stuck with their young, athletic quarterbacks…and that faith is starting to show dividends.

Over the decades, teams in both leagues have groomed their young quarterbacks behind their veteran starters. Years of film work and study are played out on the field in longer and longer stints…until one day the young man is ready to prove himself equal or better than those who have come before. Most teams would consider this the “ideal” way to groom young quarterback talent and the most efficient and effective road to “quarterback succession”.

Life is rarely ideal. More often than not, a team with a decade-long veteran starter is left with an enormous hole at the position when he finally calls it quits…and find themselves in a seemingly endless nightmare ride on that old “quarterback carousel”. Without the habitual years of “seasoning”, ANY young quarterback…even an exceptional one…is starting at an enormous disadvantage, seasons behind where he is “normally” meant to be. Let us keep in mind: opposing defenses will take EVERY opportunity to throw ALL their years of experience at the young man. Sitting in the pocket, reading defenses at speed and making the right decisions WITHOUT the requisite years of experience is a TITANIC task.

Maybe I should take a second or two to apologize to Tanner Marsh and Jonathon Crompton. By my own definition, who KNOWS what they would have done if they’d been given several seasons backing up a veteran pivot. Not Calvillo, of course. He NEVER let ANY backup apply ANYTHING on the field. That’s how we got here in the first place. Still…it’s unfair to expect ANY young quarterback to step in “blind” and make a success of it. With ONE exception.

If there’s ONE conversation/argument that’s never gone away it’s the vexed question of the “mobile” quarterback. One camp invariably INSISTS that straight pocket-passing is the ONLY legitimate way to “get ‘er done” while the other is seduced by the dynamism and athleticism of the “running quarterback”.

So you have a young, talented, athletic quarterback and you’re wondering what to do? The first thing is to appraise the guy honestly. Is there ANY hope that with time he’ll be able to read defenses and be successful from the pocket? Is your running quarterback just THAT? Or is there potential for that rarest of creatures: THE COMPLETE QUARTERBACK?!?

In his 4th season, Russell Wilson is finally starting to look like he’s putting it all together. That great Seahawks defense has given Wilson the time he needed to figure it all out. Cam Newton’s evolution has been no less incremental. Still…although Newton hasn’t been the beneficiary of as great a supporting cast…his progression has carried the team along with it. Carolina is heading for some interesting times.

Whether backed up by a spectacular defense and a beast of a running back, or simply being the ONLY quarterback option in town…both Wilson and Newton have shared one vital thing: THEIR TEAM MADE THE RIGHT DECISION AND STUCK WITH THEM. Which leads us to the Alouettes:

Decision making has NEVER been Jim Popp’s strong suit as a Head Coach. While the official story reads a little differently, I continue to believe that Rakeem Cato’s rookie season was “truncated” by Jim Popp’s decision to play and start Tanner Marsh ahead of him. While minor injuries and “family troubles” were cited as reasons why…the truth is Marsh was Popp’s puppy-boy. The decision was made to start him and NOBODY was going to talk him out of it. Marsh was (6 turnovers) TERRIBLE…Crompton after him…and the damage was done.

Watching Cato’s progression (or regression) through the season was a painful process. They say changing the culture of a football team is a difficult task. Over a decade of Anthony Calvillo seems to have entrenched the idea of “pocket passer” as the ONLY acceptable resume for a quarterback in this city.  As a consequence, we suffered through weeks of trying to hammer a square Cato into that round hole. One can count on ones fingers and toes the number of times Cato was deliberately placed “out on the edge” by Schonert and later Calvillo. Using Cato’s legs as a weapon seemed to be an ENTIRELY foreign concept to this team.

What’s more…as Cato became increasingly overwhelmed by the task of IMMEDIATELY evolving into a pocket passer…it was HE who was blamed for his lack of progression. Surely the blame is shared by those who wouldn’t or couldn’t use the tools he possesses to mitigate that failure…or even convert it into a resounding success?  AND…as defenses became increasingly aware that the Alouettes were locking Cato into the pocket…frustrated, flustered and unprepared…they pinned their ears back and ATTACKED. Who didn’t see Cato’s injury coming? And who’s to blame…exactly?

So on the one side is a culture that insists on a Calvillo-like pocket passer, and on the other a couple of immeasurably talented quarterbacks who are everything but. The acquisition of Kevin Glenn puts us where…exactly? Back with those .500 Ticats teams that couldn’t decide between Glenn and Quinton Porter? The ONLY advantage Glenn gives us is a quarterback for whom Calvillo can reasonably design an offense. Is that what this team is now? A retirement plan for coaches with dubious or non-existent resumes?

BridgeCato

Comparing Rakeem Cato to Russell Wilson, or Brandon Bridge to Cam Newton may SEEM like a bit of a stretch. But then devoting the ENTIRE resources of an NFL team like Seattle or Carolina to the potential of young quarterbacks like Wilson and Newton, their evolution and the hope that they would someday evolve into what they are NOW…that took courage, vision and FAITH.

When the Alouettes are mired in next season’s mediocrity (at best) OR are as pathetic and unsuccessful as they were this season…HOPEFULLY someone in this city will have the courage and vision to do what the Seahawks and Panthers have done.

 

 

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