DON’T CLOSE THE BOOK
Notre Dame Fighting Irish QB Ian Book is a good fit for Chip Long’s offensive design. That is the first thing I noticed in reviewing his film from his Senior year and trying to piece together where he will fit in this year’s depth chart. Sometimes lost in the shuffle with the anticipation of Brandon Wimbush, and Avery Davis being a part of this year’s recruiting class, is a capable QB already on the roster ready to lead the Irish if the need arises.
The first aspect of Book that stood out was his footwork. He has great foot placement in the read-option part of the offense that is coming to Notre Dame. When reading the DE, his ball placement at the mesh point with the running back is pointed straight at the DE. This is a strong indication Book is truly reading the defensive response and going through his progressions. Another strong suit here is Book has a quick “hitch-step” to gather himself off the fake to the running back and reset his feet under him to make a good throw. This helps particularly with giving him good rotation in his torso and will always make a QB more accurate in the 5-15 yard intermediate passes that are so important in the spread. These type of shorter throws show good vision in the 1st and 2nd level reads to look off the LB’s and throw to the vacated spot. This will always tell a coach in film evaluation that his feet are in good position to place himself in the proper stance to see the field.
At times however, Book lost velocity on his deep throws as he would often times drop his elbow and throw with a more side-arm delivery to give himself more torque on the pass. When you see this happen it simply means the QB doesn’t have the natural arm strength to make that type of throw and is trying to compensate by adjusting his throwing motion. The good news here is that can be adjusted by adequate development in strength and conditioning and proper instruction from QB coach Tom Rees.
When studying Book’s fit in the new offensive system, you can see where Book has a terrific asset in his ability to make quick decisions and not panic while making his reads. Observing the that he did not have jumpy feet while in the pocket or that he would not pull the ball down immediately if his first option was not there, Book showed great patience and presence to wait for the routes to develop. Also, in the same thought process, if he did decide to tuck it and run when the pressure applied demanded it, he would use his vision to find the available blocking and take advantage of any angle it provided. This is a vital component of the style of Run-Pass Option packages that Long has helped develop and requires a quick thinking QB to follow those progressions and not simply improvise. Part of the major change I think fans will notice in this year’s offensive philosophy is the lack of need for improvisation. This is a much more structured and consistent offensive approach that should benefit Books skill set and vice-versa.
More evidence is found in his Oak Ridge High School film. He ran a type of spread that ran routes that “mirrored” each other. This essentially means that the route being run on the opposite side, say a slant by the slot guy on the right, will be matched by a shallow corner by the slot on the left. By doing this or any of the other routes I noticed on his film is designed to draw coverage away from the middle and allow for gaps to form. Again, this is very familiar to what the Memphis Tigers ran last year with Long working as Offensive Coordinator and is a very efficient way to create high percentage throws.
In looking to get an idea of the depth chart at QB you automatically start to compare and contrast Book to Avery Davis. In film study, it sticks out immediately that Davis is the more athletic and elusive runner. His potential to create big plays on his own as a play develops or breaks down is impressive. The fact that this was done against excellent competition and he was tested often in big game situations is another plus in his column. However, in the Davis film evaluations, you notice an inaccuracy issue- especially in the shorter passes that should be easier to complete. Most of these problems can be addressed once a kid gets to college and a higher degree of instruction helps with the development.
In the case of Book, as noted above, his accuracy in the predominant number of throws that you find in the type of offense favored by Long are those shorter throws, specifically the curls and seam routes that have to be hit in stride. When Book was being recruited and offered by the Washington State Cougars, the biggest selling point to them on his abilities were these types of throws that he made look easy. As spring practice progresses I think you’ll see Book’s advantages in these areas and be a solid number 2 going into the fall. His skill set is a good compliment to Long's system and I believe he will surprise many in the Notre Dame fan base not only with his abilities, but with how he can provide a more than adequate answer at QB in case of injury or other issue.
In the end I don’t think it is a sure fire bet that Davis will be the back-up once he gets on campus. Book has had a year of development and adjustment to the college game. This will increase even more if he has grown into the position and can get more reps at back-up, thus providing more experience to the equation of him being a successful QB option. In the end, like always, the coaches will play the guy who gives them the best chance to win. The opinion here is that Book may surpass expectations and indeed be a pleasant surprise for the Fighting Irish in the upcoming season.
The good news is that all of the QB’s on the roster are similar in style, thus allowing the growth of the offense to be consistent- which is a huge bonus for development moving forward. In the years I’ve had coaching one thing always sticks out at you with kids like Book; it pays off to pay close attention to what they can do that fits what you as a coach, want to do. Ian Book may end up being more than a side note for the Fighting Irish in 2017.