Rich Gannon: NFL quarterbacks aren’t being taught well enough

Drafted by New England in 1987 (the Patriots envisioned him as a safety), RICH GANNON was a reliable backup quarterback (and occasional starter) for Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City, before getting the starting job in Oakland under new coach Jon Gruden. Gannon flourished, making four Pro Bowls. He was the NFL’s most valuable player in 2002, and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl. He is an analyst for CBS.

I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job developing the quarterback position. Some teams do a much better job, with the Green Bay Packers being one of the best.

There are situations in the league where the quarterback is struggling, and you say, “Who’s coaching him?” It’s, “Well, it’s the guy who was the receivers coach two years ago, but we elevated him to the quarterback coach.” Well, did he ever play the position? No. Did he ever coach the position? No. And that’s part of the problem.

I remember when I played in Kansas City in the off-season we had eight-page quarterback tests. First page would be an essay; second page: multiple choice; third page: fill in the blank; fourth, fifth, sixth pages would be protections, where you had to draw up a protection versus eight different fronts. Then there would be short-answer questions. Honestly, it was about a 45-minute test. It was unbelievable.

There was some peer pressure to get a good score, because there were other quarterbacks in that room, and you didn’t want to be the one to miss five or six questions on that test. Second, it allowed the coach to know who knew what and who didn’t know what. What were your areas of strength, and what were the areas where you needed more work?


Packers Coach Mike McCarthy coached the quarterbacks in Kansas City at the time, and he took those tests to another level.

The first question on one test: Describe in 250 words or less our version of the West Coast offense and the Kansas City Chiefs’ philosophy as it relates to playing the quarterback position. That was the question.

Another of the questions was “Describe 24 and 25 Protection — solid seven-man protection — and draw it up against these eight different fronts.”

I can go into some teams right now and I can ask the quarterback, “Tell me everything you know about protection.” And you’d be blown away at the guys’ responses, what they don’t know. You’d be just stunned.

You’d think you could ask about everything they know about protections and the guy would say, “OK, let’s talk about five-man protections, then six-man protections, then seven-man protections, eight-man protections. Let’s talk about slide protections. Let’s talk about quarterback movement, the boots, the nakeds, the keys. Let’s talk about the quick reads.”

But I go in and ask some quarterbacks, “Who makes the calls at the line of scrimmage?” and it’s like, “Oh, the center does that.” I’m thinking, the center? He’s in a three-point stance and he’s got some nose tackle in front of him. He’s bent over and can’t even see the safeties.

If you asked Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to talk about protections, you’d get the PhD answer.

When they’re talking about the quarterbacks who haven’t missed a start, people say, “They must be tough guys. They don’t get hurt.” Well, part of it is they’re so smart. They understand protections, they understand where they’re vulnerable. Not only that, but they understand defensive football. So they’re not going to be surprised by a weak-safety blitz or a corner where you get hit in the back of the head.

As a quarterback, when you hear the play in your headset, you’re thinking about a lot of things. You’re thinking about the protection, footwork, the read, the concept, who’s hot. My point to the young quarterback is, if you break the huddle and you’re still thinking about those things as you walk to the line of scrimmage, you’re about five or six steps behind me and all the other guys, the veteran guys.

When you’ve run that play, and you’ve heard that play, and you’ve conceptually drawn that play up against every protection. You’ve repped it time and time again in practice, in preseason games, in playoff games, then it becomes second nature to you.

The only way I can explain it to you is if you’re a 16-year-old and you just get your driver’s license, you’re driving down the road for the first time and it’s almost like you have blinders on. You don’t see oncoming traffic, you don’t see a pedestrian in the crosswalk, you don’t see the three cars behind you, you don’t see what’s going on six, seven, eight yards up the road.

You just see the car in front of you and the traffic light, that’s all.

Meanwhile, if you’re an experienced driver, you see everything. You’re able to anticipate. You’re able to avoid collisions. That’s really the difference. It’s experience. It’s being a master of your domain. It’s being so prepared that the game really slows down.

I can remember late in my career, I could walk up to the line of scrimmage and I could see a corner at 10 yards, and the other one at like eight and a half. I could just see that. I could visually say, “OK, there it is.”

You’re so far ahead of it.