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OFD Films: Tommy Rees - Searching for Mobility

In a football world that covets mobile quarterbacks, can Tommy Rees become more effective on the run?

Jonathan Daniel

Like disco, Rubik's cubes, barbed wire tattoos, Barney and other fads, mobile quarterbacks have taken the football world by storm. Everyone wants one and they must have it now.

Unfortunately, in 2013 Notre Dame won't have one.

Since Everett Golson's exile due to poor academic judgement, much has been made of the fact that the 2013 Irish offense will be in the hands of a quarterback who is far from mobile. Many Irish fans have visions of a statuesque Tommy Rees getting pummeled relentlessly as defenders swarm him like killer bees. Oddly enough, one of the ways offensive coordinators prevent the swarming of an immobile quarterback is by calling plays with designed roll outs.

Obviously, when the quarterback rolls out he no longer becomes a stationary target and pass rushers have to change their angle of attack. This subtle adjustment makes it more difficult to sack the quarterback and doesn't require exceptional athleticism. In 2011, Brian Kelly tried this tactic with a young Tommy Rees. It didn't work particularly well as Rees often struggled throwing the ball on the run. This meant that Kelly had to keep him in the pocket more often and the killer bees swarmed. 2013 is going to be different. One of the skills that Rees has improved is his ability to throw on the run. He will never be as mobile as Everett Golson, but this added dimension will make him less of a sitting duck in the pocket and will give Brian Kelly (and Chuck Martin) more play calling options.

Let's take a look at the film and I'll show you what I mean.

2011 Tommy Rees - Poor Throwing Technique on the Run

Michigan 2011 (I know it's painful). This play is a designed roll to the right. Tommy Rees (# 11) will have two primary reads. Tyler Eifert (# 80) running up the seam or Michael Floyd (# 3) running an outside curl. When Tommy rolls out he should be following the path of the blue arrow. Ideally when rolling out, the quarterback gets depth, turns the corner and continues towards the line of scrimmage. Continuing towards the line of scrimmage is a critical component of throwing on the run. It provides better vision down field, allows the quarterback to rotate his hips and shoulders and provides momentum so he can throw the ball with greater velocity. As you will see Rees makes a common mistake and follows the red arrow. This limits his vision and impacts the power of his throw.

Rees is in the process of throwing the ball. He is running parallel to the line of scrimmage (shown by the red arrow) instead of attacking the line of scrimmage (shown by the blue arrow). As previously mentioned this creates two key problems. The first is, it limits his vision. Rees can't see Eifert running free down the seam because his body and his head are pointed towards the sideline instead of down field. The second problem is that running parallel to the line of scrimmage means your momentum is going the wrong way and makes it difficult to throw the ball with any sort of velocity. The next two screen shots should illustrate this.

Rees has just thrown the ball. Instead of moving towards the target you can see that he is falling away from it. His momentum is taking him in the direction of the red arrow. Moving in this direction means his hips and shoulders aren't able to fully rotate towards the receiver. I'm not a physics expert I ain't come here to play physics, but I do know that when you are falling away from your target you probably won't generate maximum power.

When Rees threw the ball he was roughly at the red X. A fraction of a second later his momentum has carried him 3 yards backwards. Again, probably not a great way to generate power. Predictably the ball is intercepted.

Many would point to this play as an example of poor arm strength. In reality, this is more of a function of poor technique on the roll out. If Rees "turns the corner" and attacks the line of scrimmage he is in much better position to make the throw and put enough velocity on the ball to complete the pass or at the least have it fall incomplete.

Larzian Digression

Before showing the video I want to get a little off topic. In the replay the announcer makes it sound like Michigan used a superior defensive scheme to confuse Rees and trick him into throwing into coverage. I don't entirely agree with this analysis. Let me show you what I mean.

The announcer is correct that pre-snap Michigan looks like they are going to bring pressure. This is a cover 0 look, which means man coverage with no safety in the middle. Against this defense the pre-snap read should be to attack the part of the field vacated by the safety (shown by the blue circle). When you see cover 0 and your All-American tight end is going deep down the middle, isolated one on one with a safety, who has no help over the top... you take that match up. Even if Michael Floyd appears to have single coverage on the curl route he is running. This is a pretty obvious pre-snap read.

At the snap, Michigan does not blitz. Instead they unleash the dreaded rush 3 drop 8 defense. They are playing what appears to be a cover 3 zone. The circled safety should drop at an angle and cover the deep middle of the field where Eifert will run. Inexplicably, he drops straight back and stays on the hash away from the roll out, leaving Eifert wide open.

The circled safety is way out of position. This is where I disagree with the analysis from the announcer. Michigan didn't bait Rees with a tricky pre-snap read. Pre-snap they gave Rees a look that should have led him to throw to Eifert in the slot. Michigan screws up and leaves Eifert wide open. So you're telling me that Michigan designed a defense to leave the guy who is clearly the primary read against this alignment wide open down the middle?

That's the defense?

That's Michigan's schematic advantage? Wow.

Rees missed the easy pre-snap read. This problem is exacerbated by the way Rees rolls out. As stated earlier, he takes a path that makes it very difficult to see Eifert come open post-snap. Even if he did see him open, the way Tommy's body is positioned makes it almost impossible to execute the throw. When you see the replay it will sound like Michigan called some brilliant, devious defense to confuse an inexperienced Tommy Rees. Don't believe the hype, they got lucky. Okay, whew, deep breath, I'm done now.

Take a look at the video and you can judge for yourself.

2013 Tommy Rees - Improved Throwing Technique On The Run

The 2013 blue and gold game. Rees is going to roll to his right. The blue arrow shows the correct path, the red arrow shows the wrong path (aka the 2011 Tommy Rees path).

At the apex of the roll out, Rees is at the figurative and literal turning point. The correct path would be to head in the direction of the blue arrow. The incorrect path would be to follow the red arrow. Note Tommy has his eyes pointed down field (yellow arrow), this is a good sign.

In the last screen shot, Rees was at the proverbial fork in the road (roughly where the blue star is). 2011 Tommy Rees tended to follow the red arrow. 2013 Tommy Rees takes the road less travelled and is heading towards the line of scrimmage. Rees is in the process of throwing the ball. As you can see his shoulders and hips are coming square to the line of scrimmage and his momentum is taking him towards the intended target. This will allow him to throw the ball with greater velocity and accuracy. Much better technique.

The ball (blue circle) is about to arrive. Rees has done a nice job of throwing accurately and with more than enough power.

There is no doubt that Tommy Rees has improved his ability to throw on the run. While he isn't Everett Golson in terms of mobility, he also isn't 2011 Tommy Rees. Having this added dimension will be a valuable asset for the 2013 Notre Dame offense. Compare the 2011 example to the 2013 example below. Both of these screen shots are taken as Rees is throwing the ball. Pay close attention to the direction Tommy's shoulders and hips are pointing, you should see a big difference.



I might be in the minority but I think Tommy Rees will do a very good job as our starting quarterback this upcoming season. I haven't always felt this way about Rees. However, I believe we will see a significant improvement from the quarterback we saw in 2011. How much of an improvement? Only time will tell. I will say this, I wouldn't be surprised to see better passing numbers from the 2013 offense compared to the undefeated 2012 offense. You can rest assured OFD readers that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not a South Bend cabbie looking to halt our progress as we sprint towards our intended goal. It's the new and improved, more mobile, Tommy Rees.