Mobilility has Consequences Stay in the Pocket
By: Michael Hejmej
When participating in a fast-paced, punishing sport that involves the constant smashing of lightly-equipped bodies, where the aim is to either advance or to cease advancement on a confined field, it is highly likely that an injury will occur — unless you are an NFL quarterback. Because as an NFL quarterback you are protected. Protected by the NFL, coaches, teammates. But even with the protection in place, NFL quarterbacks are still getting injured.
Injuries happen; they are part of the game. Physical injuries can be managed and treated but a mental injury resulting from a concussion may never be healed.
Seventy-seven NFL players suffered concussions in 2012. Six were quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks are more mobile than ever — Carolina’s Cam Newton, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick are some of the fastest. Griffin and Vick both run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds with Cam Newton not to far behind at 4.6 seconds. Not only do they have strong accurate arms, but they are also nifty and improvisational when it comes to buying more time to pass or finding empty space to run. These players present more of an advantage than your standard pocket passing quarterback. Cam Newton is 6’5, 245 lbs. His size has contributed to his success running the ball. A quarterback as fast a halfback who runs and thinks like a halfback is going to be hit like a halfback. Cam Newton has yet to be injured, the others haven’t been so lucky.
Michael Vick suffered two concussions and never returned to the field this season. Robert Griffin was knocked out with a mild concussion during his matchup against the Atlanta Falcons on October 7th but returned the following week. Sticking with his run and gun mentality, Griffin brought the Washington Redskins to the playoffs. The Redskins ended up losing the playoff game. Griffin was watching from the sidelines. He was crushed while scrambling, tearing his right lateral collateral ligament. Griffin is now out 6-8 months, delaying his return to after the start of next season.
An NFL player spends most of his week in practice as games are played weekly. During practice, the quarterbacks are never tackled — a precautionary measure. The quarterback does not partake in any hard-hitting drills. He performs the routines just like everyone else because risking an injury during practice is irrational.
Quarterbacks are taught to stay in the passing pocket while delivering a pass. The “pocket” is the small amount of space that is formed for the quarterback by the offensive lineman holding their blocks post-snap. If a sack occurred in the pocket, it is likely that the defenders momentum was halted somewhat by an offensive lineman making the impact of the blow less destructive. However, if a quarterback were to leave the pocket it leaves him susceptible to unblocked defenders.
Speed kills unless you exit the highway early. If a quarterback must run, he could always run the ball out of bounds. Once a player has stepped out of bounds the play has ended. A hit to anyone at this point will be considered unnecessary roughness penalizing the defense fifteen yards.
When a non-running pocket quarterback is blitzed by the defense he has a bevy of options without risking severe injury. An offensive lineman is the taught to ride and push the defender passed the quarterback behind the play if he is beat at the line of scrimmage, giving the quarterback ability to step up or run horizontally along the line of scrimmage in hopes of finding an open receiver. If a receiver doesn’t break free, the quarterback can always throw the ball out of bounds, accepting a play with no gain as opposed to a possible loss of yards. A common technique used by the slow-footed quarterback is to simply step up in the pocket. They set up a yard or two closer to the line scrimmage allowing an extra second to complete a pass as the defenders are for the most part behind them.
The NFL makes it safe for a quarterback to thrive yet teams continually take chances on many run-first quarterbacks. It is not about getting a few yards anymore. Quarterbacks are effectively running the ball for huge gains successfully finagling through defenses in hope of grabbing every yard possible resembling a halfback. Teams are lining up to invest in the new phenomenon. Agile quarterbacks are proving to be beneficial but at what cost?
Teams invest millions into quarterbacks because they have the least chance of getting injured. Halfbacks are not considered long time investments and it is out of the ordinary to see halfbacks have long careers. The pounding halfbacks take day-by-day play a toll on their longevity. Thus, they are thought of as expendable and are not paid as much. The NFL doesn't even guarantee contracts, they know how often players are hurt. If you get injured, you can be cut — cut from the team and cut from the salary roll instantly.
When you invest money into a players, especially a quarterback, you expect them to help you compete, not watch from the sidelines. Leave the running to the halfback and secure your investment.
Do you see Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Eli Manning on the sidelines with injuries? No. That is because they have learned that the pocket is their friend.