The Running Quarterback
Can quarterbacks be successful in the NFL while running plays designed for them to run the ball?
I guess that's still yet to be determined, but I think we will have an answer sooner than later. And it seems to be leaning towards yes.
There have always been quarterbacks that could run. Guys who would drop back in the pocket, and if nothing were there, they could use their speed to scramble up the field.
This list includes Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Steve Young and Randall Cunningham, among many others.
None of those were considered "running quarterbacks," however.
They were just quarterbacks. They looked to throw before all else. They just happened to be able to use their legs as a back-up plan.
Michael Vick was the first real, successful "running quarterback" in the NFL in the early 2000's.
In 2006, he became the first, and only, quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards, when he collected 1,036.
There is a reason running quarterbacks never really made into the NFL until recently- they couldn't throw. They relied too heavily on their legs. That won't work in the NFL. You have to be able to do both.
Because of the lack of history of running quarterbacks in the league, some people still doubt their ability to make it.
And as they have slowly started to find their way in, controversy has arisen.
Personally, I used to not be a fan of a quarterback who looks to run. I thought it took away from the position. But my opinion is slowly changing as they become more and more prevalent in the National Football League.
In an article written on Wednesday evening by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, he used a quote by George Whitfield Jr, who currently runs a quarterback training academy, to discuss how high school and college coaches are shaping the future of the NFL:
"Coaches finally realized it was safer to have the ball in the hands of your best athlete on every down, rather than putting him at receiver or running back. You can bracket a receiver or crowd the line to slow a back. But a dual threat at QB?…."
The whole article, which is more about African-American quarterbacks than running quarterbacks, can be found here: http://thebiglead.com/2013/09/11/the-nfl-is-entering-the-golden-age-of-black-quarterbacks/.
Whitfield touches on a point that begins to stir up some of the first type of controversy: categorization.
The term "running quarterback," for whatever reason, has developed a negative connotation. A term used to describe a quarterback who has sub-par throwing ability, relatively speaking, and uses his legs to make up for it.
And the thing is, it seems to have been true in the past.
Three great examples from recent years are Vince Young, Tim Tebow and Troy Smith.
All three proved incapable of throwing the ball at a professional level, and eventually found their way out of the NFL, despite dominating in college.
But it doesn't seem to be true anymore. Guys like Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson have proven that they can throw the ball with both accuracy and power, as well as on the run and in big situations.
To me, their is nothing wrong with dubbing them "running quarterbacks." But the football world seems to have an issue with this. Maybe we can go with "dual-threat quarterbacks." If they can throw as well as traditional pocket passers, then their running ability is an added bonus. If they can't, however, then they are just running quarterbacks.
Up until now, we haven't really seen anyone other than Mike Vick successfully do both. And again, I am referring to executing designed run plays- many others have had the ability to scramble very well.
The second half of the controversy comes when you talk about race. And this is a much more serious issue.
Of course, race plays a large role in this particular topic. It shouldn't, but it does. In fairness, though, when the top five rushing leaders among quarterbacks in 2012 are Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick, the latter two having played in less games, it's hard not to see the race aspect.
African-American quarterbacks tend to be more athletic. So-called running quarterbacks tend to be African-American. That's just a fact.
The clear distinction between traditional pocket passers and running quarterbacks is made when you look at carries. In 2012, Cam Newton and Michael Vick each carried the ball 120 or more times. Colin Kaepernick carried the ball more times than Andrew Luck, despite playing in half the games.
This week, an NFL-record nine African-American quarterbacks started in a single week: Josh Freeman, Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Terrelle Pryor.
Rookies Smith and Manuel each made their NFL debuts for the Jets and Bills, respectively, while Pryor made his second career start for the Raiders.
So clearly there is a growing presence of black quarterbacks.
But it's not all about race.
The NFL is transforming. Quarterbacks are better athletes than they were even ten years ago. As are the pass-rushers. As are the linemen.
Even quarterbacks who don't typically run- Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, etc- are more mobile and quick than quarterbacks who played with a similar style back in the 1990's. They just tend not to run the ball as much- at least not on designed running plays.
Does this mean African-American quarterbacks can't throw or read defenses as well as white ones can? Absolutely not. It also doesn't mean that white quarterbacks can't run the ball.
It's just how it is. I'm not in any position to explain why this is. I don't know the answer.
Maybe we should continue calling them "running quarterbacks." Maybe "dual-threat quarterback" works better, maybe something else. Maybe we shouldn't even categorize the players within the most important position in sports. I don't know the answer to that, either.
But I definitely do know that the NFL is headed in a completely new direction. One where the quarterbacks are more mobile and athletic, as are players of all other positions.
High school and college coaches are partially responsible for this change in quarterbacks, and over the past few years, it seems to be working. Defenses are struggling with the fact that the opposing quarterback may run right by them if they focus too much on the receivers and backs. Nobody knows if these defenses will adapt. So coaches will continue creating these dual-threat play-callers. Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Tajh Boyd may be next.
Five years from now, I don't know what race the majority of quarterbacks in the National Football League will be. And I don't think it really matters.
What I do know, is that it will make for some exciting football. And that's all that matters.