By Mickey Spagnola
May 19, 2005, 5:51 PM (CDT)
- On one hand you have a 10-game NFL Europe season. On the other you have a five-month semester worth of Quarterback 303.
Overseas, you face live competition. In the bubble, you get private tutoring.
Playing in a league void of talent, you might end up throwing 200 passes in the season, and maybe another 2,000 over the course of practice. Just working out on homeland soil, while also getting in some serious conditioning, you will wind up throwing more than 6,000 passes.
The Cowboys had a hard decision to make back in February: Send Drew Henson, and maybe even Tony Romo, to NFL Europe or keep the two young quarterbacks on the premises to be groomed under the watchful eyes of Sean Payton and David Lee.
The previous year, they did the European thing with Chad Hutchinson, and proceeded to watch him get beat up playing behind an offensive line not even worthy of practice squad status.
This time, they just said no to Europe.
"The feeling was they would be better off staying here," assistant head coach Sean Payton said. "Having them under our umbrella would be better than continuing to play games with certain fundamental flaws.
"So when all was settled, we decided let's get these guys for a solid year and not send them off somewhere else. This way we could work on what we want to work on. Let's keep them on campus."
Thus began the semester-long quarterback school out here at The Ranch, and it will continue as the Cowboys head toward next weekend's mandatory, full-squad, three-day mini-camp, which will be the first time for all to see just how much progress these young quarterbacks have made.
My guess is, Henson will have made the most progress, but mostly because he had the most ground to cover. Talent aside, let's remember Romo arrived here in 2003 having started three full seasons of football games, and no matter they were Division I-AA. He was playing, and well enough to be voted the best player in I-AA ball that 2002 season at Eastern Illinois.
Henson, he was playing baseball those three years. No football. In fact, Romo started more games any one of those three years at Eastern Illinois than the eight Henson had his entire three-years at Michigan.
So with Romo, the Cowboys were "refining."
With Henson, they were making "adjustments."
Hey, you don't need to be Bill Parcells. We saw it last year: Henson's release throwing the football too much resembled that of a third baseman throwing a baseball. Too much three-quarters. Not enough over the top.
So the work began there, getting Henson to keep his elbow up when throwing the ball, parallel with his shoulder. That should help his accuracy and his velocity - also with keeping a spiral on the ball when it leaves his hand.
Those are the reasons for a more over-the-top release than any worry of getting balls batted at the line of scrimmage.
"The myth is, in games you throw over offensive linemen," Payton said. "The reality is, you throw in lanes."
He means in the space opened up by the blocking schemes of the offensive linemen spreading out the defensive linemen so there is an alley to throw the ball through.
Then there is the matter of when you release the ball. Evidently, Henson was a little off there, too. The coaching staff detected him pushing his passes instead of snapping them off. Holding onto the ball too long reduces your velocity.
And, if that wasn't enough, because Henson was throwing from three-quarters, at times he had the ball lying too flat in his hand, which tended to bend out at a 45-degree angle. Evidently - hey I just listen to what I'm told because I've never been able to throw a football well - that reduces the spiral and causes problems throwing in the wind.
"Just trying to make it all as efficient as possible," Payton said. "We are just trying to make some subtle adjustments. It's not about a total overhaul."
So maybe this gives you a much better idea of why the Cowboys preferred having Henson, and Romo, too, here at The Ranch working on mechanics rather than trying to read defenses under the pressure of games and playing against guys who might never, ever play in the NFL.
Plus, think of it this way. By time these guys finish with the off-season workouts, including the five practices during this upcoming mini-camp and then four days of on-field teaching sessions after Memorial Day, they will have thrown well over 6,000 passes out here I'm guessing.
Had they gone to Europe, well, look at it this way: Houston's Dave Ragone leads the league with 178 attempts in eight games. If you practice three days a week, you might throw 50 or so passes a day in practice. Heck, let's be really liberal. Say 100. Add that up over a 10-week season, and that will come to about half the throws these guys will have made.
Plus, you have them working with your guys, Payton, the guy coordinating the pass offense, and Lee, a real technician in Parcells' eyes, who has been promoted this off-season to quarterbacks coach. Lee had done a heckuva job in the college ranks teaching guys the intricacies of throwing the football, going all the way back to his days at Ole Miss when he turned a very unrefined, hully-gully quarterback John Fourcade into a decent enough passer to eventually have played a few years in the NFL with the Saints.
"They're kind of like at the driving range so far," said Payton, the analogy appropriate since we were standing at Cowboys Golf Course the other day talking after his round of golf.
That means next weekend will sort of be like playing in a scramble. Qualifying begins in training camp. Then you'll really be able to tell just how far these quarterbacks have come in the off-season.
If the Cowboys have their druthers, they won't ever see Henson or Romo play a real round during the season, meaning two things: Drew Bledsoe plays well and the 33-year-old quarterback remains as healthy as the 41-year old Vinny Testaverde did this past season. Because if you are reading the tea leaves here, the idea is to put these young, inexperienced guys through quarterback school, not quarterback shock, then play them when - and if - they show they are properly prepared.
Because let's remember, one guy wasn't even drafted and the other has started nine football games since high school.
Now if you have to, think of it, you know, sort of like college. They don't throw you into the operating room for open-heart surgery your first semester of med school. Probably not your second, either.
Let the classes continue. MICK SHOTS
OK, before you inundate me with emails about L.J. Shelton getting released by Arizona, forget about it. The Cardinals had been trying to trade him prior to the draft, and including to the Cowboys. The Cowboys weren't interested. Evidently, he's not a great worker, and being out of shape got him in Denny Green's doghouse, which is pretty hard to do. So you could imagine what Parcells' patience would be with a guy like that. The Cards were so fed up with him, they are eating $3.3 million of cap space, and didn't even wait another two weeks to spread the hit over two years. And at the Cowboys' other sore spot, free safety, apparently Lance Schulters will be turned loose by Tennessee after June 1. The Titans even told Schulters to just watch mini-camp, not even wanting to chance the seven-year veteran injuring himself. He has refused to lessen this year's base salary of $2.75 million to make enough of a difference to the cap-strapped Titans even after collecting a $250,000 roster bonus. Again, the Cowboys will take a hard look at the candidates during this next mini-camp before making any sort of decision. Just remember Schulters' Lis Franc foot injury last year limited him to just three games.
Encouraging news about Chris Canty came when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Wednesday said the fourth-round draft choice was not expected to spend the first six weeks of the season on PUP. By Sept. 11, he will be nearly 10 months removed from reconstructive knee surgery.
Evidently where there is an Original Whizzinator, there is a fire. Reports out of Minnesota are suggesting Vikings running back Onterrio Smith will be suspended one year for allegedly missing a league-administered drug test, which is as good as a positive test. Smith was suspended the first four games last year for violating the league