From years of experience as a defensive coordinator at a high level of football, I have had to scheme against some very talented signal callers and these three rank up there with the very best. In all fairness each QB faced the same challenges that come with a competition such as this one: being thrown in with a mix of players, being out of season, and having with little-to-no practice time, but these three found a way to perform at a very high level. Let’s take a look at some in-depth analysis of three of the four semifinalists.
One of the Peach State’s top QBs was in attendance and there was much anticipation as to how he would fair playing with and against some very good competition. He didn’t disappoint. Coming into the tourney Mettenberger was a hot commodity among the prospective teams and when he was placed on a team with several Miami Northwestern players, everyone knew they would be a force. They were and they ultimately took the eventual champions to the wire in the semifinals.
One of the greatest assets of Mettenberger is one you either have or you don’t: he has great size. Zach is a solid 6’5 and at least 235. When I shook hands with him I noticed how tremendous and strong his hands are. This obviously allows for greater control of the ball and also allows for QBs to be more relaxed passers. In other words they don’t expend any physical or mental energy trying to control the ball and can pretty much just play pitch and catch. This also helps them not to push the ball, which has a drastic impact on velocity and, thus, timing. Coaches will be the first to tell you that timing is the key in the passing game.
One of the first things I noticed, too, is that Mettenberger has a consistently high release point and this helped him the most in two areas. First, he was able to throw over the underneath (LB) level of coverage. The defenses he saw were a bit raw but very athletic and they employed a pretty balanced scheme, in terms of zone and man. At first Zach struggled a little with timing and the athletic defenders were able to take advantage of the rustiness and make a few plays on balls, but he quickly settled down and was able to find the holes in the underneath and intermediate zones.
Zach does have a big arm and can make all of the throws. He has a lot of confidence and was throwing hitch routes (quick, one-step out routes) to the field and his delivery was nearly flawless. This is impressive because of the closing speed of the flat defenders (CBs) that he was facing. Where his big arm got him in trouble a little was when he would work the intermediate out routes (smash, bench, etc.) and the deep outs (corner, fade, etc.), but he quickly settled down and showed incredible touch for a young man with his size and arm strength.
Initially, his release (while high) appeared to be a little slow, but I attribute this to two things. Number one, he is such a big body that he appears to be moving slower than some of the more diminutive QBs, but the reality is that his release is actually pretty quick. He will no doubt improve in this area as his body matures and he gets stronger. Secondly, because he was with players for the first time, there was relatively little timing and some of the WRs routes were a bit rounded and off-line.
At issue may be his feet. He does cover a lot of ground in his drops but he stayed in shotgun all day, which made it difficult to get a good feel for his work from under center, but I have seen enough film to know that he can navigate his way around in both situations.
The last quality that we will discuss is the intangible of leadership. One of the signs of a quality leader is ownership and Zach took plenty of this. He readily accepted the blame for balls even when they were well-thrown. This made for a smoother transition as he and his mates tried to figure each other out. He also never once got rattled. He has a short memory and he showed no fear in coming back to the same receivers and same routes. This is not to say that he was docile and all smiles throughout the day, either. He is a fierce competitor who makes others around him better.
Sometimes 7 on 7 tournaments can be a bit misleading because many of the factors of a real game are absent, but Zach Mettenberger merely reinforced the fact that he is one of the top QBs in the country.
The state of FLA actually had two top-tier QBs in attendance and many who were there were especially eager to see Aaron Murray perform. All he did was lead his team to the championship. Murray had one player in attendance, highly-rated TE Orson Charles, but Charles is a transfer so there was no history. Nevertheless, Murray showed that he will have absolutely no problem adjusting to new personnel at the college level.
While Murray doesn’t have particularly great size, he is physically-gifted. He is a modest 6’1 and a solid 200 pounds. In the grand scheme of things this means very little as I saw Murray do some very special things with the football. He appears to have been born with a football in hand and probably threw the best ball of all the QBs in attendance. Typically, leverage becomes a factor when a smaller QB throws the football and while mobility may be more of a strength, the fear is that the QB will have velocity and placement issues. Murray laid those fears to rest completely this weekend. He is a technician who is effortless with the ball in his hands—both in the pocket and on the move.
Granted, there was no true pocket but he stayed in and scanned the field very well. Even though there were no long pass rushers for him to throw over, I could tell that vision won’t be a problem—His feet will actually come into play in this area as he will be able to slide in the pocket in order to get a clean throw.
He missed on some throws early as he adapted to the combination of speed and the unknown (with regard to his new receivers), but I don’t think I saw him throw a loose ball. All of his balls were tight and clean and this kept his throws from getting held up in the wind and, thus, compromising what might be a good route. Murray was adept at recognizing coverages (the defenses mixed up their schemes pretty well), and he had no problem finding the holes in the zones. He also did a fantastic job of getting on and staying on the same page with his receivers as they would break routes off versus both man and zone schemes. He has the best touch I have seen from a QB in several years and this certainly was not good news for the opposition as his receivers rarely had to break stride. They were then able to maximize on their YAC (yards after catch) and many short and intermediate routes ended up going the distance.
Murray actually told me that he practices under center much of the time. The biggest reason for this is because he understands the value of good footwork. He is one of those athletes that is so smooth that he might appear to be loafing. He has excellent feet and his drops are calculated and consistent. Some QBs have a tendency to over stride, in an attempt to gain depth, and they lose their balance and, thus, leverage on the route. It is typically the first step that dooms a drop because QBs with less core strength and body control try to eat up ground, thus gaining depth. This is where the measurable of length/height comes into play and makes the taller and longer QBs so appealing, but with Murray the combination of excellent body control and disciplined footwork allows him to overcome any possible deficiency. Plus, he knows that he will more than likely be under center at the next level and he also wants to be able to go from under center if the need arises.
Murray also told me that he has developed an affinity for the weight room and I will be the first to tell you that it shows. He is a specimen and this is one thing that separates him a little from the other two that we are breaking down. Murray has a very well-developed core and this translates into excellent body control. He has the ability to square up quicker when running against his arm and this allows him not to throw across his body. Possessing the ability always to be squared up translates into velocity on throws and this means fewer bad balls that either arrive late or get away.
And then there is what might very well be his best quality: leadership. Aside from many of the players wanting to get on his team and even saying that they wanted to follow him to college (more on that later), it was clear from the outset that this young man is a winner. He took ownership in the tournament by readily accepting blame for bad balls (and even drops); he sprinted over to his receivers and congratulated them after a good play; and he just found a way to make everybody around him better. I was close enough to hear him in the huddle and at various times throughout the play, and it was clear that he was in charge. He was not domineering at all but the respect he commanded from his presence and his performance was palpable. This made for a long day for the opposition as he and his team were able to maximize on the on-field talent.
Aaron Murray currently holds over forty offers and is clearly one of the top QBs in the nation. Watching him compete and speaking with him later on have allowed a glimpse of how special this young man is. He is going to be a fun one to watch.
The second of Florida’s top QBs in attendance was Eugene Smith and there were many who were anxious to see how an athletic QB would fare in a strictly passing situation. Smith is currently a four-star prospect who is an electrifying talent but the standard questions about true passing ability persist. Kudos to Smith for coming to a competition of this caliber and putting himself on display. He only had one receiver in to and had to face the same obstacles that the other QBs faced, but he still managed to guide his team to a semifinal appearance.
Smith is comparable to Mettenberger in that he too is in the 6’5 range, but Smith is slightly built. This might lead to durability issues but it proved to be an asset in this type of tournament. Smith also has large hands and did throw some solid balls but he was inconsistent at times. He has good height and a reasonably high release point, which allows him to get over the top of the first level of defenders but is not quite as polished as the other two passers. I found that he was trying to place balls (which, in all fairness, nearly all of the QBs were doing early) and he threw behind many of the faster receivers. What he does possess is incredible length and a very quick release—he was able to get good velocity on most of his balls. This allowed him to compensate for the issues he faced early on until he, like others, settled in.
Eugene does have a big arm and showed it off with deep balls, but I would like to se more intermediate sideline routes. This is usually one of the best indicators of arm strength but a QB must also have touch (and confidence) to be successful with them. There were a few times where Smith tried to overthrow the ball and these were loose and actually sailed on him. He appears to have confidence but his inconsistency and the speed of the defenses had him throwing a lot of safe balls.
There appear to be a few issues with his drops and I attribute this to a lack of physical maturity. He looks like he can hold thirty pounds easily and when he develops his core, he will be able to control his body better. The most noticeable effect this has is that he over strides in his drop and is generally off balance some of the time. Because he is so long and rangy, his feet have tendency to get out from under him and he expends a lot of energy trying to stay upright. Another major factor is that he can’t transfer the energy from his feet (which are very good) into his throws and this results in many “arm throws”. Every coach knows the danger this poses when facing very fast defenses.
What was very exciting to watch was Eugene on the move. While he still lacks the core strength to be a power thrower (consistently, anyway), his athleticism makes him a very viable threat on the perimeter. He probably has the most upside because he is such a pure athlete and when after more time in the weight room, he will be a very complete QB.
One thing that was hard to get a bead on was his leadership ability. He doesn’t appear to be as vocal as the other two but that doesn’t in any way mean he is not a good leader. He will need to develop his vocal leadership skills, however, to be as effective as I know he can be. He too is a fierce competitor who makes others around him better, and as he matures the sky most certainly will be the limit.
Burke Hayes is the
Southeastern Regional Manager for football recruiting at Scout.com