Tedford Likes His QBs
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 29, 2005

WHEN JEFF TEDFORD talks about quarterbacks, it’s like Ted Williams talking about hitting, so when he says that his quarterbacks, junior college transfer Joseph Ayoob and sophomore Nathan Longshore, can fill the big shoes left by Aaron Rodgers, it’s good news for Cal fans.

Longshore redshirted his freshman year and was a reserve last season, and that experience with the Cal system gives him an advantage now, Tedford said in a lengthy conversation in his office on Thursday, but the quarterbacks will get equal time in summer camp, as they did this spring..

“We’re a long way from being where we want to be,” he said, “but spring practice is for teaching because we don’t have to play a game. We put in our whole offense, which can be confusing to the quarterbacks. We want them to know everything in the offense so, in the fall, we can work on specific parts of the offense and they’ll know how it fits. So, in the spring, our quarterbacks will struggle, but in the fall, it will all come together.”

(There’s a good precedent for Tedford’s style: Bill Walsh also believed in giving his team his whole offense the first time they practiced and then coming back to work on specific parts of it).

Longshore has excellent size, 6-5, 230, and was a Parade All-American in high school, but the more intriguing player is Ayoob, who was the California Junior College Player of the Year last season and directed City College of San Francisco to a two-year record of 23-1, including the national JC championship in 2003.

Ayoob also has the most to learn. “You know the hardest thing for him?,” said Tedford. “The numbers. For most teams, including ours, the even-numbered plays go to the right. At City College, they go to the left. When we call, say, 580, it’s going to the right, but Ayoob’s natural tendency is to look left, so he has to reverse his thinking now.”

There are other specific problems for Ayoob because he played in a spread offense at CCSF, mirroring the problems which will be faced by Alex Smith, the 49ers’ first draft pick.

“He’s used to taking a direct snap with the field in front of him,” Tedford said. “Now, he has to take the snap from center. Everything’s different. The ballhandling is different, the footwork is different. Even what seems like a little thing, handing the ball off, is different. In the shotgun, he was handing the ball off to one side or the other. Now, he has to learn how to position himself to hand the ball off as he’s coming back from the line of scrimmage.”

Ayoob will work with his teammates in individual drills (players will have regular training sessions but cannot work with any coaches until summer camp). “Now, he knows what he has to work on,” Tedford said. “Before spring practice, it was all theory for him.”

QUARTERBACK IS the most demanding position because the quarterback has to know what’s happening at every other position.

“At other positions, players only need to know what they’re doing,” Tedford said. “A wide receiver only has to know his route, a running back only has to know where he’s supposed to go. Offensive linemen only have to know who they’re supposed to block. But the quarterback has to know what all of them are supposed to be doing.”

And, there’s much more, because quarterbacks have to be able to recognize defenses. “It’s a very complex game,” Tedford said, “and the only way a quarterback learns to read defenses is to see them. He might, for instance, recognize two types of defenses but then the other team throws a third type at him that he can’t recognize because he hasn’t seen it.”

And, he has to do it all in less than three seconds, or he’ll be flattened by a defensive lineman, linebacker or even blitzing defensive back.

There’s a thinking process that goes on when a quarterback is learning the plays and what other players have to do, but when he’s going back to pass, it’s reacting, not thinking. If a quarterback has to think to look for his first receiver, see that he’s covered, and then look for a second receiver, he’ll be on the ground before that second look.

It takes constant repetition in practice, and then in games, before a quarterback gets to that point. Only then, can his ability show through, which is why so many young quarterbacks struggle, in college or in pro ball, before they find their way.

Because he played the position himself, Tedford knows how hard it is. “When a quarterback forgets the snap count, well, a coach who had never played the position might yell at him, ‘How could you forget the snap count?’ But I’ve been there. There were times when I forgot the snap count. There are just so many things to remember."

Tedford has gained such a reputation as a quarterbacks coach that it might have hurt his latest star pupil, Rodgers, in the recent NFL draft because the other Tedford quarterbacks who were first-round picks have had mixed results in the NFL.

“At first, I thought it was comical when people started talking about it,” Tedford said, “but then, it made me mad. The only reason people talk about these quarterbacks is that we’ve had five first-round picks (six, with Rodgers). Nobody talks about what Carson Palmer is doing because USC hasn’t had five first-round quarterbacks.

“If you look at it, these are all young men who were drafted by bad teams and expected to be the savior. It’s always all about the quarterbacks. I hear people say, ‘If Detroit gets a wide receiver in the draft, this will be Joey Harrington’s make-or-break year. If Baltimore gets a wide receiver, this will be a make-or-break year for Kyle Boller. They never talk about the offensive line or the running game. It’s like the quarterback is the only one playing.”

IT’S TOO EARLY to tell if either of Tedford’s current quarterbacks will be good enough to join his other NFL first-round picks, and it’s too early even to tell which one will be the starter by the time the Bears hit the bulk of their conference schedule, starting with the fifth game against Arizona at Berkeley. (There’s only one conference game, the second one against Washington in Seattle, in the first four games.)

“We’ll play both our quarterbacks in the first game (against Sacramento State) and they’ll both get playing time in the other early games, too,” Tedford said, pointing out that he had followed much the same plan in Rodgers’ first year. Reggie Robertson started the first four games, but Rodgers played in three of them, had a great second half against Utah and then became the starter for the rest of the season in the fifth game.

Right now, it seems that Longshore has the preparation edge but Ayoob, who is also an excellent runner, has the physical edge. Whichever one gets the most playing time, though, the Bears are in good hands because Longshore and Ayoob have a coach who really understands quarterbacks.

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