Shutdown Corner - NFL

Young quarterbacks struggle and survive in preseason’s first day 

In the first day of the 2011 preseason, we saw some new (and newer) NFL quarterbacks throw down some interesting performances. Most of the time, rookies are going against the second-teamers, so it's far from indicative of future performance, but as tough as it is to play the position in the NFL, any good start helps.

Tebow gets better, bit by bit
We'll start with a second-year quarterback who's been in the news quite a bit lately. Dealing with the Denver depth chart issues has been taxing, but in going 6-of-7 for 91 yards in a 24-23 loss to Dallas, Tim Tebow(notes) looked surprisingly conversant in his dropback mechanics and with play-action for a former spread quarterback. He also made one amazing play under pressure; heading left out of a broken pocket and then circling back right to get a swing pass out to receiver Britt Davis(notes) (Of course, the fact that he was over the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball ... now, that's a problem).

As head coach John Fox said after the game, Tebow's still a work in progress, but I like the sense of improvement and ability to improvise. I think he's ultimately going to be a limited-palette quarterback requiring a team to fit its offense to his skill set, but he does have specific attributes that shouldn't be ignored.

Cowboys backup McGee advances on encouraging 2010 play
The guy on the winning side of that game, third-year quarterback Stephen McGee(notes) from Texas A & M, built on his strong end-of-2010 performances by throwing three touchdown passes. McGee, another former read-and-run guy, seems to have a better understanding of route timing than a lot of young quarterbacks; I like his ability to anticipate his receiver's movements on the run. McGee's a guy to keep an eye on in this preseason.

Mallett overcomes (some) mechanical issues in Patriots debut
One rookie I wasn't so high on, based on his college tape, was Arkansas' Ryan Mallett(notes). Now backing up Tom Brady(notes) and Brian Hoyer(notes) in New England, Mallet actually availed himself fairly well. He went 12 of 19 for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' 47-12 thrashing of the Jacksonville Jaguars — he was quicker out from under center than I remembered, wasn't quite as sluggish on the run, and made some good throws (though that windup is still a concern).

Gabbert learning on the run
Mallett's counterpart on the Jacksonville side, former Missouri standout Blaine Gabbert(notes), showed the fine base mechanics he displayed in college — I thought he was the best of this draft class at rolling out of the pocket from shotgun and under center, understanding play-action and boot-action in the process, and throwing on the run. As long as Gabbert keeps his eyes front when he's rolling out, and doesn't push the ball when throwing from the pocket, he's going to develop pretty nicely. He went 9 of 16 for 85 yards, got rolled around by New England's defense a bit, and got a different level of the learning process.

Another Portis tries to bank on NFL success
Finally, Seattle Seahawks undrafted free agent Josh Portis(notes) from Cal (Pa.) showed some good stuff in his team's 24-17 comeback win over the San Diego Chargers. Portis, a natural running quarterback with some pro-style experience, looked pretty good with play-action and hit tight end Anthony McCoy(notes) in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter through a decent-sized window. Portis' athleticism is his X-factor; it's when he's allowed to display his quarterback acumen against a starting defense that we'll see where he really is on the journey.

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