Montana, Brady, Riley - and Giants, Raiders
“The thing people always look at with a quarterback is arm strength, because that can be measured,” he said. “But, that’s probably the least important thing for a quarterback. Scouts will say, ‘He can throw 85 yards from his knees.’ OK, how often do you see that in a game?”
Size is also a characteristic that Taylor thinks is overrated. “I’ve heard scouts say they don’t want a quarterback who’s ‘only 6-2’’, he said. “They want one who’s 6-4. So, you’re telling me that two inches makes that much difference? Joe Montana was 6-1 ˝. Steve Young was about the same.” And, they’re both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
To Taylor, the most important part of a quarterback’s game is accuracy. “That’s the first thing I noticed about Kevin Riley, when I saw him in practice. He was the most accurate passer on the field.”
Switching briefly to another sport, I mentioned that former A’s pitching coach Rick Peterson had once told me that there were four parts of a pitcher’s game – location, movement, changing speeds and velocity – and that velocity was the least important on the major league level, but the most important at the lower levels.
“It’s the same in football,” Taylor said. “Quarterbacks with strong arms get by with that when they’re in high school and never learn the other parts of the game.”
Kyle Boller comes to mind. He came to Cal with a cannon arm but had only one good season, his senior year under Jeff Tedford. That one year made him a first-round draft pick, but he’s never been a complete quarterback and is now languishing on the Baltimore Ravens’ bench.
Taylor also looks for game management from a quarterback and a sense of what’s happening on the field. As with all of us who watched him, Montana is his model.
“It’s not intelligence,” he noted. “Young is brilliant, but he didn’t have the sense of the game that Montana had. Joe seemed to have that from the moment he stepped on the field. I admire Bill Walsh greatly, but he didn’t make Montana into a great quarterback. He might have refined Joe’s skills, and he put him in the right system to maximize them, but it was like Mozart: Joe had it from the start.”
Even at the end of his career, when he had little left physically, Montana still had that magic. “In a way, what he did with Kansas City really showed how amazing he was,” Taylor said. “He had no arm strength left, but he still got the job done.”
The obvious comparison now is Tom Brady, who doesn’t have the mobility of Montana, who was a very effective runner early in his career, but has the same sense of the game. “He’s able to move slightly in the pocket to find a passing lane,” said Taylor, “while always keeping his eyes downfield. Dan Marino was the same way. He was never a runner, but he could move in the pocket while always looking downfield.”
Until a quarterback can stay focused on his potential targets downfield, he can’t fulfill his potential. Even Young had that problem early in his 49ers career; he would run if his first receiver were covered. He was an excellent runner – he won a game against the Minnesota Vikings with an incredible 49-yard touchdown run – but he didn’t become a great quarterback until he learned patience in the pocket.
Riley already seems to have that ability. In his starting debut against Oregon State, he showed remarkable poise under pressure, shaking off tacklers in the end zone to prevent a safety one time, scrambling away from pressure another time to complete a 29-yard pass to Robert Jordan, throwing a completion to Craig Stevens while in the grasp of tacklers on still another play.
Taylor raves about Riley. “To come into that situation and play as well as he did is just incredible. Tedford says he’s got as good a deep arm as Nate Longshore. He’s a smart kid and he’s the son of a coach, so he’s been around football all his life.
“I think he has a chance to be a great quarterback. Not just a good one, a great one.”
Perhaps some day we’ll be talking about him as the descendant of the Montana/Brady line.
GIANTS CHANGE: The change of leadership in the Giants organization from Jack Hiatt to Fred Stanley was especially interesting to me because of a conversation I had with Stanley before a game between the Fresno Grizzlies and the Sacramento Rivert Cats in Sacramento in May, 2004.
Stanley at the time was manager of the Grizzlies. I asked him about his team and he went through the lineup, ripping one player after another. Apparently he thought I was a Sacramento writer, though I had identified myself as a Chronicle columnist – as I had also been when Stanley once played for the A’s – and that his remarks would not be widely reported. When they appeared in my column, they were also picked up by the Fresno Bee. Stanley said he was misquoted.
Hiatt didn’t set the bar for this job very high, but my little exchange with Stanley makes me doubt that he’ll be a significant improvement.
ONE REASON I like Phil Simms as an analyst on NFL games: He doesn’t pussyfoot on his opinions. In last Sunday’s New England-Dallas game, with the Cowboys trailing by two touchdowns late in the game, Dallas coach Wade Phillips kicked a field goal instead of going for the touchdown. Before the kick was even attempted, Simms said, “Does Phillips think his defense can stop the Patriots two times?” That was the question, all right, because the Cowboys still needed two touchdowns to win. They didn’t get either touchdown and the Patriots got a touchdown and field goal on their two possessions to win in a rout.
RAIDERS QBS: I think we understand now why Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was reluctant to commit to Daunte Culpepper. It wasn’t Culpepper’s unfamiliarity with the playbook. It was his decline from his earlier Pro Bowl status. He can still make an occasional big play but he can’t play with the consistency that’s needed. Can’t hold on to the ball, either.
It isn’t just the quarterback, though. The Raiders are certainly improved over last season and I think Kiffin has them headed in the right direction, but a team doesn’t jump from 2-14 to playoff contention in one season. This still looks like a team that would have to overachieve to get to .500. As I thought before the season, 5-6 wins is a more reasonable prognosis.
BOOK REVIEW: I’ve just finished a fascinating book, “Rozelle: Czar of the NFL,” by Jeff Davis. Using multiple sources (I’m one, but hardly the most important), Davis tells not only the Rozelle story but gives a synopsis of the NFL during Rozelle’s time.
A sizeable part of the book concerns the battle between Al Davis and the league, as represented by Rozelle. It was ultimately a battle with no winners. Rozelle was drained by the constant court battles with Davis – and with the USFL – and his final decade in the NFL was not the triumphal march of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, while Davis might have taken comfort from that, most observers trace the decline of the Raiders from Davis’s change of emphasis from the football field to the courtroom. The magic of Davis’s first two decades with the Raiders has only sporadically been recaptured since then. Since 1985, the Raiders are well below .500 in regular season play, and you know what’s happened in the last four years.
One of the most interesting chapters is on the struggle for free agency between the Players Association and the NFL’s Management Council, representing the owners. My sympathies were all with the players at that time because I knew how poorly they were treated. That was typified by a comment relayed by Gene Upshaw from a negotiating session. Tex Schramm screamed at him that the players were never going to get free agency. “Don’t you see? You’re the cattle. We’re the ranchers.”
After a series of losses in court cases, the owners finally agreed to free agency, when the players agreed to a salary cap. The game is now healthier than ever.
LETTERS: I updated this section on Tuesday.
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