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Quarterback Guide for Football Players (Tips and Tricks)

By Coach Martin | Football Positions

Quarterback Guide for Serious Football Players (Tips and Tricks)

If you were to ask people who they thought the greatest football players of all time were, chances are that the list would consist mostly of quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, John Elway, Sammy Baugh, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Roger Staubach, and Aaron Rodgers are just a few of the superstars who have played or still play the position in the NFL.

Quarterback is the position in football that often receives the most glory and the most praise. As a result, when kids start out playing football, a lot of them want to be quarterbacks.

There are a lot of great things about being a quarterback...

A quarterback is the focal point of the offense and can be the star of the show.

The position touches the football on just about every offensive snap and can have a more direct impact on the outcome of a game than any other individual player on either side of the ball.

At the same time, though, this fact places a lot of pressure on the quarterback's shoulders. He’s the one who takes a lot of the blame if an offense has trouble scoring, even if it's not his fault.

While some people may look at a quarterback and see it as an easy job of throwing, running, and handing the ball off, quarterbacks need to be true students of the game.

They must master the playbook front and back, as well as the psychology of what makes players tick.

The quarterback must be the leader of the team both on and off the field.

Not everyone has the physical and mental traits to be a great quarterback, but those who do find the position to be extremely rewarding and fun to play.

Here's a look at the things that make up a great quarterback.

Football player holding a blue helmet in one hand and a football in the other hand. The background is dark and smokey.

7 Traits of a Great Quarterback

1. Quarterbacks Are Smart

Before talking about any physical skills, let's discuss the mental ones.

Great quarterbacks, first and foremost, are dedicated students of the game.

Unlike any other player, it's necessary for the quarterback to learn the roles and responsibilities of every player on the field - for every play.

A quarterback needs to learn the playbook like everyone else, but he needs to know what each player on his team will be doing on that play, as well as what possible things the players on defense may do in response.

This is perhaps the most important trait of a great quarterback.

Plenty of people can throw a football, but not many people have the ability to watch, digest, and understand the game.

2. Quarterbacks Are Unflappable

Quarterbacks are under constant pressure.

When they drop back to pass, there will be at least four big, hulking, fast defenders coming his way, trying to hit him hard to the ground before he's able to throw the ball.

A great quarterback will be able to recognize the pressure coming his way without allowing it to disrupt him.

He must be able to make adjustments on the fly - stepping up in the pocket or scrambling outside to avoid pressure - as he looks to complete a successful pass to one of his receivers.

Whether it's the first play of the game or fourth-and-two with the game on the line, a quarterback must maintain his composure and stay calm so that he can complete his job at hand.

3. Quarterbacks Are Leaders

As mentioned before, a quarterback must be a leader both on and off the field.

But what does this mean, exactly? 

A quarterback must get to know each player on the team very well, especially those on offense, and understand what motivates them to succeed.

He must be able to rally the troops and get them to accomplish a common goal.

And when needed, a quarterback must find ways to calm the team down if they're overreacting to something that happened in the game.

To be a great leader, a quarterback must be respected by all players.

Ultimately, he'll earn this respect by being the hardest worker in practice, in the film room, and on the field, while being approachable in the locker room and off the field.

4. Quarterbacks Are Competitive

Maybe more than any other position, quarterbacks must want to win at all times and do anything in their power to make that happen.

This competitiveness is what will fuel a quarterback to spend as many hours in the weight room as he does throwing on the field and studying the playbook.

This desire to win, in part, is what will make quarterbacks great leaders.

5. Quarterbacks Have Great Vision

Now starts the physical traits section of the program.

Quarterbacks must constantly scan the field to see where defenders are coming from, what receivers are open, and if there's trouble brewing that’ll force him to improvise.

All of this takes exceptional vision.

It's impossible for a quarterback to do all of that while taking a lot of time and turning his head fully from one side of the field to the next.

As such, he must have great peripheral vision and the ability to understand what he's seeing and what he's not seeing.

6. Quarterbacks Are Strong but Also Precise

Throwing the football many yards downfield and throwing it with high velocity takes a lot of arm strength.

Much like a pitcher in baseball, a quarterback must have a strong lower body and core as well as a strong arm to make those throws.

In fact, a lot of the power he'll get behind his passes will come from his legs and the torque he's able to create by rotating his hips and pushing off his back foot.

In addition, building up strength in the entire body will help a quarterback absorb the big hits he's likely to take from rushing defenders and keep on ticking.

While having a strong arm is a good start, what makes a really great quarterback is a player who has excellent precision with his throws as well.

This is the biggest challenge for players learning to be quarterbacks.

They may be able to throw the ball hard and far, but putting the ball exactly where they want it when they want it is difficult.

There are also times when passing isn’t all about throwing as hard as you can.

Some passes take touch, such as swing passes to running backs or floaters over the defensive line.

A quarterback must be able to do this as well and recognize when he needs to throw hard and when he needs to back off a bit.

7. Quarterbacks Are Mobile

A lot of great quarterbacks will never be mistaken for world-class sprinters.

Just take a look at some of the great quarterbacks listed above.

Speed was never a big part of Brady, Manning, and Favre's games.

However, what each one of them had -- and what all great quarterbacks have -- is the ability to move around in the pocket to find the perfect positioning on the field.

This takes great footwork and the ability to shuffle both side-to-side and front-to-back.

As the pass rush is developing, a quarterback may need to move out of the around pocket or out of the pocket to get to a clear throwing lane.

While he doesn't have to be fast to do this, he does have to be mobile.

4 football players wearing green uniforms walking towards the field

Roles and Responsibilities

A quarterback has a wide range of roles and responsibilities.

Here are a few of them:

1. He Must Read Defenses

Before the ball is even snapped, a quarterback must scan the defense's alignment and see how it matches up with the offensive play that's been called.

If he feels the offensive play wouldn't work well against the defensive play, then he must quickly decide on a new one and call the audible at the line of scrimmage.

On passing plays, after the ball is snapped, a quarterback will constantly be scanning the field, looking for the best opportunity to throw the ball.

He'll do this by recognizing whether the defense is in zone coverage or man-to-man and what areas of the field would be his best chance for a successful completion to a receiver.

2. He Must Direct Other Players on the Field

The quarterback has the responsibility of making small adjustments to plays that are called based on what he reads from the defense.

This is especially true at more advanced levels of football as coaches give the players more leeway to make decisions.

In this sense, the quarterback can send a wide receiver in motion from one side of the field to the other if he sees something in the defense he thinks he can take advantage of.

He can tell the running back to stay in to block on passing plays where he thinks he'll need extra protection.

Or, he can change the direction of a running play from the left to the right.

A quarterback will do all this in just a few seconds after calling the offensive play and then seeing how things look at the line of scrimmage.

3. He Must Limit Mistakes

Even the greatest quarterbacks of all-time throw interceptions.

It's an inevitability of playing the position.

Sometimes, the defense will just call the perfect play or a defender will make a great move to intercept the pass.

The quarterback's job is not to be perfect.

It's to limit the number of mistakes he makes -- especially mental mistakes that are made due to a lack of focus or an obvious misread.

Mistakes aren't just interceptions, though.

A quarterback must protect the ball as best he can all the time, even when sustaining big hits from defenders.

He also must strive to complete the easy passes and not miss wide open targets.

4. He Must Put the Team on His Back

Ultimately, it’s the quarterback's job to lead the offense to the end zone, or at least close enough that the kicker can attempt a field goal.

Sometimes, this will require the quarterback to put the team on his back and will them to victory.

A quarterback can do this by making the seemingly impossible throw, by escaping pressure to get free, by calling the perfect audible, and by talking other players up to motivate them to do well.

A quarterback wearing blue uniform about to throw the football

3 Tips for a Quarterback

Here are some tips for players who want to be a good quarterback:

1. Hit the Gym Hard

Quarterbacks need to be strong.

They don't just need a strong arm, though.

They need strong legs, a strong back, and a strong core.

They also need to have endurance.

This all requires a player to spend a lot of time in the gym, both in weight training and in running.

2. Hit the Books Hard

The only way for a quarterback to know the roles and responsibilities of every offensive position on every play is to study the playbook over and over again.

The unique thing about playing the position is a quarterback really will only do two things on any given play -- either hand the ball off or attempt to throw a pass.

He doesn't have to learn a blocking scheme, take a hand-off or a pitch, or know whether he's running a passing route, serving as a decoy, or blocking a defender.

This might make you think that it's easy for a quarterback to learn plays, but in reality, this makes it harder.

It means that a quarterback must actually learn what every other position's responsibilities are for every play.

And the only way to do that is to study and ask questions.

3. Watch the Game

The best way to learn how to play quarterback is to experience it for yourself in game situations.

The best way to prepare for that off the field is to simply watch the game.

These are some of the things you need to look out for:

  1. Watch what other great quarterbacks do in different situations.
  2. Watch how they react when a defender is bearing down on them.
  3. Watch what they do after they hand the ball off.
  4. Watch how they call a play in the huddle.
  5. Watch how they interact with coaches and players on the sideline when the defense is on the field.

Basically, just watch, learn, and enjoy.

Conclusion

Quarterback is the most glamorous position in football, but it's also one of the most demanding, both physically and mentally.

While a quarterback really only has two basic on-field duties -- to throw or hand off -- there's a lot more that goes into those duties.

Truly mastering the position of quarterback takes years to do, both on the field and off it.

If you really want to be a great quarterback, hit the books hard, hit the gym hard, and be a student of the game.

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