Kids today grow up so fast

Young quarterbacks are more advanced, but is it too much, too soon?

Originally Published: August 22, 2014
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN.com

Take it from Josh Rosen: Coaching is overrated.

Well, some of it.

To clarify, Rosen, the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback prospect in the Class of 2015 and No. 3 QB overall, values his coaches at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California. Offensive coordinator Chad Johnson, in fact, serves as a mentor to Rosen; the QB said he's forgotten more of Johnson's teachings than most kids could learn.

Rosen just doesn't need anyone to show him how to throw a football.

[+] EnlargeJosh Rosen
Tom Hauck for Student SportsYoung QBs like Josh Rosen are more advanced than ever, but surprisingly that actually makes evaluating them tougher than ever on college coaches.
"My philosophy is that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, if you matched them up, none of them would look exactly the same," said Rosen, pledged to attend UCLA next year. "I don't feel like there's one formula. I throw things. That's what I do. It just works that I can throw a football real well.

"But I don't believe in having a famous coach tweak with your motion."

Quarterback coaching at the developmental levels of the game is a booming business. The challenge today? Sort through all that's available and hope to make the right choices. That goes both for the players and the college coaches evaluating them.

A perception exists that if you're not seeking the guidance of a QB whisperer, you're falling behind. After all, look at the past two winners of the Heisman Trophy. Both were redshirt freshmen. Must be all that work they've spent in specialized training.

It's not that simple, though.

The fact is, a growing faction of young, successful college QBs -- Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and others -- commit more time to training as teenagers than their predecessors. But coaches and quarterbacks at the college level agree that advancements in mental preparations outweigh the advantages of drilling fundamentals.

Regardless of the resources a quarterback invests, no coach can make him a physical clone of Winston or Christian Hackenberg. To try can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns.

Even in college, either you can throw or you can't. And if you can't, you're not playing quarterback.

"We work on the mental side and footwork and how to put yourself in position to make the right decision," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "Kids have been throwing something since they were 6 months old, holding a sippy cup."

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner described himself as "raw" upon entry into college. Despite the trend among quarterbacks to seek guidance outside of high school, Leidner sought no extra coaching.

As a result, Minnesota quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski inherited a blank slate with Leidner.

"He wasn't breaking me of any habits that might not have worked at Minnesota," said the sophomore QB, set to enter his first season as a full-time starter.

All parties agree that with mental training, there's no reason to hold back. Quarterback is the most cerebral position on the field. Young players simply can't learn enough. Rosen, for instance, said he immerses himself in the details of the game. He studies protections, coverages, routes.

It's almost an obsession, he said, but one that he enjoys.

"I know a lot of guys who overthink it so much," Rosen said. "I'm all about the details, but I've learned to play with a certain relaxation for the game. From that perspective, I'll always be learning."

With such development, good coaching can go a long way.

"There's much more to a kid than fundamentals and technique and arm strength," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "There's a lot that goes into being a championship quarterback."

Manziel, formerly of Texas A&M, Florida State's Winston, Penn State's Hackenberg and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett -- called upon this year to replace injured star Braxton Miller -- benefited from access to the Elite 11 program.

The latest set of Elite 11 quarterbacks, according to Jordan Palmer of the Chicago Bears, were exposed to college and NFL concepts.

"It's high-level football," Palmer said, "which accelerates the learning curve and pushes the boundaries of what they thought was possible."

Maryland's C.J. Brown marvels at the changes in this area since his debut with the Terrapins. Granted, Brown is a sixth-year senior QB, but the base of knowledge possessed by some of the newcomers to college today leads him to wonder if still they're playing the same game in high school.

Brown said he came to school with an expectation to redshirt, then hope to fight for a spot. He understood the basics of an offense.

"It's completely different now," he said.

Yes, the landscape of the game has shifted for young quarterbacks. They win Heismans and show up with expectations, often unrealistic.

And something else to consider: Is the new breed of quarterback running dangerously ahead of the curve?

It's possible, said former NFL quarterback and Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer, that the modern QB prospect is more difficult than ever for a college coach to evaluate.

Maybe it helps explain why Manziel and Winston are still the exceptions. The other guys are just average players disguised as stars, because they've advanced too far, too fast in this accelerated climate.

"That's a realistic argument," Dilfer said. "I'm not going to say yeah or nay. But the thing to remember is, they are all going to fail at some point.

"People often try to cap the potential for our youth. I'm the opposite. I think it's unlimited. They have so much more capacity than we give them credit for. They just have to be inspired."

Perhaps Rosen is right that coaching's overrated. Of course, he could make a case just as strong that it's underrated. So maybe, in the complex world of quarterback development, it's both.

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