How Will Tom House Help Blake Bortles?

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Mechanics in any sport is a tricky subject. There are usually distinct differences between what is considered the right way and the wrong way of performing an athletic task. Yet, sometimes players find a way to succeed in their own unconventional way. You’ll find examples that aren’t exactly textbook from every sport. For some reason this drives a decent amount of people mad, but my general rule is – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it..

However, for some players their mechanics do not work and they need to get it fixed. Fast. In the case of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, he really needs to fine-tune his throwing motion. Which is why he’s once again paying visits to quarterback guru, Tom House. Bortles visited House in the 2015 offseason and had a fine year throwing 35 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. House is a former MLB relief pitcher and pitching coach. According to Jeff Beckham’s article on WIRED, House uses a scientific approach to fixing pitchers’ and quarterbacks’ mechanical problems after he learned the two throwing motions are essentially the same. He films a player’s throwing motion that is then sent to a lab to be digitized for 3-D motion analysis. “Each client is filmed with cameras that capture his throwing motion at 1,000 frames per second, and then the footage is digitized for analysis.” Some quarterbacks who have worked with House in the past include Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and Alex Smith. The article later explains that House can compare his clients computerized throwing motions with film of any quarterback of any generation.

I’m curious as to how House is going to change Bortles’ throwing motion. I do not have the technology that House possesses at the National Pitching Association 3DQB Health and Performance Center, but I can take a few educated guesses on how Bortles’ motion might change for the better in 2017.

I’ll break this down into a few steps: (1) Identify Bortles’ mechanical issue(s). (2) Compare his 2015 throwing motion to his more recent one. (3) Compare quarterbacks who have visited House in the past.

  1. Identifying the Mechanical Issues

Bortles main mechanical issue in 2016 was his windup and his release. In this Bleacher Report article written by Joseph Zucker in mid-March Bortles is quoted saying, “The first thing we focused on was probably what everybody would guess, just trying to tighten up the release, make that as quick as possible. So never letting really the wrist get below the elbow, trying to keep that parallel and not dropping down. So that was probably the main focus and then just a couple tweaks here and there in different things.”

As Bortles states, it was pretty obvious what needs to be fixed moving forward. His windup was too long, his wrist rarely parallel, and he drops the ball down too low during his windup. All of these mechanical flaws really messed up Bortles’ accuracy, velocity, and confidence throwing the football. I think this throw against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football in Week 8 encapsulated all of Bortles’ problems.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/BortlesWindup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/vlcsnap-00001.jpg”]

The Jaguars were down 27-0 at this point, and their offense was struggling to move the ball downfield all night. On the play, Bortles receives the snap and has a clean pocket to throw from. However, as he winds up, he drops his hand holding the ball, putting his arm in an awkward position. He targets wide receiver Allen Robinson (#15), but the ball skips in front of him. There was no conviction on this throw, despite being in what is normally considered a comfortable pocket. On the release the ball comes out the side of his hand a bit oddly which gives it that funky floating motion as it drops to the grass.

  1. 2015 Throwing Motion

Okay, so, problem identified. The next step is figuring out how Bortles was throwing the ball in 2015 to compare a “good” Bortles throw to a bad one. I wanted to use a throwing angle similar to the one in 2016 against the Titans. This play during Week 10 against the Baltimore Ravens somewhat resembles that throwing angle.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Bortles-Video2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Bortles-Still2.jpg”]

His motion is much cleaner in 2015. It’s still a little long, but he’s not dropping the ball nearly as much and his release is far quicker. An added benefit is that Bortles definitely seems to have more confidence. And he should at this point, considering he’s having himself a pretty nice season in year two of his career.

For comparison’s sake, here is a comparison in his windup from 2015 and 2016. There’s a pretty significant difference in where the ball is on its path through the throwing motion.

 

Tom House

Tom HouseThis is the baseline the Jaguars want to see on the field from Bortles 2017. While not necessarily perfect, it’s been proven to work and it could possibly be built upon moving forward.

  1. How Does Bortles Compare to Recent House Quarterbacks

Blake Bortles should want to be Blake Bortles and do what’s best for him. But it doesn’t hurt to study other quarterbacks and take pieces of their games and try and add them to his own. I think House’s client Drew Brees should be the goal to work toward, even if it’ll be difficult to get to where he is from a mechanical standpoint. Brees has a really tight throwing motion and gets the ball out quick with his release. Look at how his wrist is level with his elbow on this throw.

Working with House should help Bortles get back to what he was doing in 2015. If you check out the Bleacher Report article above it also has an update on Bortles’ progress. It appears that his throwing motion is tighter than in 2015. It’s tough to really say whether or not he’ll be as mechanically sound moving forward based off one throw. He’s throwing in an open field in shorts with no rushers trying to get after him. Stress could cause him to regress to old habits. All he can do is keep working with House and get his reps in so he can build muscle memory and confidence heading into a crucial 2017 season.

Here’s what Tom Brady had to say about what 3DQB did for his confidence straight from the 3DQB site:

“I’ve always had confidence throwing the football, but you have to stay on top of it. That’s going to be a never-ending quest for me. But right now, I am more confident than ever.”

The Jaguars recently picked up the fifth-year option on Bortles and didn’t select a quarterback in the draft. Rather, they added running back Leonard Fournette and offensive Cam Robinson who should both take pressure off of Bortles and the passing game. Maybe these moves signal that the front office is confident in Bortles returning to his 2015 form or better.

Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Kareem Hunt’s superior balanceJames White doing his job in Super Bowl LI, and Chris Godwin’s separation ability.

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One thought on “How Will Tom House Help Blake Bortles?

  1. The root cause of the throw highlighted being thrown low is not a long windup. While sub-optimal, a long wind-up, in and of itself, has little to nothing to do with a throw coming in low.

    Towards the end of his career, Brett Favre would frequently drop the ball low. Whether consciously or not, this can often be done in either a compressed pocket where the typical L-position during the expansion phase is not possible and/or used to acheive a bit greater torque. I have seen Aaron Rodgers do a similar dropping of the ball to an almost windmill-like circling around (rather than the typical L-position expansion where the ball does not drop sharply from the initial pre-pass carriage) to generate the needed arm acceleration in a congested pocket.

    In this case with Bortles, the root cause of the low throw you highlighted is poor weight transfer.

    If you look at Bortles’ front leg, the leg is stiff with very little bend in his front (left) knee. The rear-leg is where the power transfer for a throw initially begins as the quarterback begins his drive step. This process is cut off if the knees of the quarterback are not properly bent before that drive step though. There is a difference between lazily “falling forward” with the front foot and driving off the rear-leg. This overly tall position from that stiff front leg leads to Bortles to use his upper body to generate torque on the throw–see the whipping of his shoulders on the throw you highlighted–because his legs are, effectively, “cut-off.” This engages a totally different source for power. As a result, his elbow does not cleanly get to what Darin Slack refers to as “zero position”; Bortles’ elbow angle is very wide as his shoulders become parallel with his target and his elbow is also slightly below his shoulder at the time of release when it should be in zero position. This wide throwing hallway leaves much smaller margin for error but is needed for him as, again, his drive step does not allow power transferance into the hallway. Bortles’ arm is forced to generate power by turning the core rapidly, in this case with excessive shoulder rotation, leading to the slashing motion. As there is massive centrifugal force on the arm due to the lack of power being generated from a good drive, Bortles’ body naturally compensates with a slashing motion that puts his arm on a wider track than is desired, hence why he not only misses low due to a stiff front leg that inhibited quality weight transfer but also wide of the target as well as his arm slashes across the throwing hallway rather than smoothly entering it from a more vertical, supported and propelled by the legs position.

    I have been blessed to learn from some great teachers over the years regarding quarterback mechanics. Almost all of the knowledge above has come through the writings and teachings of Darin Slack, in addition to being able to work with him and other NFA coaches at different camps, as well as a host of others including Dan Gonzalez. I wanted to point out these root cause issues as well as guide you to some great learning resources that I have been blessed to be exposed to in my time coaching. There is a great deal of “mysticism” around quarterback play and I think very few have been taught the core principles of biomechanics to really break down “inputs to outputs” on a given throw.

    House will definitely help to clean up this stuff as he did wonders with Brady’s front-shoulder discipline. Brady used to open the front shoulder too early, likely as another means to “whip” his body around and create torque, rather than activate his legs and core through a good drive step and weight transferance. How House can help him with the main issues Bortles struggles with, namely processing information, is something I cannot speak to as I do not know what he does to help aid QB’s there but no doubt he will do everything he can to make Bortles better.

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