Mitch Trubisky On Two: Pocket Toughness

With the NFL Draft always approaching, Mark Schofield begins his look at QB prospects for 2017. With so much scouting to be done, Mark begins by continuing our series: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.

I’ve written before about the relationship a quarterback has with the air above him: The clouds, the sun and the beautiful picture that emerges as a signal caller gets to see them all while lying on his back after taking a shot in the pocket while trying to make a throw. Unfortunately, playing the quarterback position requires a person to have the ability to stay in the pocket and resist the urge to flee it when rather large men with momentum behind them look to turn you into a Gallagher-esque watermelon. Resisting the human nature to flee often separates great quarterbacks from good ones, as the structure of plays centers on the QB making plays from the pocket, where the protection is designed to hold and the expected launching point of the throw to the wide receivers. So when a young quarterback shows the ability to hang in there and fight, while willing to take a shot or make a throw with a defender bearing down on him, it is worth noting.

North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky is moving up draft boards this season, and while he lacks a wealth of experience under center – with only eight starts in his career – he shows a number of traits that scouts and coaches desire at the position. One of them is his ability to hang tough in the pocket and make throws under duress, with great results.

Here against the Miami Hurricanes, the Tar Heels face a 2nd and 10 on the Miami 29-yard line with the football on the left hashmark. Trubisky (#10) stands in the shotgun and the offense has 11 offensive personnel on the field, with a single receiver split to the left. On the right, two receivers are aligned in an inverted slot, while tight end Brandon Fritts (#82) aligns as an up-back, just behind the right tackle. The Hurricanes use a 4-2-5 nickel defense, and they show a two-high safety look in the secondary, with both cornerbacks giving about five yards of cushion on the outside:


The offense uses a variation of a Y-Cross design, an Air Raid staple:


Trubisky has a vertical route on the left, or the backside of this play. On the right, the offense uses a post route – a variation from the standard Y-Cross design – while they use a curl route on the outside. The quarterback reads this play from left to right. He quickly peeks at that vertical route to see if he can get a big play down the field. Then, Trubisky moves to the post route from the slot, which is his primary read on the play. If this route is covered, the QB moves to the curl route on the outside.

Miami drops into a Cover 6 look, playing a Cover 2 to the single-receiver side and dropping into a Cover 4 look to the wide side of the field:


Trubisky takes the snap and looks at the vertical route, but he sees the safety squatting outside the hashmark, creating a very narrow throwing window:


The quarterback comes off this route, and looks to the post route. That receiver breaks behind the linebackers and in front of the safety. But with that safety over the top, Trubisky thinks about pulling the trigger but wisely keeps his powder dry:


At this point, the pocket is breaking down around him. Pressure is coming from the edges, as well as right in his face. Here, some quarterbacks might look to exit out the back door, vacating the pocket by gaining depth and circling to the outside. But Trubisky fights not just the pocket, but human nature. He hangs in there, and from a crowded pocket delivers this throw to the curl route on the outside, to his third read:

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Trubisky cannot fully step into this throw, but still delivers a strong pass from the left hashmark to outside the right numbers. This is a very well-delivered pass, and illustrates a number of good traits at the quarterback position. Trubisky works through three reads on a full-field progression, stays in the pocket, and has the pure arm strength to get this football from the left hashmark to the outside of the right numbers. This is a very impressive play from the junior quarterback.

On this play against Florida State, we see similar traits from the QB. Late in the first half Carolina faces a 1st and 10 on the Seminoles’ 39-yard line. Trubisky stands in the shotgun and the offense uses 10 personnel, with a double-stack alignment. Florida State’s 4-2-5 nickel defense shows Cover 2, with a cornerback in press coverage over each stack:


The Tar Heels use a vertical concept to the right side of the field, with a vertical route along the sideline from WR Bug Howard (#84) and a curl route from Thomas Jackson (#48):


The defense drops into a Cover 2 look:


Once he confirms the coverage, Trubisky knows that he will have a throwing window to hit the vertical route: Along the sideline in the Honey Hole. But before he can release the ball, the protection starts to break down:


Defensive tackle Walvenski Aime’ (#94) has beaten the protection up front and is breaking free. Even with the big DT bearing down on him, Trubisky stands in the pocket and delivers a strike:

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This is a perfectly-placed throw on an outside vertical route, made under duress. The Tar Heels would go on and fumble at the end of this drive, but the pocket toughness from Trubisky here got them into a good situation late in the first half.

With some of the other quarterbacks in the potential 2017 draft class stumbling a bit, Trubisky is in a position to capitalize and continue to rise on draft boards. While there may be no perfect quarterback in this class, plays like these which display pocket toughness, awareness and NFL-level arm strength, will have some evaluators drooling this draft season.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, Seth Russell’s processing speed, or how LSU runs play action.

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All film courtesy of ESPN and Draftbreakdown.

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