The quarterback position places a lot of stress on a player, but the ability to handle that stress is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Mark Schofield looks at two plays in which Jake Rudock did not handle the stress of the situation well and cost his team.
As the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine gets underway in Indianapolis, 18 quarterbacks will attempt to impress future employers at Lucas Oil Field. But a number of QBs who were not invited to the proceedings might still hear their name called come draft time. One such signal-caller is Michigan’s Jake Rudock. The transfer from Iowa enjoyed his best collegiate season under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh, completing over 64 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns, against nine interceptions. Rudock was invited to the Shrine Game, where FOP, talented writer and Mexican food connoisseur Jeff Risdon noted that his arm strength stood out during practice.
One area of Rudock’s tape that does raise concerns is his play speed and decision-making in the pocket. The QB has some positive traits but at times he either fails to get the ball out quickly enough, or passes on an open receiver which only complicates the play structure as the pocket collapses around him. Here are two examples of this from his 2015 season.
This example finds Rudock under center and Michigan with 21 offensive personnel in the game. They show a t-formation in the backfield with fullback Joe Kerridge (#36), running back Ty Isaac (#32) and tight end Khalid Hill (#80) behind Rudock from left to right, all in a three-point stance. The two wide receivers split wide, one to each side of the field. Maryland uses a 4-4 defense, and the three defensive backs show Cover 3, with the cornerbacks giving about eight yards of cushion pre-snap and using outside leverage over the receivers:
The Wolverines run the Dragon Concept on this play, which is a mirrored slant / flat combination with a checkdown curl route over the middle. This play is a staple of Harbaugh’s offense dating back to his days in San Francisco, and is designed to attack the curl / flat defender to each side of the field. The quarterback reads this defender and either throws the slant (should the defender break on the flat route) or throws the shorter route if the defender drops under the WR. If none of these routes are available, the curl route is a nice final option:
As this image indicates, the curl / flat defenders rotate to the flat on each side of the field, taking away the underneath routes. This opens up some space for both slant routes. Even with the inside linebackers dropping there is a throwing lane to each slant, particularly to the right. Finally, given the depth of the interior LBs there will be space for the curl route over the football. At this point, Rudock needs to either take a shot on one of the slants, or get the ball out to the RB on the curl route:
The quarterback passes on the two slant routes, and decides to throw the curl. That is a fine decision, but he waits too long to make a decision. By the time he’s pulling the trigger, edge pressure gets to him and forces a poor throw, and the pass falls harmlessly to the turf. Harbaugh is forced to send out the punt team, but if Rudock makes a quicker decision here, Michigan likely keeps the drive alive.
On the very next possession, Rudock’s hesitation costs his offense. We have previously outlined the difference between a good and a bad “no-throw decision.” (As an aside, for those who question whether Carson Wentz locks onto his first read and cannot work through progressions, I would point you to this play from his first collegiate start, cited therein). Here, Rudock makes a similar no-throw choice.
The Wolverines face a 4th and 2 on the Terrapins’ 34-yard line. Rudock stands in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel, with the tight end aligned to the right and trips to the left. Maryland has their base 4-3 defense in a Cover 1 alignment, with three cornerbacks showing man coverage across from the trips formation, and the outside linebacker down on the line of scrimmage over the TE:
Michigan runs a variant of the spot concept to the bunch side of the formation. WR Freddy Canteen (#17), the inside receiver, bends to the outside on a vertical route. The middle receiver, Jehu Chesson (#86) pushes vertically before cutting outside. Finally, the outside receiver, Amara Darboh (#82) lets his teammates clear before coming underneath on the slant route. He is the primary target here for Rudock. With the defense in man coverage, Canteen and Chesson will create traffic and clear room for Darboh to come underneath and hopefully secure the first down:
Rudock executes a three-step drop and after using a hitch step, this is what he sees:
The route structure has worked, clearing a path for Darboh on the slant route with room to secure the throw for a short gain, moving the chains. The closest defender is the linebacker, the underneath hold defender in this Cover 1 scheme. He is breaking on the slant route, as expected in this coverage, but if Rudock pulls the trigger quickly and places the throw well, Darboh can secure the football going to the turf and pick up the first down:
Rudock hesitates, breaking one of Captain John Patrick Mason’s cardinal rules: You must never hesitate. The quarterback comes off the slant route and tries to pick up the first down on the ground. But he then breaks a second rule of QB play, by failing to secure the football with both hands as he scrambles. The ball is punched out and the Wolverines lose possession.
Now, you can make the argument that Rudock sees the linebacker breaking on the slant and makes a safe decision here by pulling the football down, especially when you see the shot the LB puts on Darboh as he crosses inside. But as stated, if Rudock puts the football in the right spot, the receiver makes the catch going to the turf and likely picks up the first down, avoiding the big hit in the process. Additionally, Rudock uses a hitch step here, which delays the throwing mechanism. If he uses a hit and throw technique, this would have been the release point:
If Rudock pulls the trigger now, placing the throw just behind Chesson with some anticipation, he leads Darboh to the first down marker and, again, puts him in a spot to avoid a big hit. Instead, Rudock uses a hitch step, delaying the play, then he pulls the football down, making a conservative decision that is turned into disaster when he fails to secure the football in the pocket.
Rudock has some raw tools and traits that scouts look for in a future NFL quarterback. With his experience in a pro-style system, he has the background to pick up an NFL offense as well. But his decision-making process, particularly as shown on these two plays, will have some scouts and evaluators wondering if the risks outweigh the benefits.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdown.