Everett Golson is the perfect quarterback for Notre Dame because he symbolizes the beautifully flawed nature of so many aspects to the football program in 2014. As Golson is winding down his redshirt junior season and second year as the Irish quarterback he is racking up plenty of stats but also showing us why he needs to keep improving.
One of the areas I've consistently critiqued Golson is his lack of stepping up into the pocket.
Stepping up into the pocket is traditionally associated more with pro-style quarterbacks who are working from under center and generally take a little longer to release the football. Nevertheless, it's still an important part to quarterbacking even out of the spread and shotgun formations.
It doesn't take a great athlete to be a crafty quarterback who steps up into the pocket (see Brady, Tom) and it's a key component for less mobile quarterbacks to buy that extra split second to get a pass off.
For a basic introduction to quarterback footwork and other aspects to throwing the ball may I suggest watching these Bill Walsh teaching videos with our own Joe Cool? Montana's footwork is basically football porn.
While looking over a few hundred snaps I was actually surprised at how well Golson's footwork is most of the time. I especially believed I'd find more instances of him forgetting to step up and hitch-step into the pocket but it was harder than I thought. Generally speaking, when Golson isn't pressured, has a nice rhythm, and the pocket is protected he has good footwork and timing.
However, as many Irish fans know the protection hasn't been great this season. At times, it's been pretty poor. It's during these snaps when Golson needs proper footwork and pocket presence to make up for the mistakes of others and carry the offense. Let's take a look at several plays from 2014 and show you some good and bad snaps.
Here's a screenshot from the early second quarter in the opener against Rice. The Owls bring 4 pass rushers against Notre Dame's 5 offensive linemen, plus running back Tarean Folston offers additionally blocking help out of the backfield. The Irish should have no problem protecting Golson in this situation.
This first screenshot is frozen right at the end of Golson's 3-step drop. Up to this point his footwork is fine. However, you'll notice the offensive line is getting wrecked. Left guard Matt Hegarty is beat almost instantaneously while right tackle Steve Elmer is smoked off the edge by the defensive end.
A split-second later Golson has already seen and felt the pressure. He had some room to hitch-step up into the pocket but probably saw Martin on the ground and may not have trusted Folston fully to pick up the tackle.
The result is that Golson has swung open his hips and is no longer a threat to throw the ball with proper mechanics. His instincts are to get out of the pocket and not step up into the pocket. Since Elmer was beaten so badly Golson is unable to use his athleticism to get away and takes a sack.
Here's a key play late in the second half against Michigan on a drive that will net points for Notre Dame. Like above there will be 5 linemen to block 4 defenders. Golson takes another 3-step drop but as you can see left tackle Ronnie Stanley has already been beaten off the edge.
Now this isn't the prettiest of hitch-steps you'll ever see. But it's the idea that counts.
Look where Golson is at the end of his drop compared to where he is when the defensive end tries to get a hand on him. Golson has moved up almost 3 full yards and escapes the pressure.
He does a combo hitch-step, side-step, 360 spin but is able to get outside of the pocket because he first stepped up into the pocket. From there Golson tosses a first down throw.
Here's a big third down throw from the end zone in the Shamrock Series game.
Notre Dame has 7 blockers but once again a defender wreaks havoc off the left edge. This time Golson takes a shorter 2-step drop and shows good footwork.
This is beautifully done by Golson. He takes two quick shuffles toward the line, avoids a possible safety or fumble touchdown, and delivers a nice ball down the sideline to Fuller.
The ball fell incomplete but from a fundamentals standpoint this was one of the best snaps I saw from Golson.
Here's a big third down play that shows why Golson can be such a productive college player but would still need further work to play at the next level.
This is straight up 5 linemen blocking 5 defenders as running back Cam McDaniel releases through the line and into a shallow crossing route. It's another 3-step drop by Golson with nice posture.
Unfortunately the whole right side of the line gets beat, especially Lombard who reaches and let's the defender come flying off the edge at Golson.
The good news is that Golson steps up into the pocket. Look at his placement again. He moves up towards the line and the Stanford rusher can't get his paws on him. Yet, he doesn't hitch-step as much as he runs forward a couple steps and isn't in proper form to throw accurately. In an ideal world he lets go of a pass after stepping up (if he hitched stepped better) but since he's Golson he's athletic enough to break to his right and make a first down throw.
Here's the Golson fumble from the Arizona State game that Larz highlighted in his "Disaster in the Desert" post from earlier this month.
As is often the case the worst of Golson comes out when the line fails to protect up front. The Irish have 5 linemen, plus tight end Ben Koyack, plus Folston to block 5 pass rushers. It's another 3-step drop by Golson.
Simply major carnage up front for Notre Dame. Left tackle Stanley and center Matt Hegarty all end up on the ground within two seconds while right guard Steve Elmer gets literally run right over. Adding to the pain, tight end Ben Koyack loses his man on a stunt who goes right after Golson.
Now, this isn't a snap in which Golson had much room to shuffle up into the pocket. Still, he immediately floats to his left at the bottom of his drop and (to use a hockey term) crosses over back behind the line of scrimmage. Of course, this moves puts him right in the line of a blitzer which causes Golson to reverse field and eventually fumble.
As Larz suggested Golson should have slid or simply ran to his left and away from the blitz. I'd even say stepping up into the pocket is much preferred to what he ended up doing because at least he can see defenders coming at him instead of being chased hit from behind.
Here is Golson's interception in the Northwestern game. The Wildcats send 6 defenders against 5 blockers but the left side of Northwestern's line reads screen and adjusts accordingly.
The problem here is Stanely unable to get wide enough out of the blocks sending a man at Golson off the edge. It's a 2-step drop by Golson who looked to want McDaniel out of the backfield. He sees it's covered immediately at the end of his drop and gets flat-footed. It's at this precise moment where it'd be great if Golson's internal clock screams SHUFFLE UP INTO THE POCKET TO BUY TIME!
As you can see the problem is that Golson doesn't feel the pressure well enough and does not step up into a massive pocket in front of him. In fact, he actually fades back about half a yard.
The result is a disruption of his pass, which then tips off Lombard's helmet and into a Northwestern defenders' hands because of course.
This last play is from Notre Dame's previous game against Louisville on the tipped touchdown pass to Fuller.
Louisville send only 3 rushers against 6 blockers for Notre Dame. It's another 3-step drop by Golson.
Here you can see Golson seemingly flat-footed but you can notice how far he's moved up into the pocket. He even does a really good job of hitch-stepping towards the line of scrimmage.
The defender diving at him is dangerous but he is diving precisely because Golson hitch-stepped up-field. If he doesn't shuffle up into the pocket Louisville may have gotten a sack or a clean shot at Golson.
To recap, Golson has the athleticism, quick feet, and speed to be an effective quarterback while stepping up into the pocket when pressured even if he doesn't exhibit perfect NFL-level hitch form all the time.
In my opinion, the key moving forward is improved blocking up front and continued coaching that shuffling up-field (no matter how ugly at times) is preferable to taking lateral or backwards steps in the pocket.
Golson may never be 100% comfortable shuffling up into the pocket because of his height so it may be worth it to incorporate some more 5-step drops into the offense in order to get EG a little further away from his linemen to see passing lanes. Either way, gaining more comfort in his footwork and stepping up into the pocket will be a major part of his development in 2015.