By: Pete Thamel - Yahoo! Sports
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – One year ago, at the debut of the QB Collective camp, a precocious young offensive coordinator from the Washington Redskins came to Westlake High School to teach NFL quarterbacking nuances like drop-back footwork, play-action passing and downfield reads to elite high school players. Sean McVay arrived at the field to see Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, throwing routes with his Los Angeles Rams teammates on the school’s turf field.
One year later, McVay returned to the QB Collective camp as the youngest head coach in NFL history. His career trajectory and a franchise’s fate are tied to his ability to pass on the camp counselor conundrum he’d tackled the prior year: How do you take talented young quarterbacks with extensive backgrounds in spread-offense systems and streamline their development? McVay, 31, chuckled at the serendipity of it all. “It’s a small world,” he said.
The small world McVay joked about comes in part because of the basic disconnect between NFL offenses and the spread and tempo schemes that have proliferated in high school and college for the past 15 years. As the game has spread out and sped up, evaluating the quarterback position has become one of the trickiest formulas in all of sports. “When you look at the quarterback position, it’s the most important position in all of sports,” McVay said. “It’s also the most difficult.”
The collision of top NFL offensive minds – McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Mike Shanahan – with 30 of the elite high school quarterback prospects at the second annual Quarterback Collective camp in mid-July was designed to bridge the yawning gap between the basics of NFL offenses and the lower levels of football. The QB Collective, founded by former NFL player and coach Richmond Flowers, has turned into a high-level X-and-O boot camp for the country’s top young quarterbacks. The invitation-only camp is free for the participants, and it’s billed by Flowers as the “anti-showcase.” Instead, it’s awash in drill work, reading defenses and a ballet instructor’s focus on footwork from coaches who volunteer their time to teach. The details are taught by NFL assistants, former NFL quarterbacks and top private quarterback tutors. It’s Flowers’ long-term goal for the instruction, ideals and philosophies taught at the QB Collective to become a syllabus of sorts for the skills necessary to play the position at the highest level.
The camp comes at a fascinating time for quarterback play. The NFL has never been closer for top high school prospects but the skill sets between the levels has seemingly never been further away. The top five quarterbacks drafted by the NFL in 2017 came from spread systems. In college last year, 84 percent of snaps came from either the shotgun or pistol formation, according to ESPN. This comes at a time that five-star quarterback recruits find themselves aiming for a three-year college plan, as blue-chip quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater, Deshaun Watson and Josh Rosen accelerated their academic schedules to graduate early. Quarterbacks like Goff, who played in a spread Air Raid system his three years at Cal, arrive with big statistics – 43 TD passes his final season – but little basic understanding of pro offenses. “It’s effective offense,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of college spread systems. “These guys are putting up 50 points a game and 600 yards. They shouldn’t change. That’s going to help them win.”
But winning in college doesn’t always translate to the NFL, which the campers at the QB Collective appeared to be noticing at an early age. As the world between high school and the NFL shrinks, a compelling tension has risen. Will more of the country’s top young quarterbacks eschew spread- and tempo-based systems for more direct NFL training at pro-style programs like Stanford, Alabama and Michigan? Has the desire for a quick path to the NFL altered the recruiting paradigm?