Training Day: Spinning the ball (or not…)

Kristian Dyer
March 4, 2012

Up through the NFL Draft, Shutdown Corner's Kristian Dyer will be training at TEST Football Academy Powered by Parisi Speed School in New Jersey along with roughly 20 players. All of these athletes are prepping for the NFL Combine, different pro days and of course, the NFL Draft in April. A former college soccer player, Kristian was a playground legend at quarterback back in middle school but never played a down of organized football. He will be writingabout the life of training for the NFL Draft and a career in the league as he lives it firsthand.

When you're at recess in elementary school, the kid who brings the football is going to be the quarterback. Thanks to some overly aggressive gift-giving from my caring parents, I had a never-ending supply of footballs ranging from anything with a Nerf stamp on it to an orange Syracuse football my dad brought back for me on a business trip.

So I was always the quarterback in what today we'd call a pro-style offense but what essentially was 11 wide receivers running down the parking lot in hopes of catching a pass. My team usually won, perhaps because I had a good draft when picking players or my ball-control offense would systematically march down the field. By the time the whistle blew for the end of recess, we usually controlled the clock.

I am a long way from recess now.

As I stood in the bubble at TEST Sports Club's 50-yard turf field in their central New Jersey location, it would appear that I am just casually tossing the ball with former New York Giants quarterback Scott Brunner. But with each throw, Brunner is watching me intently. I'm going through my tosses, the same ones I made 20 years ago on the playground, and Brunner's head must be spinning.

I learned how to throw a football from a sports magazine and never really changed my mechanics. After just a handful of throws, Brunner caught a flat pass of mine and held onto it. He didn't throw it back.

My stomach drops.

"Your hand is under the ball and cupped in a way that would make it difficult to spin the ball. You need your hand more on top of the ball when you throw," Brunner said. "You don't want to be throwing from the side here, but over like this."

With that he drops back and in slow motion, he demonstrates. His hand is over his head and as he comes down, he's gripping and not cupping it.

"Your feet were too close together which does not give you a good base to support your weight shift when delivering the ball. Because you can't support your weight shift you lost your posture thus taking your core -the engine of the throwing motion - completely out of the equation," Brunner said.

Then came the big part, I was stepping into my throws, every time. Rather than throw off my back leg I was doing what a baseball outfielder does and I am steping into my throw. So I drop back this time, take a small step and plant my back leg, grip the ball rather than cup it and fire a pass at Brunner.

It wasn't a tight spiral, but it was better. I smirk. My target didn't even have to move.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, as Brunner was the personal mentor to Joe Flacco leading up to meteoric rise to become a first round selection and he's worked with several other pro quarterbacks, nearly a half-dozen in the league right now. The big thing when a quarterback comes to TEST and work with Brunner isn't what I was going through, which was a complete overhaul of one's mechanics and throwing motion. Instead, it is fine-tuning motions and footwork.

I step back again, plant my back foot, grip the ball the right way and fire a pass, this time following through. Another pass, tighter this time, right at my quarterback coach. It wasn't perfect, but it was better.

I started to feel good, it felt more natural with each repetition. After about 10 passes, each with a nod from Brunner, I drop back again and put a little more zip on it. The ball goes five feet above Brunner's head and near some of the draft prospects who are eating lunch on the sideline.

Sharrif Harris nearly spills his three-alarm chili as the ball whizzes by and comes dangerously close to taking out Jonathan Grimes as he sips on a protein drink. I get dirty looks from the players I had just worked out with an hour before.

Before Brunner can yell "Incoming!" to them, I'm hanging my head. I had forgotten my mechanics and reverted back to my old form.

"You stepped into it and that's what made it sail over your head," Brunner said. "When you do that, you're going to overshoot your target."

I mutter under my breath. This isn't just 'grip 'em and rip 'em,' it really is an art form. I drop back again, this time focusing on doing it the right way.

Brunner is standing about 20 yards away with his hands in front of him. Either he's presenting me a target or giving me the universal sign for "Wu Tang Clan."

Either way, I hit the mark as he moves his hands just slightly up to grab the ball.

"Better," he said.

"Now do it again."

Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer