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ESPN The Magazine: Run or Gun?
ESPN The Magazine

Want to wipe that perpetual grin off Donovan McNabb's face? Call him a running quarterback. "That really bothers him," says Eagles offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower. "We tell him, 'Make the play with your arm or legs, we don't care -- just make the play.'" But the debate goes on. This season the QB spot will continue to morph, as the line between runners and throwers blurs even further. And until every big gun comes with a set of hot wheels, every team must choose. Legs or arm? Mobile mover or pocket passer? Pick one.

Brian Billick, Ravens coach: The allure of all this athleticism at quarterback is very strong right now, but when push comes to shove, most of the people I talk to would go with the guy in the pocket. The scrambling quarterback is like a beautiful woman -- awfully enticing, but in the end she'll break your heart.

Peyton Manning, Colts QB: You hear a lot about how the scrambling quarterback is the new wave, with the pocket guy sort of fading out. To me the scrambling quarterback is a guy who, maybe, doesn't know what he's doing.

George Seifert, Panthers coach: There's nothing more devastating to a defense than a quarterback who can run. You have half your defense in man-to-man coverage rushing down the field, and the other half rushing up the field, and then the QB takes off and blows right past them all to create something out of nothing. That's a killer.

Billick: Sure, a scrambler can stretch the field and kill defenses on third downs. But if he does it at the price of providing consistency to your offense, then you've given up more than you got. He may be hard on a defense, but he can also break down the structure of your offense.

Bill Walsh, Genius: There just isn't a way to play the position as a pure runner. We've seen it attempted over the years, but never with great success. Steve Young was as great a runner as there has ever been in football but he didn't start to make a difference until he became a great passer as well.

Billick: The bottom line is that the running style has yet to win a championship. Guys who win championships are guys who can beat you from the pocket.

Manning: The day of the slow quarterback in any phase of the job-slow thinking, slow release, slow feet -- is what's really fading away.

McNabb: The Hall of Fame quarterbacks didn't use their legs as much because they all had such great arms. They used their legs to buy more time to keep looking downfield to throw.

John Lynch, Bucs safety: There've been a lot of tremendous athletes who didn't turn out to be such great QBs. That's because guys who run a lot may have some early success, but over time, they're a lot easier to stop.

Walsh: What happens is that sooner or later those openings to run aren't there anymore, and if you haven't developed as a passer, your wide receivers will just be standing around downfield watching their quarterback run around.

Billick: So your quarterback takes off and runs-great, you've got a 6-to-8-yard gain. But he missed the 40-yard TD pass to a guy standing alone in the end zone. The drop-back guy can make those big plays down the field. The negative side is that if he's not very mobile, there are limited ways to protect him. A stationary target can be pretty easy to knock down.

Jim Zorn, Seahawks QB coach: Accuracy is more important than mobility. But if you don't have somebody who can scramble at least a little back there, you can't miss a single block. You have to be a great pass-protection team because pocket guys have a limited amount of space to generate offense from.

Manning: Look, we're all drop-back, pocket QBs. I mean, no one's running the option in the NFL. When Andy Reid calls a play for Donovan, he wants him to hit the pocket, go through his read progressions and then, only if things break down or nobody's open, does he say, "Okay, now go be an athlete and make something happen."

Seifert: So I guess if I have to chose between a runner and a thrower, I chose ? both.

Zorn: Ultimately that's what you want: a quarterback with the ability of a scrambler and the mentality of a pocket passer.

Manning: It's not who's the runner and who's the thrower. It's who's the complete quarterback.

This article appears in the September 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

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