Quarterback is probably the most difficult position to play because it is based on difficult fundamentals and great dedication by the player.
In Europe, for different reasons, there are not great quarterbacks. One reason is that European coaches do not know enough to build a good quarterback. I am not saying that a European coach cannot grow a good quarterback, but it is difficult for someone who never played quarterback teach and grow a good quarterback, especially, in Europe where there are few and limitative sources of information like clinics and camps.
Another reason is that most of the time in Europe quarterbacks are not chosen by there physical and mental abilities, but they are chosen by their way to be easy going with the rest of the players. The better talker is not always the best player or the ideal leader for the team. Also, the quarterback sometime is chosen because he is the son of the president or the president himself. I found this less frequent lately, but it still is a big problem for the success of the team.
Also, to have good quarterbacks, you need good coaches. When an American coach comes to coach in Europe, normally, he brings an American quarterback. Most of the American coaches do not believe in European quarterbacks. This is really understandable because most of the time European teams get their American coaches few weeks before the season starts, and as soon as the coach sees the abilities of the European quarterback and compare him to an American quarterback, the coach understand that he does not have time to get him ready for the next season. The solution are drastic; a new American quarterback, or a losing season because most of the other teams have an American quarterback. What do you think this coach will do next time he will come to coach in Europe? Understandably, next time, he will come with an American quarterback. In this way, there will not be any development of European quarterbacks, but this is how football is played in Europe.
More importantly, most of the teams in Europe want to win at whatever cost. If they have enough money, they will get an American quarterback. In Europe, when we talk about a good quarterback, we do not think about a European player.
The European quarterback is a very controversial point because it is proved that if you have a good "American" quarterback, you improve your teams performance. If we think about a running game, an American quarterback speeds up the game. In the same way the defense has to speed up in reading plays. Then, an American quarterback improves the passing game, better passes, better receivers, and better defensive covers, man or zone. With an American quarterback everything improve within the game.
At this point what can we do to develop European quarterbacks? Can we go on getting American quarterbacks, and sustain that this is European Football? Well, first of all a mediocre quarterback in the United States is a great quarterback in Europe. We have to understand the different level of football that we have in Europe compere to North America. Second, European football needs more time to develop. Third, an American quarterback is better than a European because of experience and good coaching. When a college quarterback is done playing, he has already played football for at least 10 years, in all this time he had very good coaches.
In my opinion, this can be changed in the future of European football. You as a European coach can change this by learning from clinics, videos, books, magazines, and communicate with other coaches so to teach good fundamentals to your quarterback. It is very important to develop him in a young age. It needs time to develop. Physically and mentally, he has to be an athlete not a talker. A great solution is to get your quarterback for a season or more in a High School football program where he can practice five times a week with good coaches.
To help, I want to give you some good tips that I believe are very important to build a good quarterback. Remember that all this is what I learned from studying 9 years in the States, going to clinics and camps, coaching football every years at all levels, College, High School, and Semi-pro. More importantly, I learned a lot from classes that I took at the University highest levels, and from coaches very knowledgeable in the subject.
As I said before, you have to start teaching and coaching good techniques to your quarterback when he is in a young age. It is essential that you start looking for the right player in your junior team. A good quarterback is someone who has natural abilities. To start, you have to choose players who are to football. He must be one of the best athlete in your team. Personality wise, it must be a leader.
Fundamentals are the basis of every sports, so I tried to list here some of the most important fundamentals for a quarterback.
The quarterback stance must be a balance stance. At the snap count, the quarterback have to have the mobility to move in different direction. The body must be parallel to the line of scrimmage. Feet are parallel and shoulder wide; the feet should point inside, called pigeon toes. This will prevent that the quarterback will step twice on the first step. Knees are bent and the knee cups are perpendicular over the big toes. The back is straight and the head is up so to have a good all around vision. The right should be on the balls of the feet. A good system to check if the quarterback is in a good balance stance is to take a sheet of paper and slide it under the heels. If it slides under, it means that the quarterback is working with his weight on the balls of his feet.
Center -- Before the snap, the center should learn to hold the ball as far as possible from his body. He must hold the ball with an extended arm to keep the defensive line far from the line of scrimmage. More space between the offensive and defensive linemen means more time for the offensive linemen to make the first step. Space between the lines it is a great advantage if your offensive team uses a lot of traps' or angles' blocks. In Europe it is very common to have underweight linemen, and most of the European's teams find very effective to use cross, pull, angle, and trap blocks.
The exchange of the ball between the center and the quarterback or most commonly called snap, has to be done effectively. Do not develop different snaps depending on game or practice situations. There are not two different kinds of snap. The snap must be quick and precise on the hand of the quarterback. There should be harmony and a great feeling between the center and the quarterback during a snap. The ball has to be snapped as fast as possible on a perfect ball strings position on the quarterback throwing hand. This is essential for a good grip by the quarterback.
To get the perfect hand and ball relationship between the center and the quarterback, the center gets the ball from the quarterback using an inversed snap's motion. The center goes and takes the ball from the quarterback. As the center gets the ball, he memorizes the position of the strings on his hand.
Then, when the center holds the ball before making the snap, he uses the strings as a point of reference for the next snaps. On the snap movement, the center turns the ball in a 90 degree inside movement.
If your center has little fingers, he can hold the ball with two hands. Also, during muddy games, the center should snap the ball with two hands. This will prevent fumbles. In Europe there are not many game balls. Some teams have just few good balls, and they cannot afford to change the ball all the time on the field. An extra hand by the center can help to hold a wheat and heavy ball, and prevent a fumble.
*** There are special sprays that can be used to protect and prevent that the ball get wheat. They are very effective.
During games or practices, it is important that the center thinks about making the snap first and the block second. The snap has to be quick, and it must start at the first sound of the count which determine the start of the play. With practice, the snap will become automatic.
Quarterback -- (This paragraph explains how a right handed quarterback received a snap; for a left handed quarterback, invert these fundamental.) When the quarterback receives a snap, his right hand must be under the insertion of the center's legs. The quarterback has to put pressure under the center body because the center has to feel and therefore know where the ball exchange will be. The quarterback must push up with the top of his right hand. The quarterback must hold his right hand open facing the ground with his fingers relaxed. The quarterback does not have to hold his fingers stiff because he could get hurt on the exchange of the ball. Especially, if the ball is snapped short and arrived on the tips of his fingers.
The left hand should be in a lateral down position. The palm must face the right leg of the center. The first falange of the left thumb should be over the second falange of the right thumb (sometime with weak or young quarterback, the two thumbs are crossed with the left thumb over the right thumb. This helps in not letting the ball passing throw the hands of the young quarterback.) The angle between the two hands should be as large as possible with a maximum of 140 degree. The fingers in the left hand must be relaxed and open. If the fingers are held rigidly, a bad snap could break them easily. As explained before if the fingers are held relaxed, they will just bend and not break.
It is very important that the quarterback receives the snap first, and leave with his hands second. Most of the time, fumbles are caused by a premature movement of the quarterback. A good quarterback gets the ball in his hand, and then move away from the center.
To have a successful hand off, both the Quarterback and the quarterback must execute precise footwork. Repetition and good coaching can make footwork fast and easy. It is the Quarterback's job and responsibility to make sure that the ball is placed firmly against the runner's midsection. The running back has to see the gap or as they say the "light". If the looks for the hand off, he will not be able to see the hole or the defensive evolution. He is the one that has to see where he can run.
The ball has to be exchanged on the middle body section. The quarterback does not have to swing the ball from down up, but he moves the ball from his belt to the running back belt. When the quarterback approaches the hand-off spot, he should hold the ball securely in both hands. The quarterback has to be in control of the hand-off. As the quarterback extends his arms away from his stomach toward the ball carrier, the hand closest to the runner should come off as the ball get closer to the running back stomach. The ball should be placed into the runner's midsection and on the far hip away from the quarterback. Placing the ball on the far hip prevents to get the ball short and maybe fumble it. When the quarterback gives the hand-off, he has to put some pressure on the running back stomach. The running back has to feel and be aware of the ball before he can close his hands.
.A. very good and easy way to teach the quarterback directional steps in the hand-off is the clock system. For example, in a dive hand-off, the Quarterback will use a short step in a three of nine o'clock direction. In a blast which is a lateral hole (4 or 5), the Quarterback will step in four of eight clock direction. Using a clockwise system is perfect for European teams because it is very easy to introduce and understand.
Faking the Hand-off
To make a good fake, the running back and the quarterback must convince the defense that the hand-off has taken place. Two techniques can be used for the fake.
In the first fake technique, the quarterback hides the ball on his far hip away from the line of scrimmage. He holds the ball with the farther hand against the hip. Then, he fakes the hand-off with his closer and empty hand. As the quarterback fakes the hand-off, he watches the running back and shows the empty hand to the whole defense. The quarterback follows the running back with his empty hand open so to make the fake more realistic. This fake can be used when the offensive play needs time to develop like in a play action where the receivers and the quarterback need time. This fake can be very effective and realistically. A little problem is the control of the ball which is not well secured on the quarterback hands.
In the second fake technique, the quarterback extends the ball into the running back's stomach with both hands. He withdraws the ball as the running back fakes to cover it with his hands and arms. With this technique, the quarterback maintains better control of the ball. The quarterback should use this fake when the play has to be performed fast as in an option play. In Europe linemen are not very good blockers. I really suggest to use this last fake technique. It is fast and secure. This fake is less realistic, but it is quicker than the other.
The ball in the hand-off is passed from hand to hand by the quarterback to the runner back. In the pitch, the ball is thrown behind as a pass from the quarterback to the running back. The difference between a pitch and a pass is that the ball is thrown in a backward and lower motion. A pitch is less visible than a pass from a defensive position.
There are two ways to execute the pitch. First, as the quarterback receives the snap, he uses the power from the snap to pivot backward about 90 degrees and throws the ball to the running back. It is important that the Quarterback runs parallel to the line of scrimmage before receiving the ball. In this way as the running back gets the ball, he has the possibility to make a cut in different direction. If the running back is running with an outside angle to the sideline, he will not be able to cut inside. The Quarterback must be ready to cut when he sees the "light."
The motion for the pitch starts from the snap with a down and up motion in the pivot step, the ball is ready to be released a little bit lower the midline of the quarterback body. From there, the ball goes laterally upward in a rotating-arc motion until it reaches the runner at the thoracic level or lower.
The second technique is executed in the same way, the only difference is that the quarterback gives to the ball a spinning motion with is outside hand (as in a Rugby pitch). Whit the spin, the ball will travel faster in the air and to the running back than the other technique explained above, but the quarterback and the runner back must practice more for a perfect execution.
The Forward Pass
How to Grip the Football for a Forward Pass
The quarterback's grip on the football is related to the size of his hands. The smaller the size of the quarterback hands, the farther back the hand should be on the ball. A stable and good grip is essential for controlling the ball on the forward pass. When the quarterback receives the snap, the top and horizontal hand is always the throwing hand, the lower and lateral hand is just for ball control.
In learning to grip the ball correctly, the Quarterback should have his index finger near the tip of the ball, across the lateral seam of the football, and slightly off the ball's laces. The middle and third fingers should extend across the laces so that the fingertips rest on the surface of the ball and not on the laces. The intersection between the first and second falanges* of these two fingers should be on the laces. In this position the middle and third fingers give the spin to the football when the throwing motion of the arm moves the hand down. The tip of the little finger will usually rest on the laces. A good grip must have air between the ball and the palm of the hand. The ball must be hold with the fingertips of the hand. For a good grip the quarterback must have strong hands. It is important that the quarterback has and feels complete control of the ball in his hand. The no throwing hand should held the football in a parallel position from the throwing hand and lightly on the outside of the ball.
*Falanges are the name of the bones among the fingers. Starting from the top of the finger we have the first falange then the second falange in the middle, and the third at the bottom of the finger. The thumb has only two falanges.
E-mail: Giorgio Volpi