SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — Former NFL and CFL star quarterback Doug Flutie was in the Chicago area Wednesday, and Shutdown Corner got a brief — but enlightening — audience with him to talk football. Specifically quarterbacks.
Flutie and I talked mostly about two young (and quite different but equally fascinating) quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Johnny Manziel. Flutie has seen a lot of their play and has strong feelings on each.
When Flutie was doing some college football broadcasting work, Luck was coming up at Stanford. Flutie, like most of us, was quite struck with the precocious Luck's rare maturity and talent. As well as his likeability.
"I was a little surprised at his level of success he had right away in the NFL, at just how good he was early on," Flutie told SDC. "But there’s no doubt in my mind that I felt confident he would [embark on] a great career.
"And I’ll be honest, I like seeing great guys do well. I’ve seen enough in college and NFL that there are certain guys where, it doesn’t hurt my feelings when they do well. So for him, one of the good guys, to do well and have the success he’s having, it’s enjoyable."
Later on we got around to Manziel. I cheekily asked Flutie if he considered Manziel one of the good guys.
Flutie smiled, paused and then said: "Don't know him as well."
But that's off the field. On it, Flutie sees what we all have with the former Texas A&M whirling dervish and the future hope for the Cleveland Browns. And sure, Flutie can see some of himself in Manziel. If and when Manziel wins the Browns' starting job, whether it's prior to the season or sometime during it, Flutie believes he has a chance to elevate his new teammates in Cleveland.
“I just think he’s the type of guy that makes everyone around him better," Flutie said. "You can, as an athletic quarterback, overcome certain deficiencies around you. If you have a suspect offensive line, a guy that can move around and buy a little extra time makes it easier on them. A guy that can run naked bootlegs and sprint outs or having a quarterback you can call designed runs for, it takes pressure off other aspects of the team."
That's we've heard and what we've seen — athletically, anyway — in college from Manziel, although he clearly played behind a banner offensive line at A&M that was maybe the best group in the country. The Browns, too, figure to be strong or at worst solid up front.
But what about their receivers? The impending loss of Josh Gordon takes some teeth out of their unit. Does Flutie think Manziel's skills can overcome that?
"Say you have marginal receivers that have trouble getting open. Hold the ball a little longer, guys get open," Flutie said. "Guys like [Tom] Brady and [Peyton] Manning, you need everyone on the same page and executing correctly, but they are so good at what they do they make sure they’re doing that."
Luck is in that same vein of perfectionist, and yet we don't know to this point whether Manziel is. If Luck was, as Flutie noted, "as close to a can’t-miss guy as we've seen come out," Manziel — with his style, his size and, let's face it, his off-field life — is a can-miss prospect.
But Flutie didn't care to touch any of the extracuricular activites that Manziel chooses to participate in, instead preferring to run through the laundry list of tasks he'll be charged with on the field if and when he takes over.
"All the stuff that goes on in the NFL now over the ball makes it a very complicated game," Flutie said, simulating a typical NFL process for a quarterback on any given play. “You walk to the line of scrimmage. You’ve called two plays in the huddle. We’ve called whatever pass play, and we have a check-to for a run. We get to the line and we’ve got an alert. Now the alert is off, we’re running the original play. The original protection is a six-man protection, and we’ve got to clarify the ‘Mike’ linebacker. ‘OK, 54 is the Mike, which means were hot off two on the back side, we’re hot off one on the front side.’ And you’re doing this all at the line of scrimmage.
"And then the defense shifts. ... [talking faster now] ‘Now 55 is the Mike, we’re hot off two front side, hot off one back side …’ And you’re off from there."
The players who can translate their great college ability into NFL success, Flutie said, as Luck has so far, are quick thinkers and quick actors.
"So all this stuff is going through at the line of scrimmage, and you’re reading coverages on the fly, receivers are going full speed," he said. "A lot of this, most of this, is all on the quarterback. It’s difficult in your rookie season to be comfortable with all of that that they water all of that down. You run some of it, and it slowly gets added in and guys eventually get to the point where they are like, ‘Doesn’t matter. Call anything you want.’"
That's where Luck appears to be. He now has built on the foundation of two NFL seasons, 32 regular-season games and three playoff contests, and has been able to work in relatively familiar terms with offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who coached Luck at Stanford and now is heading into their second season together with the Colts.
“This is where things just keep building for him," Flutie said. "That’s where I was jealous of all these guys who were with the same franchise, the same offense for years. You can just build on everything.
"Number one, it becomes instinctive, second nature — there’s no learning even. You just building on the foundation you already have. You’re just opening up an offense. As a quarterback, as the other parts might even be interchangeable, those guys don’t have to be perfect. As long as the quarterback is ahead of the game, everyone else is going to be comfortable."
I had just enough time to ask Flutie about the proliferation of up-tempo offenses in the NFL, which is something too that both Luck and Manziel could get a taste of this season. The Colts fiddled around with it late last season and also hired Rob Chudzinski in an undetermined role but one that could assist in the offense picking up the pace at times. Manziel and the Browns certainly could push the turbo button at times, too.
Flutie believes going faster actually can aid a young quarterback in some respects.
"I’d rather go up-tempo because then you can have that time you need at the line of scrimmage," he said. "You just call the play on the fly, you don’t waste 20 seconds back there in the huddle. I obviously think it’s easier because there’s a lot of verbiage in the huddle sometimes. Young quarterbacks struggle with that.
"But if you do it at the line of scrimmage, you give the formation, then you yell the protection to the offensive line, then the routes … and it’s just a step-by-step process. Instead of being in the huddle and having to say, ‘50 Queen Left Slot Close Zip Back 476 Zero Edge Shoot Sneak Scatback Right.’ You just say the one thing at a time."
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