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WHAT MAKES A TOP NFL QUARTERBACK? IT'S PHYSICAL, MENTAL - THE WORKS

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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: MICHAEL WORKMAN - Tom Brady, holding the Super Bowl Vince Lombardi Trophy, epitomizes a lot of what makes an NFL quarterback great.The brew that results in premier NFL quarterbacks — an elite club that includes elder statesmen Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — is mixed with many ingredients.

"You're born with it, No. 1," says Dan Fouts, 64, the former University of Oregon standout who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Chargers. "You have it or you don't.

"On the physical side are so many things, including arm strength and toughness. The mental part of it is what it really is about. Then there is the experience you gain with every practice, every game, ever year in the league. All these things factor into it."

Matt Moore, a former Oregon State QB now a backup with the Miami Dolphins in his ninth NFL season, values toughness more than anything.

"Both mentally and physically, you have to be tougher than most," says Moore, 31. "You have to have the tangibles — arm strength, height, weight — but you also need a dedication to preparation, and to be able to persevere and overcome adversity. Everybody talks about the X factor, which is leadership and how teammates and coaches and people in the organization respond to you as a quarterback."

June Jones' perspective comes from his time as a player (five years as a backup QB from 1977-81) and coach (head coach with Atlanta and San Diego) in the NFL.

"The No. 1 thing all the great ones have is the (passing) accuracy," said Jones, 62, who played for Mouse Davis at Portland State. "There are all different kinds of arms. John Elway and Dan Marino had strong arms. Joe Montana had, and Manning and Brady have, in-between arms — not cannons, but accurate. Then there is the ability to prepare and be a leader to their teammates. Those two factors — accuracy and leadership — make the great ones."

"Size and stature doesn't hurt," says Chris Miller, 50, another ex-UO great who played 10 years in NFL (1987-95 and 1999), starting 92 games. "It's a big man's position. They'd like you to be 6-4 to 6-6. I was 6-2. Montana was 6-2, Steve Young 6-1. Drew Brees is 6-foot and Russell Wilson 5-11, but the majority of the guys are big, physical quarterbacks.

"Arm strength is critical. Accuracy is critical. The release is critical. Football IQ is critical. You can't play in today's game without being able to process things extremely quickly. Then there are the intangibles, including leadership qualities. You have to get the whole locker room and the coaching staff to believe in you."

Joey Harrington, another former UO standout who played seven seasons (2002-08) with Detroit, Miami, Atlanta and New Orleans, puts a twist to Miller's last point.

"You have to have total confidence in yourself, no matter what the situation, to the point of arrogance, while still being able to maintain an accessibility and being somebody your teammates want to follow," says Harrington, 37, who was 26-50 as a starter in the NFL. "That's the key. There are only a handful of people who can do it really well. To be able to do that at that level, you've got to have an ego and confidence in yourself like no other.

"But that can't ever come across as arrogance, or you run the risk of turning away your teammates. You can cross that line as long as you win. All anybody wants to do in the NFL is win."

Warren Moon, who played at 6-3 and 220, emphasizes the size aspect, but knows NFL quarterbacking goes beyond that, too.

"Some guys break the mold like Russ," says Moon, 59, another Hall-of-Famer who played 17 years in the NFL (1984-2000) after a six-year career in the Canadian Football League. "But you like them 6-2 to 6-5, with an arm where you can make all the throws — deep, intermediate and short — with accuracy. Accuracy is more important than arm strength.

"You need intelligence and a command of what you're doing — not only your job, but everybody else on the offense. That helps you understand the offense more; your teammates might need your help. That's one of the things you do as a leader. Work ethic is huge. When guys see the quarterback is that hardest worker on the team, that makes them follow suit.

"Mental toughness is really important. You go through so many ups and downs as a quarterback. You have to have a short memory, process and move on."

Derek Anderson says in judging an NFL quarterback, "half of it is mental, half of it is physical."

"You start with the ability to throw at different speeds, pace and arc depending on the situation," says Anderson, 32, the former Oregon State star who, in his 11th NFL season, is backup to Cam Newton with Carolina. "Not every throw is a laser. You have to see windows of opportunity. And you have to have the ability to adjust on the fly, to what is happening around you, to what your teammates are giving you and what the opposing defense is doing. You have to get yourself in the right spot and make the right throw."

There is a difference of opinion on the physical/mental aspect.

"Everybody puts way too much weight on the physical stuff like arm strength," says Neil Lomax, 56, twice a Pro Bowl selection during his eight-year career with the Cardinals (1981-88). "The mental part and intelligence is way overlooked. The most important part to me is the soul, the spiritual component. What makes that guy tick? What's the third dimension that is out there?"

Davis, Lomax's coach at Portland State, sees it another way.

"Football is not a game of high IQs," says Davis, 83, the guru of the "run-and-shoot" offense that was the precursor to today's passing game. "It's a game built to operate within a system. It's more important to have physical abilities than high football IQ. That's overrated."

Davis says some with the potential for greatness never get the opportunity.

"You can get a great kid, if he's not in the right system, he's still just a guy," says Davis, who coached Jim Kelly with the United States Football League Houston Gamblers and spent time as an NFL quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with Detroit and Atlanta. "So many of them are almost dead before they go in. They don't have a shot because of the situation they're in. There are a lot of great ones out there who never got the chance to become great ones."

Terry Baker, Harrington and Akili Smith could be in that category.

"The makeup of the team and the style of football the team plays are big factors," says Baker, the 1962 Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon State. "For my style, I could have done better elsewhere in a different environment.

"When you go to the worst team in the league, you know what you're getting," says Baker, 74, the No. 1 pick in the 1963 draft by Los Angeles who lasted only three seasons with the Rams before moving on to a career in law. "My coach, Harland Svare, saw me in Hawaii before my rookie season. I had on a T-shirt that I bought at a place called 'The Barefoot Bar,' with a big foot on the back of the shirt. He said, 'You're going to have that foot on the front of your shirt in a couple of weeks.'"

Smith and Harrington were both No. 3 overall picks — Smith by Cincinnati in 1999, Harrington by Detroit in 2002 — who never got traction as NFL quarterbacks nor played for a winner.

"The elite guys — Manning, Brady, Brees, Aaron Rodgers and so on — stick them anywhere and they can win," Harrington says. "Then you have maybe 14 guys who are very good quarterbacks, but if you placed them in another situation, they wouldn't be that successful, because they're not supported in the right way. There are probably another 15 backups out there who, in a different situation, they'd be good quarterbacks. I believe that 100 percent.

"It goes back to confidence. Having success breeds confidence. Having a coaching staff support you helps you have that. I wasn't prepared to deal with not being in the right situations. Consequently I lost confidence and the ability to be there. It really is about being in the right place at the right time."

Smith was taken in a draft in which five quarterbacks were taken among the top dozen picks — Tim Couch to Cleveland at No. 1, Donovan McNabb to Philadelphia at No. 2, Smith at No. 3, Daunte Culpepper to Minnesota at No. 11 and Cade McNown to Chicago at No. 12.

McNabb wound up as a six-time All-Pro selection and played 13 years. The first 11 years were with the Eagles, who went 5-11 his rookie year, then won at least 11 games each of the next five seasons. Culpepper lasted 11 seasons, starting 100 games, with a career record of 41-59. Couch, Smith and McNown had undistinguished careers with lousy teams.

"Imagine if Couch had gone No. 2 to Philadelphia, or maybe to Minnesota, which was more stable at the time," says Smith, 40, who had five touchdown passes with 13 interceptions in his career. "It's all about going to the right organization, the right coaching staff, the right system. The Bengals organization wasn't very good when I was there. (Current coach) Marvin Lewis has done a marvelous job. To this day, I wish I had the opportunity to play for him."

But not all of the great quarterbacks played for great teams. Fouts spent all of his 15 seasons in San Diego (1973-87) and never played in a Super Bowl. Marino played in only one, and didn't win.

Lomax caught the eye of NFL scouts with his record-setting performance in Davis' run-and-shoot offense at Portland State.

"If I didn't have Mouse Davis in college, I would not have been in the pros," says Lomax, who ranks No. 2 on the Cardinals' career passing yardage list and whose single-season record (4,614 in 1984) was broken this season by Carson Palmer (4,671).

"I truly believe I would not have made it," says Lomax, who now works with "3D Coaching," mentoring and educating high school coaches in the state of Oregon. "I felt my physical, mental and spiritual sides were pretty damn good for NFL standards, but if I didn't have Mouse and that system, no one would have found me."

Most of the legends wound up with talent around them.

"Montana didn't have the greatest arm, but he had Jerry Rice and players around him to make him look good," says Baker, now retired and living in Portland. "No question, though, Montana was a terrific quarterback who was the biggest key to (San Francisco) winning those Super Bowls. All of the great ones are good leaders who have a lot of respect from their teammates, and they tend to perform in the clutch more often than not."

Moore says the game is getting more difficult for NFL quarterbacks.

"Defensive players are so much better than they used to be," he says. "The play clock in your head has to be quicker. Your reads are coming to you that much quicker. Escapability from the pass rush is crucial. Russell Wilson is redefining that with his athletic ability and sense for when to take off.

"You have to know where you're going with the ball. As soon as the ball snaps, you have to make the correct read. By the time you check down to (the third option), you usually have to move in the pocket and make something happen. That's the biggest part that's changed. You used to be able to go through your reads in a nice progression, but now you never have five seconds."

Says Lomax: "It's a third-down league nowadays. When I played, only Fouts, Marino and a few of us threw for 4,000 yards in a season. Now there are 12 guys a year doing it. That's why there is so much more pressure on the quarterback — how do we get the ball downfield quicker faster and score more points?"

The premier quarterbacks are now calling more plays at the line of scrimmage.

"I heard stories about Johnny Unitas calling his own plays," Harrington says. "But in the '80s and early '90s, they wanted an NFL quarterback to simply be a big, strong arm, somebody to execute somebody else's plan. Guys like Peyton and Tom and Drew have taken it back to the point where they have become the de facto offensive coordinator. They are in control of the game."

There have been running quarterbacks throughout NFL history, but the ability to escape the pass rush and make things happen has never been at more of a premium.

"What you're seeing is more of a willingness for coaches to let their really athletic quarterbacks run," says Fouts, the first NFL quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in three successive seasons. "The pro game hasn't changed all that much. Most pass offenses are designed to be thrown from the pocket. Look at the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks through the years. They're mostly drop-back quarterbacks.

"It has changed some because of the headliners like Newton and Wilson. It's always a great asset to have when things break down. If you study the mobile quarterbacks, the guys who buy time moving in the pocket or escaping the rush and looking to throw are more successful and valuable. I'm thinking of Ben Roethlisberger and Rodgers, too."

"The athletes on defense nowadays are amazing," Miller says. "There are so many big bodies who can run. Vince Wilfork is 325, a monstrous guy but an incredible athlete. You have guys up front like J.J. Watt, Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata chasing you. You have to be mobile. Even Peyton and Tom move well enough in the pocket to buy that split second to get the rock out."

"Mobility is an advantage, no question," says Jones, now living in Hawaii. "Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Wilson, Rodgers — they all have the ability to sidestep and move around in the pocket. Wilson and Rodgers might be the best at recognizing when to pull it in and take advantage of their running ability. But some of the run stuff they do with the spread in college, you just can't do that in the NFL. Quarterbacks are too valuable."

Jones doesn't mention Newton, who might be in a class by himself. The 6-5, 250-pound Carolina QB is a multi-dimensional weapon who has come into his own as an MVP candidate this season. Moon, who for years has trained quarterback prospects such as Newton and Andrew Luck for the NFL combine and Pro Day, points out Newton set a rookie record for passing yardage.

"He just didn't have the team around him then," says Moon, who ranks seventh in career regular-season passing yardage and ninth in regular-season touchdown passes and was the TD passes leader when he retired. "Now, (the Panthers) have a better defense, they can run the ball, and he doesn't have to do as much as he had to do when he first came in.

"I never doubted he was going to be successful, because he's such a physical specimen. You don't see many of those down the pike."

Miller was quarterbacks coach at Arizona and interviewed Newton prior to the NFL combine.

"I had to look up when we spoke," Miller says. "He's impressive with his stature and his physicality. He's not afraid to run guys over. Linebackers look at him and say, 'Damn, this guy's bigger than I am.' He has really matured as a quarterback and a leader. He is extremely polished, even compared to last year."

Anderson gets a first-hand look as Newton's backup.

"It's been a progression since he came into the league, the things he has done along the way to improve every single year," Anderson says. "What he does in the no-huddle and getting us in the right play at the line of scrimmage. … He is seeing the game as good as I've ever seen anybody do it. What Cam is doing has revolutionized the quarterback position with the ability to run the football and to throw from the pocket, but also to make plays on the run.

"There isn't a guy in the league right now who has his ability. He runs the 40 in 4.5 and throws the ball as good as anybody, and he has grown mentally. It's kind of scary that he's only 26."

Moon says the proliferation of the spread offenses in college football has negatively impacted quarterbacks' pro readiness.

"The guys come into the league less prepared to play the pro game, and they're not given as much time to develop," says Moon, now radio analyst for the Seattle Seahawks. "They have to play more quickly. The quarterback position isn't as strong as it should be from top to bottom.

"There is a big drop-off after the top 15, and for the young guys like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, guys who never called a play in the huddle or took a snap from center in college, it's a struggle. They almost have to retrain those guys. That's what I did with Cam. I had to teach him to take a snap and learn the fundamentals of the 3-, 5- and 7-step drop.

"Andrew was more pro-ready, because he came out of a pro-style offense. But this newer group, say the last five years … it's unfortunate. They're not used to throwing the ball in rhythm and timing passes. In the spread, you don't throw timing routes."

Fouts believes that experience is the key component that has kept Brady and Manning at the top of their game for so many years.

"Picture in your mind the scales of justice," Fouts says. "You start out your career, one side is loaded with talent without any knowledge. The more you play, it starts to even out. By the prime of your career, (talent and knowledge) are even. Beyond your prime, you're full of all this knowledge as your physical skills diminish. The experience I gained help me stay productive in my latter years."

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