Seth Russell on Two: Processing Speed

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.

Wait, what?

The ability of a quarterback to quickly interpret and diagnose a defense, and then react appropriately, can often determine whether they are successful or not. If the player misinterprets the coverage, reacts too slow, or makes the wrong decision, an offense can struggle and the QB will find his way back to the bench at some point. Given Baylor’s offensive system, with a high volume of run/pass option plays – one read throws and quick hitch routes – you might be wondering how a supportive case for Seth Russell’s processing speed can be made.

That’s why Inside the Pylon pays me the big bucks.

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Play One

On Baylor’s second play of the game against Rice University, the Bears face a 2nd and 10 on their own 25-yard line. They line up with 10 offensive personnel on the field, using three receivers to the left and splitting a single receiver to the right. Russell (#17) stands in the shotgun with running back Terence Williams (#22) standing to his right. The Owls line up with their 4-2-5 nickel package and they show a Cover 4 look in the secondary:

Seth Russell

Baylor runs one of their RPO designs on this play. They use a power blocking scheme up front, with right tackle Patrick Lawrence (#77) pulling in front of Williams, who heads to the left B gap. With Lawrence pulling, right guard Blake Blackmar (#72) has to block to the outside and pick up the defensive end on the backside. Left tackle Dominic DeSouza (#64) uses a hinge technique, stepping inside first with his right foot to protect that B gap, and then hinging to the outside to take the defensive end wide of the play and away from the hole. Williams heads for the hole, while on the trips receivers run a seam, hitch, and go combination:

Seth Russell

Strongside linebacker Alex Lyons (#4) is unaccounted for in this blocking scheme, and that is Russell’s reads on this play. This is a second-level read for the quarterback, made post-snap. Should Lyons crash forward on the run action, Russell will throw the seam route behind him to Blake Lynch (#2), the inside trips receiver. But if the SLB drops under the seam, then Russell will give the ball to his running back:

Seth Russell

Lyons crashes, so Russell makes the quick read and pulls the football to throw the seam route:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellVideo1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellStill8.jpg”]

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This is a very quick read and decision from the quarterback. But once he decides to pull the football and throw the seam, Russell’s delivery is perhaps even quicker than the decision. Once he makes up his mind, the football is out of his hand. Russell hits Lynch with a pass that is slightly to his back shoulder, but it is a very catchable ball.

Here’s a look at this play from the end zone angle. Notice how the quarterback takes the snap and trains his eyes right on Lyons, and then instantly pull the football to make the throw. You can also see the hinge block technique from the left tackle, whose first step is to the right to protect the B gap, and then he opens to the sideline to ride the DE outside and away from the play:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellVideo2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellStill5.jpg”]

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Now, I know what you are probably thinking: “Come on Schofield, they probably run this play eight million times a week in practice. So he should be quick here.” That is a valid point. But the speed with which Russell makes up his mind and releases the ball is what is truly impressive here. The slightest hesitation from the QB allows Lyons to drop back a step and get in line with the throw, or it allows the safeties an extra step or two to break on Lynch and potentially deliver a much bigger shot. Also, consider the implications of Russell reading this wrong and, for some reason, handing the football off. Rice uses a twist up front that forces the pulling tackle to pick up a defensive tackle. That leaves Williams without a lead blocker, and Lyons has a free shot at the RB. So had Russell made the wrong decision here, the SLB has a free run at Williams.

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Play Two

Plays can change in an instant when you are in the pocket. This is especially true in an offense that utilizes option routes, or gives the receivers the freedom to convert routes based on coverage in the secondary. Baylor, especially against Rice, feasted on quick hitch routes against off man or zone coverage looks. But their receivers always have the option to convert those to go routes against press man coverage. However, the QB and the receiver need to be on the same page, otherwise the pass will fall incomplete – or worse.

Late in the third quarter the Bears start a drive on their own 24-yard line. Russell is in the shotgun and Baylor has 11 offensive personnel on the field, with a tight end and wide receiver K.D. Cannon (#9) to the right and a slot formation to the left. The Owls deploy their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game, and they show Cover 6 in the secondary:

Seth Russell

Cannon runs a convertible hitch route:

Seth Russell

Now, look at the pre-snap alignment of cornerback J.T. Blasingame (#14). This is a three-year starter on the outside, and a fairly decent defensive back. Prior to the play he is in press alignment over Cannon. But just before the snap he starts to drop:

Seth Russell

Seeing this, Russell expects Cannon to run the hitch route against off coverage. So right after he takes the snap, the QB opens to the right and starts to throw the quick route:

Seth Russell

But Cannon reads this as press man coverage, so he stays vertical. Russell immediately realizes this, resets, and throws the deep ball:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellVideo3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/RussellStill7.jpg”]

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It’s a split-second decision, but the quarterback is able to diagnose the situation, reload, and then drop in a perfect throw to Cannon on the vertical route. This is impressive all around. Not only does Russell react and stay with the flow of the play, but the footwork and athletic ability here to effortlessly reset himself and throw are excellent. To top it all off, the throw is just superb:

Seth Russell

That right there is beautiful.

Russell, like some Baylor quarterbacks before him, will be an interesting evaluation because of the offensive scheme. But the it all boils down to this: Scout the traits, not the scheme. These two plays, especially that second one, are like that one great drive in a tough round of golf. They are a reason to come back for more. There is a lot of evaluation work yet to be done, but those two reads and throws from Russell will keep me coming back to his tape.  

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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All film courtesy of ESPN.

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