After taking a month to review the 2013 NFL Draft, it is already time to look ahead to the 2014 class. In fairness, I will do my best to focus on senior prospects for the next few months and move to juniors/redshirt sophomores when the time is right. I am only taking pre-season evaluation notes for now, focusing on where prospects win and where improvements can be made. Therefore, treat these posts like rough drafts and not final opinions.
Notes for Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
Notes for San Jose State QB David Fales
Notes for LSU QB Zach Mettenberger
Miami’s offense is fun to watch, incorporating plenty of play action and misdirection from under center and shotgun. Jedd Fisch, who has now moved on to hold the offensive coordinator duties with the Jaguars, used a variety of personal groupings and mismatches. The school was blessed with talented, yet somewhat unrefined, offensive linemen and receivers that liked working down field. At the center of it was junior quarterback Stephen Morris, taking the full-time starting reins for the first time in 2012.
Footwork is one of the areas Morris could improve, namely his five and seven step drops. As a junior, Morris flashed perfection on occasion, but other instances displayed poor timing and depth in the pocket. It wavered between short, choppy steps, with some uneasiness at the end to slow strides leading to a rushed release for timing purposes. With proper footwork, Morris would hit his peak in conjunction with route depth and could start working off that initial read, if necessary.
As you picked up from my other quarterback evaluations, I highly value a quarterback’s ability to move in the pocket. Based on the number of starts attached to his resume, Morris is pretty natural when working in the pocket and confined spaces. He always shows the necessary awareness to evade edge rushers attempting to turn the corner, trusting the Hurricane offensive linemen to wash them around the circle while climbing the pocket.
Morris does not mind bodies moving around him, working vertically or laterally to create space or delivering while taking a hit upon release. His accuracy definitely suffers when being hit, but Morris shows a willingness to take contact to pick up yards. He frequently rolled out to his right and hit outside breaking routes or threw the ball out of bounds and moved on. Morris rarely panics, only getting antsy when the clock runs down in a close game. Eyes downfield, trusting his protection, and moving to find space or stretch defenses laterally.
At the basic level, Morris can be a one read, rhythm passer who could take advantage of tempo and an offensive coordinator’s gameplan. However, he showed much more than that in 2012, working multiple reads and taking a good number of chances downfield. I wouldn’t call Morris’ anticipation great, since he tends to wait to release the throw at the top of his receiver’s breaks, but he’s close and only improving in that area. The Hurricane quarterback enjoys testing vertically, that is obvious, and he throws them on a rope. Some will look at Morris and say he lacks strength. That is far from the case, and although his delivery can look a bit flat, there’s plenty of velocity behind his throws. This is apparent on outside breaking routes or inside patterns, where Morris isn’t afraid to give his receiver a chance to make a play in tight single coverage. More touch could be given incorporated on checkdowns, but he did show touch on back corner endzone throws. I’m not sure if he alters his throwing platform very often, but I rarely saw a batted ball and he buys space with his feet.
As with all of the quarterbacks, it is difficult to determine if these quarterbacks are making the appropriate read thanks to a poor camera angle and unfamiliarity with the team’s offense. However, Morris shows passing awareness to go with his pocket awareness. First, the soon-to-be senior recognizes corner blitzes or defensive backs who bail on their coverage too early and makes them pay by throwing a quick receiver screen on the edge even if a run is called. This the quarterback’s play to make, and Morris handled it well. His communication with receivers seems to be good, since there were a number of examples where Morris was in sync on broken routes to sit in open areas.
The impact of Morris’ hard count was obvious against NC State, but he continued to switch it up in the multiple exposures I took in. After forcing the defensive line offsides, Morris would remain calm, buy himself time and test 15-plus yards for a big play. I am not exaggerating when saying he converted six or seven offside penalties to three or four long touchdowns against the Wolfpack. Now, some of these passes were into fairly tight downfield coverage, and in a situation that takes advantage of a penalty this is acceptable, but some vertical shots did fall between receivers in triple coverage. This greediness needs to be tamed.
He is athletic and can pick up yards on a quarterback draw, but Morris isn’t a runner. That might be by choice, similarly to Geno Smith last season, understanding the correct play can be made by keeping his eyes downfield when on the move.
Where He Wins
Pocket movement and taking advantage of defensive mistakes. Morris gives his offense second and third opportunities, thanks to his awareness and mobility in the pocket to avoid the pass rush and buy receivers time to separate. The quarterback loves challenging coverages deep and is very effective, so projections to a vertical offense are understandable.
Areas Of Improvement
Morris’ timing is not poor, but it could be better. It starts with his five and seven step drops, which change their speed and depth play to play. Also, Morris could anticipate separation more. This is not a negative, but in order to be a quality starter, Morris would be wise to progress and be quicker with his progressions.