I want a guy who is smart. He doesn’t have to be the smartest guy on the team, but it helps if he is, because of his job, from a mental standpoint, is more challenging than any other position. —Jeff Grimes
Editor’s Note: Third in a series of stories examining the quarterback philosophy of BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
PROVO — If you check BYU football history, the single biggest factor in producing a league champion, a ranked team, or a team that finishes with double-digit wins is the play of the quarterback.
The surrounding cast is always crucial, of course, but if this program doesn’t have a healthy leader and producer at the helm, it wobbles through a schedule.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes believes the most important trait in a quarterback is his competitive spirit. Second is accuracy. Third is toughness. Weighing in at fourth is another coveted characteristic: his brain.
Is he smart? Is he savvy? Does he have a high football IQ and feel for the game? Does he possess that innate ability to figure things out in the heat of battle as pressure mounts and the weight of it all falls on his shoulders and arm?
Grimes is a Texan. He comes from a place where football is a religion. And it’s where quarterbacks are commanders.
“I want a guy who is smart,” said Grimes. “He doesn’t have to be the smartest guy on the team, but it helps if he is, because of his job, from a mental standpoint, is more challenging than any other position.”
You don’t turn the keys of a six-speed Ferrari over to a guy if he’s been stuck operating automatic transmissions.
The crossroads of where smarts come into play is the ability to make quick decisions, said Grimes, whose work as LSU’s offensive line coach ended New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame.
“He needs to be quick at reading the defense prior to the snap, and after the ball is snapped as he views the defense," Grimes explained. "At times, I’d like him to be able to check us into the proper play. I can do that as a play caller, but it’s better if the quarterback can do that in some cases because he can do it quicker.”
Grimes said these days it has become even more important because of no-huddle offenses that check their play at the line of scrimmage, and the defense does the same.
“You call the play or simulate the beginning of the play, and then you check what the defense looks like with the play call. You then check the defense and you might call a different play or you just choose from a menu what play to call from that formation based on what you see in the defense.
“The defense sees that (a quarterback checking with the sideline coach) and they counter-check their defense. Well, almost every defense in the country can do that now. But if the quarterback can check the play, do it quickly enough that the defense doesn’t have an opportunity to check their play and say ‘hut’ before the defense can do anything? That’s what an intelligent quarterback can do.”
A smart QB quickly makes decisions inside of a play.
Grimes said a smart quarterback can go through route progression and make decisions fast. “A lot of it has to do with anticipation. A guy’s intelligence and knowledge level gives the appearance of a guy with a real strong arm when he may not have the quickest motion. He may not have the strongest arm but the ball can get to where it needs to go quicker because he anticipates where it has to go.”
This is a trait displayed well by BYU All-Americans like Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Steve Young.
Grimes said this is kind of like the character in the movie series “The Matrix.”
“The game slows down for you if you are smart enough.”
The fifth most important quarterback trait for Grimes may surprise some that it isn’t higher: athleticism.
“Obviously, there are different types of athletes who play quarterback,” he said. “I’ve been around a guy like Cam Newton who can do just about anything you ask him to do and he’ll do it. So, with Cam, it wasn’t what can he do, but what do we want him to do.
“Then there are other types of quarterbacks who have the ability to keep the ball on a zone read or maybe he’s a more physical guy who can run power read if you want to run it between the tackles and you have a running back who is circling the defense with his speed. Either of those is positives.
“The ability of a quarterback to be a ball carrier has really changed the game of football," Grimes continued. "You’ve seen how it has evolved the last 15 years as quarterbacks have become more athletic and defenses have had to go back to where it was a bunch of years ago where the quarterback was actually a real run threat.”
What that gives an offense, said the coach, is something the defense has to worry about, scheme and account for. It makes it harder for them to try and stop one particular guy.
“If your guy isn’t a runner, the defense just has to worry about the tailback as a run threat. I have some other ways to deal with that if we have to. But it’s positive if the quarterback can run some, but he doesn’t have to be great. If he is capable, can make four yards on a zone read or something like that, then it is a real positive.”
If you don't have blazing speed, effective mobility helps.
“You at least have to have a guy, if he can’t outrun people, is athletic enough and has enough feel and moxie to move around the pocket, escape pressure and extend plays with his legs and deliver the ball down the field.”
Again, Grimes said there are different types of athleticism (speed and size). “But a guy has to have at least one of those things if not both.”
Size and height in a quarterback are nice also, he said, but it isn’t absolute. “I’d like to have a guy with both of those but it isn’t necessary for him to be successful.
"It’s nice to have enough size and strength to pull himself out of a bad situation, a guy who can take a hit and not allow it to affect him; a guy who can take it between the tackles on a third-and-six on a draw, or a quarterback counter on a third-and-10 can really change the offense. A guy who isn’t big can still have enough strength to make a difference.”
In the half dozen QBs Grimes will see at BYU this spring, he’s got a buffet of such prospects, especially with the addition of freshmen Zach Wilson and Stacy Conner, who both graduated from high school early, and he has speed in returning missionary Jaren Hall.
Next: Grimes explains the relative importance of arm strength, size and leadership in quarterbacks.