MAUI, Hawaii -- The Steve Clarkson Super Seven quarterback academy kicked off Wednesday night with a welcome reception and introductions of not only participating student-athletes, but also of the instructors; mentors; and, in some instances, icons of the game who were on hand to lend their expertise to college hopefuls and committed high-profile prospects in attendance.
With the Pacific Ocean roaring in the background and palm trees swaying in the breeze, it would not be a stretch to say that keeping focused on football could be difficult for some in attendance. Seven quarterbacks from the 2010 class and about 20 youngsters ages 9 through 17 were collected to compete and improve their level of play through fundamental and mechanical drill work and repetitions both on the field and in classroom meetings. Participants were divided into three groups, taking part in three different circuits that focused on a different skill set.
This 2010 group of seven consisted of Alabama commit Phillip Sims (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith); West Virginia commit Barry Brunetti (Memphis, Tenn./University); uncommitted Chase Rettig (San Clemente, Calif.); Cal commit Austin Hinder (Steamboat Springs, Colo.); Washington commit Nick Montana (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian); uncommitted Andrew Manley (Oahu, Hawaii/Leilehua); and Oklahoma commit Blake Bell (Wichita, Kan./Bishop Carroll).
Before the participants took the field, Rick Singer, CEO of The Edge, a life-coaching and college-admissions program, focused on how to prepare for and find the right college setting as both an athlete and a normal student. Singer spoke to the group on hand, which included parents, on the importance of educating oneself on the process of getting admitted into the college of one's choice. Unlocking student-athletes' potential and creating opportunities for them to succeed in college and for the rest of their lives was the main point of emphasis.
As part of the presentation, Singer went over the ways to prepare for core class requirements and standardized testing. Singer has spent the last 23 years studying and providing resources for students and student-athletes.
Along with Steve Clarkson's staff, Hall of Fame quarterbacks Warren Moon and Joe Montana made the rounds from group to group, lending their insights to individual prospects based on their strengths and, more importantly, their weaknesses. Former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart shared his experiences with players and in many instances was used as an example of what you want in drills, footwork and timing.
As we have seen with hundreds of prospects this spring and summer, the challenges of playing quarterback are numerous. Footwork, ball handling and release mechanics are vital to the overall success and accuracy of every signal-caller. The Super Seven all possess adequate to elite arm strength, good athleticism and solid feet. Still, few have gone through a rigorous training session like the one they endured Wednesday. This particular circuit had more to do with feet, drops and weight transfer than it did with actually throwing the football. In other words, everything starts with the feet, not how far you can throw it. And this philosophy is at the core of every drill implemented.
We have stated so many times the importance of working from under center and how the spread offense and shotgun have affected the overall development of younger prospects. This was clearly evident during the event's first session; many of the Super Seven have little experience performing many of the drills incorporated. Therefore, the learning curve was expected.
The event's smaller roster of students enabled instructors to spend more valuable, one-on-one time with each prospect between turns. Quality opportunities and improvement from one rep to the next are the primary objective. As we head into Day 2 and the prospects have had a chance to get settled in and become more comfortable, we expect to see each prospect relax a bit and throw with more accuracy, consistency and confidence.
Below is a brief outline of first-day strengths and areas of improvement for the Super Seven.
Strengths: Sims has tremendous arm strength and natural wrist velocity. He is physically well-built and very strong with adequate height and great feet. Sims can make every throw when his feet are set. He also learns quickly and applies lessons on the next rep.
Areas for improvement: Like so many prospects in attendance, Sims needs to work on his drop depth from center; his balanced setup and delivery mechanics are inconsistent. He carries the ball low from center far too frequently. He also needs to be more consistently accurate.
Strengths: Bell has tremendous size and build. His arm strength is borderline elite and will be in time. The velocity on his throws is impressive. His drop speed is improved from the spring -- as have his over-the-top powerful delivery and weight transfer. He is a great athlete who does not get to showcase this area of his game in a workout setting.
Areas for improvement: He must relax his upper body -- Bell is tense as a passer and grips the ball too hard at times, causing him to lose control. He can be robotic in overall carriage and mechanics, although this is improved from the spring. He is raw, so he needs to be more consistently accurate.
Strengths: His smooth, compact delivery is the best of the group. Brunetti has terrific velocity and good arm strength. He's a good athlete, and his excellent feet allow him to throws effectively on the move.
Areas for improvement: Must compensate for lack of ideal height; must improve drop depth and set up balance; sinks hips low on plant foot and will negate his height as a result; must open hips in drops on throws to his left.
Strengths: Rettig has a big, powerful arm. He is starting to develop some touch at times. He has good size and upside for quality frame development. A deceptively good athlete, Rettig has solid feet and moves well in the pocket.
Areas for improvement: Rettig must stand tall as a passer. He drops low and sets up low, which negates his naturally good height. He must continue to change ball speeds and improve his drops from center and his footwork.
Strengths: Manley possesses a very good arm; he is a sleeper who should have offers in his future. He possesses great size and good feet. He adapts quickly and applies what he learns to the next rep. He can make all the throws, with consistent drops. Manley is not intimidated by competition.
Areas for improvement: Manley needs to have consistent throwing mechanics from snap to snap. The ball gets away from him at times because of issues with weight transfer and setup balance. His delivery mechanics are not the same on each throw -- can be a bit long, but then quick on the next rep.
Strengths: Hinder has a terrific frame. His arm has gotten stronger with improved velocity. His drop speed and depth are excellent for a tall and lanky prospect. Like Rettig, Hinder's a deceptive athlete. He changes ball speeds nicely.
Areas for improvement: Must continue to add strength and bulk to his frame; delivery can be a bit long with an over-accentuated high delivery; must improve balance and weight transfer on follow-through.
Strengths: Montana shows consistent footwork, mechanics and accuracy. Like his father, Nick is a better athlete than one might think. He has a quick delivery and adequate arm strength. His drop depth and speed are very good, as is his ball handling. He throws well on the run, has a nice feel and quickly adapts to coaching.
Areas for improvement: Montana has a low delivery point at times -- he carries the ball a bit awkwardly. He is well built and wiry, but must continue to add significant bulk and strength. He is not going to make powerful downfield throws outside of the numbers with his arm alone.
Note: I mentioned little about accuracy -- on the first day, while these prospects were learning and adapting, the balls were flying everywhere. Once they settle in, we will begin to closely monitor overall, consistent accuracy over the next two days.
Tom Luginbill is National Director of Recruiting for ESPN Scouts Inc.