Editor’s Note: Above is an audio story, designed to give BSN Denver subscribers the option to listen to this story if they don’t have time to stop and read it in its entirety. Enjoy!
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — You ever hear a coach or player say something about their sport that just absolutely blows your mind?
For me, it’s one of the most rewarding parts of this job, because while I am confident in my knowledge of almost any sport, I have fully come to terms with the fact that I can learn something from anyone in a locker room.
For example, I was standing right next to the great Drew Creasman when Daniel Murphy explained to us that he sees lineup protection the exact opposite of most people. It left both of us flabbergasted. I now think about that quote every time I watch a baseball game.
It’s almost thrilling to hear a completely unique perspective on something you’ve been watching your entire life. I’m fully okay with it if that makes me sound like a sports nerd.
This week, I got another thrill when doing some research on the Broncos’ new offense and Joe Flacco’s fit in it, and it goes back to Kyle Shanahan’s first year in San Francisco.
Before Shanahan got to San Fran, the quarterback room consisted of Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. By the time he got into his first training camp, the room was filled with Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.
There are quite a few differences between those two groups of players, but the one that’s most important in this situation is speed and athleticism. Both Kaepernick and Gabbert had plus speed for QBs. For reference, Kaep ran a 4.53 40-yard dash back when he was at the combine and Gabbert ran a 4.61.
Of the three new quarterbacks Shanny Jr. brought in, none ran faster than a 4.91, and that was the undrafted kid, Mullens. Hoyer, the opening day starter, ran a 5.05, and that’s when he was young.
In camp, the young coach was asked what was up with that.
“It’s what gives your team the best chance to be successful,” he explained. “If there’s an extremely athletic, a mobile quarterback who is legitimately mobile, who can make a guy miss in front of him, that takes a very special athlete. Those few guys you have, you need to put in a type of scheme that includes stuff like the zone read and things like that to give them a chance to use all their attributes. If they’re not like that and they can’t do that, which is the majority of people, you put in the scheme that allows them to distribute the ball and allow other people to do it.”
What was confusing about this to many was that much of Shanahan’s offense revolved around getting the quarterback out of the pocket, something that most would assume you would want a more mobile quarterback to do.
That’s when Shanahan dropped the bomb.
“We run a lot of bootlegs and things like that. The most success I’ve had with quarterbacks who can do that are the ones who aren’t mobile,” he said, perplexing many.
“I only want to run bootlegs and stuff if people aren’t playing them and when you have a mobile guy, they’re playing them,” Shanahan elaborated, suddenly making a lot of sense. “When you don’t [have a mobile quarterback], they play the run, and then you get slow quarterbacks out on the edge, and they can throw all day. Not because they’re just super athletes with their legs, but they’re good enough to throw on the move.”
It’s likely the opposite of what you would expect, but in a day in age when defenses are expecting a pass and reacting to a run, getting a quarterback who they don’t expect to run out of the pocket is one of the few ways to create clean passing lanes.
A quarterback like, say, Joe Flacco?
“I wonder if Rich Scangarello agrees with that,” I thought to myself before going on with my day.
Then I remembered that I was wearing a Broncos press pass around my neck and that it was my job to find out what Rich Scangarello thought about that.
“That’s a pretty good quote,” the Broncos’ new OC and former Shanahan understudy told BSN Denver with a laugh. “I’ve never heard him say it that way, but one of his favorite guys was Matt Schaub.”
Schaub also ran a 5.05 40-yard dash.
“The deliberateness of their ball-faking and the mesh with the running back really helps sell it to the defense,” Scangs added. “It buys you fooling an inside linebacker by another yard. The guys that are impatient with the ball fake, do it too quickly or don’t trust it, hurt the effectiveness. Yeah, at the core of that statement, I would agree with that and think that he’d believe that 100 percent.”
What makes this even more interesting is that my conversation with Scangs came on the heels of him telling a group of media that Flacco’s mobility is underrated.
“I think that there is a misconception that he is not athletic,” he said. “You guys have watched the guy run around to escape the pocket the last few days. He’s probably more athletic than any guy I’ve been around—Matt Ryan and those guys. He’s got fluidity, and he can move. I’m excited.”
While 40 times certainly aren’t the be-all-end-all of athleticism, Flacco’s 4.84 actually checks out as one of the fastest Scangarello has been around.
So when you combine that underrated or even unexpected mobility with the strong ability to throw on the run that he’s displayed early in camp, is that a big part of what makes Flacco what Scangarello would call “a perfect fit” for his offense?
“Yeah,” he said. “The year he was with Gary, he was asked to do it a lot, and it was really good. You watch last year’s red-zone production, there were a lot of rollouts and stuff like that. When you’re taller, I think it’s a stereotype sometimes that you assume a guy isn’t a fluid athlete, but Joe can roll, and he’s athletic. For his position, he’s above the line, and it allows us to do some things.”
And that, my friends, is the most interesting thing I learned during the first week of training camp.