Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Chris Weinke is now the director of IMG Academy’s football program in Bradenton, Fla. Weinke spent three days this offseason training Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, and he discussed what they worked on during a phone interview last week with the Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich. Below is a transcript.
How did your training of Weeden come to be this offseason?: “I knew him a little bit, and he had reached out to me and he was going to be down in the area here and just wanted to see if I had some time to work with him. So I spent a few days with him and really enjoyed the experience. As I told him, I kind of evaluate all the quarterbacks every year coming out of college and he was a guy I wish I had the opportunity to work with right when he came out of college. So he came down and I felt like the year he came out, he was one of the purest passers available, and I just thought that there were a few little, minor things in watching his film from his rookie year that he could make subtle changes that would ultimately make big differences in terms of his game. So it was a great experience, I had a lot of fun with him, and I appreciated his work ethic those few days we were together.”
What were those subtle changes that you recommended?: “There’s nothing major. I think he’s a natural passer of the football. I liked his fluidity and really his throwing motion. He actually has a quick release. What I really focused on in my short period of time with him was to create a sense of urgency in his drop, and you see that a lot in guys that primarily play in the shotgun. They get under center and they don’t have that sense of urgency in their feet. The misconception with him was that he didn’t have great feet because he wasn’t playing with a sense of urgency. So my whole goal with him was to really do drills with that reinforced the sense of urgency in his feet while he maintained great balance and good power position at the top of his drop. So some of the things I did was put a resistance cord on him and pulled him back to do some overspeed training in his drop where he had to fight it and still stay in a good, balanced position. I wanted him to get the feel of being able to get back much quicker and get set to throw the football quicker than he was previously. So I did a number of drills with him just in footwork, working in a small area. I talk about working in a telephone booth. The pocket in the National Football League is not very big, so you have to have a sense of urgency being able to flip your feet and your hips to throw the ball accurately. So again, it was more talking about his feet. And then the next thing was what I saw on film and what I saw early on when he got here with me was he was patting the ball a lot. And what happens when you pat the ball, it causes some disconnection, and what I mean by that is I always talk about passing the football is rhythm and timing. And when you get back with a sense of urgency and you start to fire your lower half, your arm has to be in a position to throw the football. So what happened was he would get the top of his drop and start to make his move to throw the football with his legs, but he would pat the ball once or twice, which caused a disconnection. What I’m trying to say is that the body’s connected and to create maximum power it has to stay connected. And I think what he saw was throughout the course of the few days that I worked with him, I never let him take his left hand off the ball until it was ready to be thrown. In his drop, he would pat the ball and then right prior to him releasing the football, he would pat the football. I told him to put some glue on his left hand and keep the left hand on the ball so he can set it in the position to throw it. So those two things I think what he found in a short period of time was he felt comfortable playing with a sense of urgency in his feet and because of that. Even though I thought he had a pretty quick release before, he felt like the timing was much smoother and the ball was coming out even faster. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned down in a day. So when you’re working with a quarterback and you have limited time with him, you don’t try to make major overhauls. You simply try to make minor adjustments that can make a big difference, and I think when he was done working out here, I think he walked away more confident, understanding what I was trying to teach him and felt pretty good about the changes we made.”
How difficult is it for a quarterback to break those habits, especially in live action, and what can the benefits be if he can break them?: “Well, one, it’s very hard. Bad habits are hard to break. I’m not saying there were a bunch of bad habits, but I think you have to reinforce the good habits. I think it always comes down to the individual and getting to know Brandon, he’s the type of guy that I see is a guy that’s willing to work and put the time in. So as a coach you can do so much and really lay the blueprint out and say, ‘These are the things that need to be corrected.’ Now it’s up to the individual player. From that standpoint, when you get a player later, when I say later, an older guy, this is not a seventh- or eighth-grader where you can really build the foundation, here’s a guy that’s been doing certain things a certain way for a long time, so it’s hard to break those habits. I don’t care who you are, anytime you make a change, it’s difficult. But it’s creating that muscle memory to understand and feel that perfect position. So to answer the first part of the question, it’s hard to break those habits, and again, it comes down to the individual. It’s the same thing I did with [Seattle Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson in terms of making some adjustments with his feet. It’s the player that’s willing to make the changes once they accept it, understand it. And the only way they’re going to make a change is if they feel like it’s going to help them, and I think [Weeden] felt like it was going to help him, so I think he was willing to make those changes. We’ll see if that all comes to fruition. Now the next piece of that is it’s very, very, very difficult in the heat of the battle, especially early on when you make a change, to be consistent with that change. We’re creatures of habit, and we’ve got to fight human nature every day. And that is that we’re used to doing something that makes us feel good or what we’re used to. Very rarely do human beings like change. So the true test is always in the heat of the battle, and you hope that you’ve created enough muscle memory in your preparation and your practice time to be able to have that carry over into the heat of the battle ‘cause that’s the true test. You see it all the time quarterbacks. You make some changes whether it’s a throwing motion or a change with something in their mechanics and you always go to that first competitive experience and say, ‘Hey, did he make those changes?’ So it’s always a work in progress, and I think we’ll see the fruits of his labor hopefully come to fruition once he gets into those live games.”
You trained Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who played for Browns coach Rob Chudzinski the past two seasons when Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator of the Panthers. Do you feel like you knew what Chudzinski would want out of Weeden because of your previous work with Newton?: “Yeah, I think so. I think if I’m Brandon, I’m very excited about that staff in Cleveland -- great offensive minds. And I had an opportunity to spend some time with [Browns offensive coordinator] Norv Turner out in California while I spent some time out there for [Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback] Matt Barkley’s pro day. Just being around him was a lot of fun, being able to pick his brain on offensive philosophy and more specifically the quarterback position. I mentioned that I did do some work with Brandon, that I really liked him and I shared with him kind of the subtle changes that I made with Brandon. So from that standpoint, I think in that offense with Chud and with Norv, in my opinion, Brandon is a great fit in that offense. He has the ability to push the ball down the field. Obviously Norv likes to get vertical in the passing game. Chud is a cerebral guy, has a great understanding of the Xs and Os and knows how to put guys in the position to be successful, and I think if you’re looking for a guy that fits that, that’s Brandon. We can sit here and evaluate and dissect last year, but let me say this: It’s very, very hard to be successful in the National Football League as a rookie quarterback. We don’t see it very often, and we’ve seen it more recently in the last couple years with guys like Cam and Russell Wilson and [Indianapolis Colts quarterback] Andrew Luck and RG3 [Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III], but it’s very difficult. So I think the true test for Brandon is now how does he make that jump to the next year and has he made the changes he needed to make and does he feel more comfortable in the speed of the game at the National Football League level? I think he’s wired the right way. I think he has the opportunity to have a very successful career.”