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Scouting Jeff Tedford, Part I: Teaching the quarterback position

In this three-part series we'll take a look at how new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's offense and teachings will fit the NFL. In part one we examine the quarterbacks he has coached in the past, and how he approaches the position.

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My first reaction to the rumors of Jeff Tedford coming to Tampa was, and I quote "No not Tedford." I reacted that way for a series of simple reasons: Trent Dilfer, Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Aaron Rodgers. Having just one in six of your first-round picks succeed in the NFL looks bad.

But that was before I did my research, and listened to people who know more about Tedford than I do. The unanimous verdict: "a stroke of genius", as Greg Gabriel (former Bears director of college scouting) told me. "This is the best offensive coach [Lovie Smith] has had."

So what about those quarterbacks?

Tedford has a long, long history of developing quarterbacks in college. Of all the quarterbacks he's developed, though, only Aaron Rodgers succeeded in the NFL -- and Rodgers only did so after sitting on the bench for three years and going through Mike McCarthy's school of quarterbacks. How much does that say about Tedford's qualifications as an NFL coach?

Turns out, not all that much. The record of quarterbacks is a little inflated, for instance, as Jason Lisk pointed out way back in 2009. David Carr only played for Tedford while he was a freshman backup. Akili Smith and Kyle Boller were only with Tedford for a single season, and both of those seasons were easily the best of their careers. Tedford clearly improved the play of those quarterbacks, but it's a bit much to lay their NFL failures at his feet.

In fact, the only first-round picks Tedford coached for more than one season were Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington and Aaron Rodgers. One of those is now the best quarterback in the NFL, while another was a bust for his draft position, but still managed to play in the NFL for 14 season, making it to the Pro Bowl once. There's no real redeeming factor for Joey Harrington, of course, but I don't think that sample tells you a lot about Tedford's quarterback style matching the NFL.

There's also another fact: it's hard to blame Tedford the lack of development of his quarterbacks in the NFL. He wasn't coaching them in the NFL, after all. Is it really fair to him to downgrade him for making his quarterbacks look good enough to be first-round picks, even when they weren't worth it in hindsight?

A little perspective suddenly makes Tedford's history of coaching quarterbacks look a lot better.

Tedford's method of coaching quarterbacks

"If the quarterbacks will put in the work and put in the effort," Cal Bears radio analyst Mike Pawlawski told Booger & Rich of 98.7 The Fan, "Jeff will really produce quality quarterbacks in the system."

The most consistent criticism I've heard of Tedford's quarterbacks is that they look "robotic". I'm not even sure what that means, but it's probably a consequence of Tedford's comprehensive approach to orchestrating a passing game. Tedford wants to have every eventuality covered, and places a heavy focus on technique and mechanics. These are good things: they allow otherwise limited quarterbacks to succeed, which is exactly what happened for his quarterbacks in college.

Pawlawski related the "robotic" appearance of his quarterbacks to Tedford's attention to detail. "They all have the same exact release, the same exact technique[?]."

"Jeff will talk to guys about getting the ball up high, the that way you release your hands, the way the hands match when you throw, keeping your shoulders upright, keeping your footwork quick. He does all the things mechanically to develop guys to put them in the best position possible as a quarterback, so that when they make a read and they're going to deliver a pass, they can deliver that pass quickly and accurately."

This is what's been missing in Tampa over the past years. A large part of Josh Freeman's problems were mechanical: the way he dropped back, his release, his footwork -- all of it needed work, and yet recent coaches mostly talked about getting the mental part down rather than getting Freeman to deliver an accurate ball. And while Mike Glennon's mechanics are certainly better, they're far from perfect. He has an elongated release and his footwork can be a bit of a problem, especially on outside throws. If Tedford can help Glennon be more consistent in his mechanics, that would go a long way toward fixing Glennon's sometimes erratic ball placement.

That said, Tedford's mechanics aren't perfect. He teaches his quarterbacks to hold the ball very, very high, which is sub-optimal. The first thing the coaches in Green Bay did to fix Aaron Rodgers' mechanics is get him to lower where he held the ball. In the grand scope of things that's a minor thing, however, and looking at recent tape of his quarterbacks it looks like he's lowered his players' ball carriage.

In the film room

More important will be fixing Glennon's tendency to hold on to the ball rather than throwing it down the field. He's taken far too many sacks this season, and missed too many open receivers. Fixing that takes a lot of film room study, another one of Tedford's strong suits.

"[Tedford] really drills guys in the film room," Pawlawski told 98.7 The Fan. "And really drills guys in the offense, in terms of the whole strategy. What you're looking at, going through reads, what you're going to see. In terms of game film review I don't know if there are many guys that can do it like Jeff, that can grind like he does."

"It's not memorizing," Tedford told the AFM (via Smart Football). "You find a lot of times that kids will memorize, but they have to understand the whole concept, and the whole field." He did that even in college, where your time with players is very limited. It's an approach that will fit the NFL very well.

This places a significant burden on the quarterback, though. "He likes having all the answers to the tests going into the game," Trent Dilfer told the San Jose Mercury News. "If you can handle the load as quarterback, it's awesome. You never feel like you don't have an answer."

Tedford also asks his players to make checks at the line of scrimmage. "Most of the time the QB makes a choice of a few plays depending upon what he sees in the defense,"  a former special teams assistant told California Golden Blogs.

The downside to this approach is that it can slow a quarterback down. As with any position, reactions and play have to be ingrained so you're not thinking about mechanics, footwork and delaying your delivery of the ball. "If we feel like it's too much, we back off," Tedford told the San Jose Mercury News. "It wouldn't be very smart to just keep force-feeding things they aren't comfortable with."

Adjusting to your player's limitations? What a shocking concept.

Will this translate to the NFL?

There's no way to answer this question with any degree of certainty. Tedford has no history as an NFL coach, but everyone in the NFL appears to be convinced he'll do just fine. Six different NFL teams thought his quarterbacks were coached well enough to be first-round picks. In terms of complexity and passing concepts, at least, Tedford's offense is NFL ready.

Whether the Bucs will go with Mike Glennon or find another quarterback in the draft or elsewhere, it will be up to Jeff Tedford to get him ready to play and produce. I'm confident he'll get that done, and he has a solid history of coaching quarterbacks and improving their play. But the only way we can know whether his approach to teaching quarterbacks will work in the NFL, is by waiting and watching.

In part two of this series we'll talk about the running game and offensive line play, while part three will focus on the passing game and his approach to offense as a whole.