As far back as I can remember, the foundation for quality quarterback play has been fundamental footwork and ballhandling in the three, five and seven-step passing games and the play-action scheme. It all started with these skills in terms of dropping from center, reading progressions and developing timing and anticipation.
I'm not so sure that is necessarily the case any longer. The spread offense, particularly the shotgun, has changed everything, from a fundamental standpoint, to such a degree that it is hurting the development of QBs at every level, from high school to college, and even at the professional level.
Over the last five years, I have likely written evaluations on over 700 high school quarterbacks from tape and in-person study and as each year has gone by, fewer and fewer kids are capable of dropping from center and being efficient with their footwork because they are not required to work from under center at their respective high school.
The shotgun is great. It forces defenses to declare pressure earlier. You can run the ball out of it without a big offense, and it can greatly enhance the QB's vision. You can also change the launching point quickly. However, the essential principles of productive quarterback play (footwork, balance, transfer of weight and timing) are often compromised in the spread. I realize that if a high school quarterback is recruited to play in the spread offense, he has likely spent most of his time in the shotgun. So what's the big deal, right?
The thing is, if a player has hopes of eventually playing in the NFL, it is not going to be beneficial for the prospect to be 21 years old and having to learn footwork and progression reads from under center that he should have started developing at 14. The shotgun is the easy part. Working from under center is the hard part, and should always be the foundation by which QB prospects learn and blossom.
Now, this is not a call for the shotgun to be abolished. In fact, I would have begged to be in the shotgun on every play when I played, but since not all programs run the spread offense, particularly teams in the NFL, prospects need to drill footwork from center. What if there's a college coaching change and the spread is scrapped? A player with sound fundamentals can play in just about any system.
Coaches and scouts talk about how few 17 and 18-year-old players are capable of taking a five step drop and gaining the proper depth to plant and throw without a re-set -- and that is just in drills, not with defensive players coming in. I see it every spring from hundreds of kids at camps across the country, including some of the most recruited prospects in the nation.
The purpose of pointing this out is not to criticize the spread offense, the shotgun or any coach, program or player that uses it. It is to stress the importance of where good quarterback play begins: with the feet. As many strengths as the spread offense has, and it has many, it has hindered the development of quarterbacks. It forces coaches to spend more time with prospects at all levels in terms of drill work and development.
The bottom line is players (young ones especially) can't neglect the principles of the position. They need to spend time in drilling the basics, especially if they are in a spread offense that does not work from under center, like teams who run a multiple set, pro-style or West Coast scheme. Not only will prospects be well-rounded, they will be better ball handlers and better suited to play in multiple schemes at some point.
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc.