INDIANAPOLIS — Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey has never been afraid to think outside the box, and the results have generally been better than expected. From his time developing Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart when he was Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator in the mid-1990s, to his use of the triple option at Georgia Tech, to his last-ditch (and ultimately successful) choice to implement the Pistol formation with third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen(notes) in Kansas City in 2008, Gailey has always walked an interesting line between college option offenses and their potential use in the pros.
Gailey was first up of all the coaches at the podium during Thursday's scouting combine media sessions, and he talked about the more diverse quarterback classes in recent years.
"You know, it's a different quarterback group," he said. "These guys have been in a lot of different types of offenses. It's not just your cut-and-dried pro-style that are in this draft, and you're projecting a bit more than we have in the past. In the last couple of years, you've had these guys who haven't been under center very often, and how are they going to react? How are they going to be able to handle that? You can handle it in shorts, but can you handle it when there are big guys in shorts about 2 yards away, coming at you?"
It's true that the two quarterbacks put at the top of this class by most people -- Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton -- spent most of their time in the shotgun formation. But in an NFL that has seen shotgun sets triple league-wide in the last decade, it's not so crazy to assume that spread and option offense quarterbacks -- those players who have been pariahs to coaches with more traditional mindsets -- will find more places in the pros. The days of the noodle-armed spread guy are over; both Gabbert and Newton have huge arms, and Gabbert is especially accurate downfield when throwing to tight spaces.
I asked Gailey about the trend toward more read-and-run sets, and he presented an interesting theory about the swing in scheme between college and pro at the quarterback position.
"Ten to 15 years ago, the pros were dictating to the colleges what kind of quarterback they wanted to develop," Gailey said. "I'm not so sure that in the next 10 to 15 years, colleges won't be dictating to the pros what kind of quarterbacks to use. Because of the type of offenses they're developing in the colleges right now.
"There's got to be some give in there [between the simple option stuff and more complex pro-style playbooks]. You can't do it all -- you can't be successful at everything, and something will have to give in that thought process. It will be interesting to see where it goes."
Finally, Gailey was asked about Newton, and the quarterback built like Calvin Johnson(notes) and who has the potential to run these option schemes like nobody we've ever seen. Many have already put Newton at No. 3 in their mock drafts, because that's where the Bills pick, and it's easy to term Newton as a "Gailey-style quarterback" given his history.
"I'm anxious to see him continue to work out. I'm anxious to see what he's going to do here this week. Obviously, he had a great year -- I watched him several times last year on TV -- I've studied him on tape just a little bit to this point. He's a big athlete in that Wildcat mode, but he may have the ability to go to that drop-back passer mode."
Newton has said that he'll do every drill at the combine, and you can bet that Gailey will be watching with as much interest as anyone. Because when it comes to transitioning these types of quarterbacks to the NFL, Gailey may have more of an inside track than any other coach.
- Chan Gailey