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Clarkson stresses footwork, timing and film study

3/31/2008

GLENDALE, Calif. -- The quarterback position is a tricky one, likely the most complex and difficult position to master in all of sports. To become better, good or, if you are lucky, great, development in today's game demands constant, year-round attention. This is why camps, combines and individualized instruction are becoming a mainstream way of life for most aspiring high school quarterbacks trying to realize their dreams.

The Steve Clarkson Quarterback Academy, a division of the DeBartolo Sports University, was formed to help turn those dreams of high school hopefuls into reality. This setting not only enhances a player's ability to improve as a high school quarterback, but as far as Clarkson's long-term goals for his pupils, it's about providing an opportunity for the collegiate level and beyond.

More than 100 participants from 32 states were on hand, from youth prospects all the way up to prospects in the 2009 class -- including ESPN 150 Watch List and Under Armour All-American QB Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei). Signal-callers of all shapes, sizes and skill sets worked to improve their game.

Through my years of playing the position and coaching various offensive positions including quarterback, I have seen my fair share of quarterback camps. I have also seen and implemented many of the best drills known to the profession, which are used to develop the physical aspect of a player's game. For the most part, just about every quarterbacks coach worth his salt uses the same or slightly tweaked drills when tutoring quarterbacks, and most camps and combines offer much of the same instruction in this regard.

The importance of delivery mechanics, eliminating extraneous wasted motion with release and drop speed and the evolution of the throwing motion that give the most power to a passer's arm are all concepts with a high priority of emphasis throughout the academy's circuit of instruction.

After spending the weekend observing the Clarkson QB Academy, what I found most impressive was the emphasis placed on film study and classroom instruction; they were as integral a part of the camp setting as the actual on-field workouts. In short, there are countless guys who look terrific in shirts and shorts and pretty throwing the ball in drills, but some of those guys do not have the aptitude to handle the position from the neck up. The very essence of the position is founded upon what a player can handle mentally, how quickly he processes that information and how he gets his physical tools to translate into consistent production in regards to decision-making and knowledge of the game.

For example, coverage recognition, defensive front recognition and the ability to adjust to changes postsnap -- in regards to where to go with the ball and what progression take place to get it there -- have nothing to do with how strong a quarterback's arm is. Those factors have everything to do with knowledge of the game. This is why Heisman Trophy winners Ty Detmer, a longtime back-up in the NFL, and current Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart proved to be successful despite lacking what would be perceived to be elite arm strength.

As players rotated from on-field drill sessions and classroom meetings through both the morning and afternoon practices, the goal was to take what they learned in the film room and apply it to enhancing the end result of an individual drill or play. In order to do this, the main focus of the on-field drills predicated upon one principle -- footwork. Simply put, throwing the football starts from the ground up -- literally. If you are not balanced in your drop and set up, you have virtually no chance of becoming an accurate passer and your timing will suffer as a result. Footwork, timing and aptitude for the game can compensate for quite a few physical weaknesses.

As I watched and listened throughout the day, the words "get rid of the ball" echoed from drill-to-drill. Holding onto the football and being late with a throw is usually the most glaring weakness of all quarterbacks at the high school level, and this was a point of emphasis with every drill utilized.

It was easy to see that most of the participants taking part in this event play exclusively out of the shotgun in some version of the spread at their respective high schools, and few prospects had any type of experience dropping from center, working the three- and five-step passing game, planting on the fifth step and delivering the ball. This is quite an adjustment, but one they must learn. A player's Ball-handling skills suffer as a result of working primarily from the shotgun as well.

Standout prospects
A few prospects stood out throughout the day. Obviously Matt Barkley, who has been working with Clarkson's group extensively and is familiar with the camps concepts and principles, provided a great example to the other campers of what attention to detail on delivery mechanics, footwork, timing and anticipation can do for your game.

Jon Budmayr (Woodstock, Ill./Marion Central Catholic) was as good as advertised from what we have seen on tape and reminds us a little of Missouri's Chase Daniel. He is undersized but has a live arm and is an underrated athlete.

Richard Brehaut (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos), who has upside as a dual-threat quarterback, is rough around the edges, but his recruitment is going to significantly heat up; his physical tools and ceiling for development are very high.

In terms of the emphasis placed on footwork and timing, Sean Schroeder (Dana Point, Calif./Dana Hills) stood out as having a very clear understanding of getting rid of the ball quickly and accurately. The lefty from Orange County displayed nice touch and great feet throughout the day.

Kolby Gray (Cypress, Texas/Cy-Fair) is all upside right now and this type of setting and instruction is exactly what he needs to mature. He possesses athletic tools but is mechanically green.

Cody Vaz (Stockton, Calif./St. Mary's) is undersized but in the right spread scheme is a nice fit.

A pair of 2010 prospects were also in attendance and looked sharp. Austin Hinder (Steamboat Springs, Colo.), the grandson of legendary NFL coach Jim Hanifan, is a tall, lanky prospect with a nice arm and very good athleticism. Washington product Jake Heaps (Issaquah, Wash./Skyline) should be one of the more highly-recruited quarterback prospects on the West Coast in 2010.

What these prospects take away from the Steve Clarkson QB Academy, or any other camp for that matter, could prove to be the foundation for eventually developing into a legitimate college or even pro prospect if the necessary work ethic, physical tools and commitment are present. The ability to be "coachable" at quarterback is paramount to overall success. Each one of these guys if their ears were open should have come away with a wealth of knowledge that will likely upgrade not only their individual production, but the overall production of their respective high school or youth league team.

Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. Luginbill is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.