Elite QBs and prolific passing production have never been at a higher premium in the NFL. The past nine Super Bowls have been won by a QB with the last name of Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers or Roethlisberger, and a record three QBs eclipsed the 5,000 yard passing mark a season ago.
Thus, it’s no wonder that clubs are scrambling to get young NFL arms up to speed quicker; five rookie QBs will be under center in Week One — the most since at least 1950 — and a combined 10 rookie or second-year players will be at the controls of their club’s offenses.
As Pro Football Weekly’s AFC South reporter, I will be covering 30 percent — Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Tennessee’s Jake Locker and Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert — of these green QBs this season. I could give you the usual lines about “taking the good with the bad” and preparing for “growing pains,” sure to be sage advice — heck, even Cam Newton’s ridiculous rookie season saw a major drop-off in the second half — but instead I thought I would share one specific area of each QB’s game that I will be monitoring closely.
Andrew Luck is a rookie in name only. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him struggle far less than Gabbert and Locker, both of whom are more experienced. Even so, I am most curious to see what happens when a kid who, by all accounts, is unflappable, gets rattled.
As prepared and talented as Luck is for this moment, it’s still going to happen.
Unlike at Stanford, Luck’s protection is going to leave a lot to be desired. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin are no longer in front of him, and Indianapolis has its share of questions in the blocking department. If the Colts spot opponents leads early, Luck could be asked to air it out without ample time to do so. How he responds will be fascinating.
For Locker, I am intrigued to study his game awareness. His athleticism allows him to keep plays alive longer, but that's not always a good thing. Remember the Titans' deflating loss to the Saints in Week 14? Locker replaced Matt Hasselbeck and rallied the Titans, putting them on New Orleans' doorstep for a potential game-winning score with one play remaining. After not seeing any receivers open initially, Locker scrambled in the pocket to buy more time, only to take a sack rather than at least put the ball in the air and give his team a chance. Locker did a lot of good things in his limited chances as a rookie, but this play sticks out as a killer.
You’ve probably heard by now that Gabbert’s pocket presence was a bit of an issue as a rookie. (Obviously, I’m understating the issue.) The fact is that Gabbert’s instincts in the pocket were a disaster. Jaguars new QB coach Greg Olsen spent endless time this offseason working with Gabbert on his balance and footwork, in order to get proper depth on his drops. We know he showed major improvement in this area in the preseason but I can’t wait to see if his drops and happy feet have slowed down when the bullets start flying this weekend.