Tedford's methods failing QBs in NFL

On at least two occasions during his tenure as Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager, Rich McKay attempted to hire Jeff Tedford as the team's offensive coordinator.

McKay doesn't regard it as a slight that he was jilted both times by Tedford, a longtime college offensive coordinator and quarterbacks guru and current coach at the University of California. In fact, McKay, now the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, seems to take it more as a personal affront when queried about the so-called "Tedford Factor," an allusion to the coach's flawed track record of preparing quarterbacks for the pro game.

"I think it's really a little bit of a bad rap," said McKay, when asked, during scouting combine workouts two months ago, about the tepid collective performance of Tedford-tutored quarterbacks in the NFL. "With a quarterback, a lot of times it's getting to the right place … and I don't know if that's necessarily been the case for some of his guys."

That is the convenient, ready-made lament, however, for many in the legion of personnel directors and scouts who attempt to reconcile the foibles of the five former first-rounders who apprenticed under Tedford in college. It is a fact of life in the NFL that almost every first-round quarterback is selected by a bad team, walks into a less-than-ideal situation, is forced into place as the new cornerstone of a crumbling franchise.

Inserted into such dire and dicey circumstances, some of those first-round quarterbacks actually rise above.

But not the Tedford Five.

Which begs the question of whether Tedford's latest prize pupil, California quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the likely choice of the San Francisco 49ers with the top overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, will be more productive than the five that preceded him into the league. That quintet – Trent Dilfer (Tampa Bay, 1994), Akili Smith (Cincinnati, 1999), David Carr (Houston, 2002), Joey Harrington (Detroit, 2002) and Kyle Boller (Baltimore, 2003) – has pretty much flopped both aggregately and individually.

Their collective record as starters is just 98-127, only a 43.6 winning percentage. The group has combined for a completion percentage of 54.6, thrown more interceptions (230) than touchdown passes (202), and posted an anemic passer (in)efficiency rating of 68.6. Dilfer has earned the only Pro Bowl appearance so far among them and owns the lone title, having shepherded the Ravens to a Super Bowl XXXV victory.

Apparently, Dilfer's lone season with the Ravens defined the right place and right time. He was caretaker of a no-frills offense that basically just had to stay out of the way of one of the NFL's most dominating defensive units of all time. Some people feel that Trent Reznor, the front man for Nine Inch Nails, could have presided just as adroitly over the rudimentary offense.

Rodgers will find no such supporting cast with the 49ers, whose 2-14 record in 2004 was well-earned. First-year coach Mike Nolan has already suggested that, if San Francisco takes a quarterback with the top choice, the youngster probably will start as a rookie. And that means venturing into an offense that statistically ranked 26th in the league in 2004 and scored the third fewest points, and whose top wide receiver had 47 catches and is now gone via free agency.

Joining such a motley crew, it's somehow difficult to imagine Rodgers improving much on the numbers posted so far by the Tedford products. What isn't imaginary is the manner in which Tedford's former students vigorously defend their one-time mentor.

"I think it's just a manufactured thing," said Rodgers of the criticisms that the Tedford quarterbacks have never duplicated their college successes in the NFL. "He does a great job of getting you ready. You play in a [sophisticated] offense, learn to make reads, get the chance to get involved in game planning. He gives you the foundation. You can't blame him for what happens after that."

Perhaps not. But if you were the dean of a college and everyone enrolled in a certain class received an F, you'd scrutinize the professor even harder than you might the students. Sometimes it's the syllabus, or the curriculum, that's at fault. They might be in the minority, but there are a few NFL personnel chiefs who questions Tedford's methods and how they translate, or perhaps don't transfer, to the pro game.

Not surprisingly, Tedford debunks the notion that his teaching methods, so brilliantly effective in the college game, lead mostly to arrested development in the NFL.

"I have never once been told by an NFL guy that there's something holding one of our quarterbacks back because of fundamentals or technique or lack of learning," Tedford told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They're all competitive. They're all very skilled. We run a complicated offense. [The NFL teams] all get them on the (chalk)board before they ever draft them."

True enough, the teams that have drafted Tedford-taught quarterbacks deserve to share in the culpability for their failures. Franchises spend million of dollars preparing for a draft and, given the level of sophistication involved in the process, should certainly be able to make better decisions. For some reason, though, they keep making the same mistakes on Tedford quarterbacks. They buy into the hype, are apparently blinded by numbers, and are enamored by Tedford's alleged tutorial skills.

But you have to wonder why teams are so oblivious to the track record and why scouts continue to be dazzled by the spin machine.

Consider, for instance, the silly selling point on Boller a few years ago. What was the most intriguing element people kept noting about Boller as the draft drew closer? That from his knees, and 70 yards away, he could throw a football through the goal posts. Yeah, a nifty graphic image as a barometer for arm strength. But far more effective at winning bar bets than football games.

In his two seasons as the Baltimore starter, Boller has looked mechanical and robotic and, not surprisingly, those are two adjectives also used to describe Rodgers.

Tedford does an excellent job, it seems, in programming his quarterbacks. He provides them more facile reads by having created a system that, sometimes even before the snap, eliminates half of the field from the pass-progression process. The offense places a high premium on completion percentage, on making the quick and accurate throws, usually in low-risk scenarios, but seems lacking in big plays and in vertical dimension.

Funny thing, but Alex Smith of Utah, the other highly regarded quarterback prospect in this draft, is often accused of playing in a "gimmick" offense. But Smith has better stats than Rodgers in terms of completion percentage (66.3-63.8), yards per attempt (8.86-8.22), yards per completion (13.38-12.90) and touchdown pass percentage (8.0-6.5). Plus he is the better of the two at making plays with his feet.

Tedford has insisted Rodgers possesses more natural athleticism than his other students who were chosen in the first round. But when you watch Rodgers on tape, he displays all the signature Tedford mechanics, including the manner in which he holds the ball high, up around the ear-hole of his helmet.

The technique is known, in Tedford-talk, as putting the ball "on the shelf." It has yet, though, to put any of his pupils on the top shelf among NFL quarterbacks. And the guess is that Rodgers will struggle as much as his predecessors from the Tedford school have in making the transition to the NFL.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.