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Seahawks GM John Schneider: "You Gotta Be Able To Stare Down the Gun Barrel"

Mike Ehrmann

John Schneider was on the Brock and Salk show a couple of weeks ago and I transcribed the whole thing - like, 30 minutes worth - and I've been meaning to do a write-up on it but for whatever reason, just kept putting it off. Now, following the Seahawks' decision to sign Matt Flynn, some of his comments are worth talking about and are actually pretty interesting, regardless. Schneider talked about a lot of things, and I'll get to those comments at some point down the line, but for right now, I'm going to zero in on his comments about quarterbacks.

Schneider's body of work in the quarterback department is one one that causes a little consternation and results in arguments among the fanbase ad nauseam, so it's probably important to better understand his evaluation process, or try to, anyway. In his tenure with this team, JS's first roster transaction was to trade for Charlie Whitehurst, a controversial move that ultimately will probably be judged a failure, though the magnitude of that failure is highly subjective based on the team's original intentions for him and the subjective nature in judging a player's performance. Did Charlie succeed as a backup quarterback? Sure. There are a lot of quarterbacks that are and were much worse options than Whitehurst and ole' Chuck did guide the Seahawks to victories in a few major relief appearances. He also looked pretty awful in a couple others. Ultimately, he was allowed to leave without a fight so at the end of the day that trade will probably be chalked up under the loss column.

But I digress. Midway through the Charlie experiment, JS (and Pete) ditched a steely veteran with diminishing skills (Matt Hasselbeck) for Tarvaris Jackson, and just in general, over the last couple of seasons, have brought in guys like J.P Losman, Zac Robinson, and Josh Portis to hold clipboards and run scout teams. Not exactly an awe inspiring group. Now, the Matt Flynn move cannot yet be judged, so we'll leave that out for now, but here's what Schneider had to say a few weeks back when asked about the quarterback position:

Okay, before we get into all the specifics of the position, and everyone can argue about it what's more important, we can talk about feet, whether it be delivery quickness, anticipation, poise, game-management skills, the number one thing to me - is a guy that tilts the field.

You have to be able to see that live, you have to be able to see how he handles his teammates, if he's a guy that can have a certain charisma about him, and then you have to get into 'where's the ball end up?'

I'm not a big fan of the whole 'tllt the field' concept because as we've talked about here before, I just want a guy that has measurable and observable skills - and I'm going to continue to come back to it again and again because it really resonates with me, but Greg Cosell said it best when he summarized: "The critical attributes essential to play the quarterback position at a championship level [are] -- quick progression reading, decision making, the willingness to make stick throws into tight windows, and accuracy."

Cosell would probably scoff at the idea of a guy that 'tilts the field' if taken out of context and as he tweeted something along those lines the other day. Said Cosell - "The "it" factor. Most ridiculous concept I've ever heard. I guess it's from the same school as "he's a winner"."He's a winner" from same school as "they came to play", "they wanted it more" and "they were flat".

Now, I'm not saying that Schneider subscribes to the "he's got the 'it' factor" or "he's a winner" concepts, necessarily. I don't know. I just don't think that's the case. I've thought about it for a long time because Schneider has been in the game long enough, has come up in the scouting side of things, and in a seemingly grounded and logic-based system of evaluation that was developed over the years in Green Bay and even here under Mike Holmgren.

Thus far, he has done a pretty good job infusing some talent on this team, though obviously it's a bit early to judge him for much. But, he's been mentored by guys like Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson, both highly regarded and respected for their evaluation skills as scouts first, then personnel execs later.

In my mind, there's no way Schneider subscribes to the pure belief that 'winners find a way to win'. He's way too analytical and rational, . I'm just guessing, but that just seems to go against the grain of what we know about him.

When he talks about a guy that can 'tilt the field', he talks about a guy that can provide leadership for the team and instill confidence in the huddle. I know Pete Carroll is a believer in this too. Part of that is just BEING GOOD AT FOOTBALL, but it seems that they look for guys that display a higher-than-normal confidence and competitiveness that translates to a certain amount of leadership skills, because we've seen players with physical talents fizzle out after developing confidence issues or having a lack of passion. How they evaluate that, is anybody's guess.

I was re-reading Matt Waldmen's interview with Dan Shonka from a while back and one passage stuck out to me, and I think it's really more what Schneider is referring to.

If you don't know Shonka - here's how Waldmen describes him - if Greg Cosell is one of the preeminent theorists of player evaluation (Greg's never played, coached or worked in personnel but is one of the most influential and respected analysts out there), then it's accurate to describe Dan Shonka as one of the ultimate practitioners of football evaluation. Shonka has 39 years of football experience as a player, college recruiter, college coach, and a combined 16 years as a NFL scout for National Football Scouting Service, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Waldmen asks Shonka - "What were some of the important lessons about player evaluation that you learned while working at National and with the various NFL teams?"

Shonka: As much as I used to fight it, a guy definitely has to have measurables. There are rarities, but you've got to be able to have the measurables for a position. You just don't play offensive tackle at 6'1", 285 lbs. no matter how good your feet are because you have to have those long arms to handle those pass rushers.

But maybe above all - and it's hard to determine this unless you really, really study guys - is a player's confidence in his own ability. I don't mean false confidence. I was with three different NFL teams and a lot of good major college teams and a lot of these guys are like little kids [in the way that] they question their confidence.

I don't think the great players ever really question their confidence and their competitiveness. Those are the two big things: confidence and competitiveness.

In my mind, and I could be wrong, but this is akin to what Schneider is referring to when he talks about a guy that 'tilts the field.'

I do think these factors weigh heavily in the scouting this front office does - and I suspect they might have something to do with the new grading scale that Schneider has mentioned several times that he's brought to the team. I do think a prospect's competitiveness and confidence do factor into the decision making process. That's purely conjecture on my part, but if you're looking for an example of what I picture in my mind in terms of this category, here's a picture of it. Here's another. Richard Sherman wagging his finger in the face of an opponent or to the crowd comes to mind.

I don't know what Cosell would say about this but I do know he completely excludes character and personality from his analysis, and he makes sure to point that out. He finishes a lot of his sentences with "...based on film study" very deliberately.

So - Cosell is basing everything he says on his gamefilm study, which is surely very important, but ultimately, not the only thing. As pointed out, a player's personality, drive, competitiveness and confidence do factor in, and are studied furiously by teams prior to the draft.

At the end of the day though, said Schneider - on all prospects, not just QBs:

My favorite tool is the film itself. You know, just being by myself, once I have everything - medical grades, agility stuff, flexibility stuff, psychological grades, and that will come in about 3-4 weeks [so, probably right around the present time], where I can just sit there, and I've already listened to everybody, - coaches, scouts, - so for me, personally, it's just that individual time.

Schneider continued with some measurable and observable attributes he looks for in a quarterback:

How does he manage the game? What's he like on third downs? How does he handle pressure? Is he staring at the pressure coming at him or does he keep his eyes down the field? Can he square his shoulders, can he back out? Can he move? You have to be able to move in this league.

I mean, Brock will tell you, we were in Oakland, I wasn't sure we were going to be able to bring the guy home. You have to be able to move and avoid shots and keep your eyes down the field. You know, like Ron Jaworski would say on MNF, "You gotta be able to STARE DOWN THE GUN BARRELLLLL."

If you read a lot of Cosell's analysis, you'll see a few things come up constantly. One major thing that I see him reference time and time again is the concept that you can manipulate a quarterback in a scheme and build around his deficiencies, but for every team, at some point during a close game, you're going to encounter a 3rd and nine situation and your quarterback is going to have to make a difficult throws in critical situations.

At some point, for every offense, to be a championship team, the quarterback will be asked to make quick reads, a quick decision, and make a stick throw into a tight window with accuracy, from the pocket.

The 'tilts the field' concept is vague and ambiguous and slightly disconcerting, but Schneider's follow-up to it resonates just fine with me. Handling pressure, keeping your eyes downfield, moving in the pocket, and per the Jaws quote, being able to 'stare down the gun barrel,' have some relation to what Cosell's saying.

'Staring down the gun barrel,' to me, is another way of saying that a quarterback has to have the ability to stand fast in the face of pressure, make a quick decision, and make a stick throw a tight window in the most critical situations.

More soon.