Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, we have our series: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.
In recent weeks many draft evaluators have turned their sights on Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams as one of the bigger sleepers in this draft class. Opinions are still mixed regarding the former FCS and PAC-12 standout, and some believe that size might force him to begin his professional career north of the border. One common concern or critique of the quarterback is that he is, at heart, an improvisor: A player who cannot stay within the play structure and too often improvises with the football in his hands. This is a topic previously addressed on this website, but two plays from Oregon’s game against Stanford drive home the idea that Adams can indeed work within the structure of a play, even in situations where you would expect a player with his considerable athletic ability to pull the football down and channel his inner Houdini.
With a five-point lead, the Ducks face a 1st and 10 on the Stanford 49-yard line. Adams (#3) is in the shotgun and Oregon’s 10 personnel lines up with dual slot formations. The Cardinal base 3-4 defense shows Cover 1 before the play:
If the quarterback has trouble with the progression read, he works the post, front side wheel, mesh, and the backside wheel. That puts him reading from the number-1 receiver across the field to the backside wheel. He reads post, frontside wheel, front side mesh, backside mesh, and backside wheel. The progression goes from frontside to backside. However, he may not get to the backside.
Adams’ first read here is Darren Carrington (#7) on the post route. But shortly after the snap, the rotation of the secondary leaves the post route covered:
In the still above, the quarterback is reading the coverage and deciding whether the post is open. With safety Kodi Whitfield (#5) rotating to the middle of the field, safety Ben Edwards (#8) squatting in the path of Carrington, and cornerback Alijah Holder (#13) trailing the receiver in man coverage, three defenders have the post route blanketed. But given the location of these three defenders, and the coverage scheme in play, Adams immediately knows he has a big play here as he pivots to his second read, which is Griffin on the wheel route. With three defenders between the numbers, there is no one outside to cover the wheel route. Whether this is because of a missed assignment or simply a great play design called at the right moment, it doesn’t matter to Adams, who exploits the situation within the structure of the play:
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He hits his running back in stride along the sideline, and the receiver does the rest, taking the football the distance.
That was one play where he showed that he can make a play within structure. But there was no external impetus there, no pressure, that might put him in a situation to go off-script and improvise. So let’s turn to one such play.
Right before halftime the Ducks face a 2nd and 9 on the Cardinal 47-yard line. With 11 personnel in the game and Adams in the shotgun, they run the same play, the mesh concept with a post / wheel combination on the outside. This time they send the motion man, Dwayne Stanford (#88) on the wheel route while Carrington (#7) runs the post:
Remember the read structure here, as outlined by coach Leach. Adams will check the post, then the wheel, and then the mesh, finally looking to the fifth option, which in this design is the route to the flat.
WR Bralon Addison (#2) and tight end Johnny Mundt (#83) cut their routes a little too close, and collide over the middle. Adams thinks about throwing to Mundt, but at this point the pressure off the edge is closing in so he climbs the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield:
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Given the collapsing pocket, his receivers running into each other, and with a potential running lane to the left, you might expect a QB who likes to improvise first to make a play with his feet here, but not Adams. He returns to his reads and simply resets the progression, coming back to the post route, which was his first read on the play. This is very similar to a play highlighted in an earlier piece on Adams, which illustrated his ability to improvise yet demonstrated how he can also thrive within the structure of a play – even if he presses the envelope a bit. Adams, simply stated, can work on- or off-script to make defenses pay.
Adams might face an uphill climb in convincing NFL front offices about his ability to transition to the next level. He will face questions about his size, he will have to address the stigma of being a “system quarterback,” and he will face concerns over the times he tried to improvise when other options were available within the structure of a play. But teams would be wise to put those aside and look at the moments when Adams delivers on plays like this, and to see the traits displayed and the ability to function within an offense, push the envelop a bit, and deliver a huge play for his team. The former Duck has a number of traits that translate well in the NFL, and that ability to stay within the structure of a play yet improvise the slightest bit, thereby expanding the play’s potential, might just be his strongest trait.