In 2013, his first season as general manager of the Panthers, Dave Gettleman signed quarterback Colby Cameron from Louisiana Tech as an undrafted rookie. It didn’t take long for Gettleman to recognize that was a bad decision.
“He was in that spread no-huddle system [in college],” Gettleman told Newsday on Friday. “I felt awful for the kid, but in August our quarterback coach was still in the huddle with him helping him make the huddle call. This kid was a three-and-a-half-year starter at a Division I school.”
Cameron didn’t make the team out of training camp and never had another shot in the NFL. (He’s currently playing in the X League in Japan.)
The experience opened Gettleman’s eyes to the tremendous gap between what quarterbacks have done in college and what they will be expected to do in the NFL. And it is a lesson he will carry with him this spring as he heads toward a potential franchise-altering draft pick in April.
The Giants have the No. 2 overall selection with a bevy of highly touted quarterbacks available. The big decision for Gettleman, in his first draft as general manager of the Giants, will be whether he wants to invest that high pick in a potential quarterback of the future. The bigger question for Gettleman is whether any of the prospects will be able to become one.
That winds up being more a leap of faith than something that can be determined by watching film or interviewing players.
“Obviously you get some of these guys with the spread systems,” he said. “There are six things that a lot of these kids have never done that, to me, is Quarterback 101 through 106.”
Gettleman rattled them off: Making a huddle call, identifying a mike linebacker, making a protection call, taking a snap from center, calling an audible and throwing a hot route.
“Those are six things that you have to do in our league,” he said. “Really, how many of them have ever done it?”
In this particular draft among the top prospects, quite a few actually. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen all spent a good deal of time playing in a pro-style offense in college. The two Heisman Trophy-winners though, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, were exclusively spread quarterbacks. That doesn’t mean the Giants won’t draft either of them, but it could help whittle down their intentions as the draft looms near.
It’s not only quarterbacks who are handicapped by the spread offenses, by the way.
“The offensive linemen are guys who have been in two-point stances their whole lives, that’s a big adjustment,” Gettleman said. “There are secondary guys who went to colleges that played either press man or zone so now they have to figure out the other half. So you have a lot of that stuff. Wide receivers with limited route trees. There are wide receivers that come out that for basically their whole college career have run three routes in these systems. You talk about the learning curve and the ability to do it. That’s why I’m so into how football smart is he, how much natural football intelligence does he have?”
Quarterbacks, because of the investment and high profile of the position, are the biggest gamble when it comes to making those leaps. Gettleman, though, said he breaks them down just as he would any other player.
“Maybe I’m an old fart,” he said, “but I don’t see it as any different.”
So what is Gettleman looking for from the quarterbacks he’ll be seeing at the Combine this week? From possibly a quarterback he’ll be selecting in April?
“It’s how do they throw the ball,” he said. “It’s about mechanics, both upper and lower. Accuracy, poise under pressure, pocket presence. Can he extend plays and make plays with his feet? To what degree?”
And of course, the all-important interview. Gettleman said he wants to make sure a player has the mental capacity to make the leap, function in the NFL, and that he won’t need the help of a coach in the huddle in training camp.
“Delving into their football acumen,” he said, “is really important.”