Gosselin: Green finds success as Aikman clone
Rick Gosselin: Green finds success as Aikman clone
07:53 PM CDT on Thursday, September 16, 2004
Take away his red helmet and give him a silver one, strip the arrowhead off the side and slap on a star, and switch his jersey number from 10 to 8. Then watch Kansas City quarterback Trent Green long enough and you'll see Troy Aikman.
It's not by chance.
Green emerged as an elite NFL quarterback in 2003 when he passed for his first 4,000-yard season on the way to his first Pro Bowl. That culminated a nine-year journey to the top – and game tapes of Aikman were with him every snap along the way.
Green was an eighth-round draft pick by San Diego in 1993 who stuck with the Chargers that season as the third quarterback and 16-game inactive. But he wasn't ready for the NFL. That became evident when he was cut the following summer and spent the 1994 season in the Canadian Football League.
Green knew he had the arm and head to play in the NFL. But everything else about his game was a mess. He needed a lot of work on his mechanics and wondered if he'd ever find a coach with the patience for such a project.
That coach turned out to be Norv Turner, who was entering his second season as head coach of the Redskins. Washington already had two young quarterbacks on the roster in Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte. But like most offensive gurus, Turner believed you can never have enough quarterbacks.
So Turner invited Green in for a workout and liked what he saw of the young player's tools. The Redskins signed Green that same day. But he didn't take an NFL snap until the final game of his third season with the Redskins. With Shuler and Frerotte getting all the work, Green had plenty of idle time in season and out.
Turner had been the offensive coordinator at Dallas when the Cowboys won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992-93. He called the plays that made Aikman, halfback Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin household names.
Green hoped one day to become for Turner what Aikman had been, so he began studying the Dallas quarterback.
"Norv had walls and walls of all the Dallas tapes, so I'd stop by in the off-season, especially my first two years, and take five or six of them," Green said. "I'd tell him I was going to study them. I put the different protections on one tape, the blitzes on another. Norv was putting in a new offense, and Troy was our reference point."
Aikman is considered by a host of NFL insiders as the most accurate passer in history – a quarterback who shredded defenses with perfect fundamentals, perfect reads and perfect execution. It was easy for Green to see why the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in a span of four years.
"I didn't have the best mechanics coming out of Indiana," Green said. "I wanted to refine them. So I'd watch Troy. I'd watch his release, the way he worked his feet, his dropbacks, the way he moved in the pocket. He was so fundamentally sound.
"I tended to be a big overstrider when I was in college and early in my career. You'd see how compact Troy was, his quick release. And he ran that offense so efficiently. It was [Daryl] Johnston to [Jay] Novacek to [Alvin] Harper ... Johnston to Novacek to Irvin. It was boom-boom-boom the way he went through his reads. I watched hours and hours and hours of Troy."
It paid off. When Green finally became a starter – in his fifth season – he passed for 3,441 yards and 23 touchdowns for the Redskins. He signed with St. Louis as a free agent that off-season and went to training camp as the starter.
But Green suffered a knee injury in an exhibition game that ended his season – and Kurt Warner wound up directing the Rams to the Super Bowl. A year later, the Rams traded Green to Kansas City, where he has emerged as the franchise's most productive passer since Hall of Famer Len Dawson.
Green has topped 3,600 yards passing in all three of his seasons in Kansas City and has thrown a combined 50 touchdowns the last two years. A 55 percent passer in college, Green has completed better than 61 percent of his throws each of the last two seasons.
When Green watches himself on tape, he sees Aikman in his feet, compact delivery and accuracy. Turner also sees a resemblance in style.
"I see similarities in the way the ball comes out of there," said Turner of his two prize pupils.
Green doesn't watch the Aikman tapes anymore.
"But I still have them at home," Green said. "I don't think Norv knows I even have them."
"Tell Trent I want my tapes back," Turner said.