EARTH CITY, Mo. -- One way or another, the St. Louis Rams are going to add a young quarterback at some point this offseason. With that in mind, coach Jeff Fisher wanted to talk to former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke.
"There's going to be a time whether its here in two months or three months or whenever that we're going to have a young quarterback," Fisher said at last week's combine. "I don't think there is anybody better qualified to coach a young quarterback than him."
So it was that Weinke arrived in Indianapolis as the director of the football program at IMG Academy and left as the Rams quarterbacks coach. In some ways, it's entirely possible that adding Weinke to the mix might be one of the best moves the Rams will make this offseason.
Although this is Weinke's first foray into coaching at the NFL level, the type of experience he does have might be more beneficial than if he had been working in the league for the past five years. Working at IMG afforded Weinke the chance to come to St. Louis with perhaps the most diversified portfolio of any quarterbacks coach in the league.
"At the end of the day, I've been able to touch a lot of different guys with a lot of different skill sets coming from a lot of different backgrounds," Weinke said. "You have to adapt and you've got to be able to understand the importance of every quarterback as an individual. You may be able to understand something visually or you may have to write it down. I need to know what my quarterbacks can handle. So I will coach every quarterback with certain fundamentals, let them have some flexibility within that but then understand how they learn because that's the most important thing."
Along the way, Weinke worked with Carolina's Cam Newton, who came from a system that asked very little in terms of regurgitation and playing under center. For eight weeks in 2011, while the NFL was in a lockout, Weinke spent his mornings teaching Newton the finer points of taking snaps and basics like how to take a play call and spit it out in a huddle rather than look to the sideline for a number or a signal.
When those sessions were done, Weinke would turn his attention to working with another incoming rookie, Christian Ponder. He helped both essentially install their new offenses while their pro coaches weren't allowed to even have contact with their rookie quarterbacks.
The list of quarterbacks to work with Weinke also includes Seattle's Russell Wilson, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Miami's Ryan Tannehill, among others. The detailed Weinke draws on his many years as a quarterback -- he's kept every note and game plan he's ever taken from Pop Warner to now -- to adapt to whatever style of quarterback he's working with.
The key, according to Weinke, isn't trying to reinvent the wheel so much as tweak it to become more efficient.
"I think when you look at all the different styles I've seen, what i do is not try to create a robot," Weinke said. "That's not what I'm trying to do. I want these guys to be able to play with confidence. I'm not going to try to change somebody's throwing motion. That's not what I'm in the business of doing. I'm going to take it and maybe tweak it a little so we can maximize whatever the good Lord gave him. So at the end of the day, I always said when you were a kid and picked up a rock and threw it in the lake, that's your natural throwing motion and you've been doing that your whole life. So who am I to think now at 20, 21, 22 years old that I'm going to change that? That's not a very smart move."
Instead, Weinke's focus is on fundamentals, starting with footwork and building from there up.
"It's hard for a one-legged man to be in a kickboxing fight, right?" Weinke said. "So understand you have got to have balance. How do we throw the football with maximum power from a good platform and be consistent and throw with accuracy? At the end of the day, we all understand that you must throw the football with anticipation in the National Football League."
In St. Louis, most signs point to Weinke working with Sam Bradford. Bradford is the only quarterback under contract and though his agent Tom Condon is in a serious game of chicken with the Rams at the moment, it still seems likely he'll be in St. Louis when all is said and done. Weinke and Bradford had dinner before Weinke was hired and Weinke has nothing but good things to say about Bradford.
"Love him," Weinke said. "I look back and every guy that I've evaluated coming out of college, a few years ago when Andrew Luck came out, they said who would you compare him to? And the closest I would see is Sam Bradford."
But even if Bradford is on board, the likelihood remains that the Rams will spend a relatively high pick on a new quarterback. Before Weinke, it was fair to wonder whether they had the coaching staff in place to take on a project from a spread system like UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty and develop him into a functional NFL quarterback.
With Weinke in place, you'd be hard-pressed to find a quarterback bringing something to the table he hasn't already seen.