Before he leads his team into the huddle, before he takes off running down the sideline or throws a slant to a receiver, Brad Smith must first know where every player on the field is going to be.
Such is the life of a quarterback. Although an offensive lineman must know his blocking assignments or a tailback must know his running lanes, the quarterback must know everything about everyone.
When Missouri center A.J. Ricker snaps the ball, Smith knows where every receiver should be in rhythm with each step he takes in his drop. If a lineman sacks Smith, he could almost instantly recognize who missed the assignment or whether he held the ball too long.
Quarterbacks coach David Yost said there is a lot of thought and work that goes into quarterback reads. Yost and the quarterbacks watch countless hours of film of opposing defenses. This helps Smith understand what the defenses are going to give him on each play and what they will try to take away.
Smith said watching film is a good way to learn, but it is only a small part of what he must do.
“You have to prepare yourself as much as possible,” Smith said. “Watching something on tape and going out in practice and doing it are two different things, and that’s why preparation is such a big thing around here.”
Knowing every player’s destination is the easy part for Smith. He has to understand defensive schemes to make his checks at the line or to audible.
All of that pales in comparison to what Smith must do once Ricker snaps the ball. Quarterback reads sound simple enough. Look for the open receiver and throw it to him. That’s all there is to it, right?
Yost said every read is different based on a number of factors. Three-step drops, five-step drops, seven-step drops, screens and play-action passes have a unique set of reads that go with them.
On a basic drop back pass, Smith has a few tasks he must complete before he gets the ball. Smith analyzes the defense then looks at the possible coverage schemes. After he decides on a scheme, he must remember what reads go with what schemes.
The way Smith reads the coverage can go different ways. Smith can read the defense from.
the outside receivers in, the tight ends out or in triangle patterns.
After Smith takes the snap, he goes to the next part of the quarterback read, the progressions. Smith’s best guess at the coverage could be wrong and he must change his reads within seconds to go through his progressions.
If Missouri calls a play with Darius Outlaw as Smith’s No. 1 option and coverage dictates he will be double-teamed, Smith must see that, eliminate Outlaw as an option and quickly move to the next receiver.
Yost said the amount of responsibility that goes into a quarterback read makes it a large task to take on.
“It’s a lot of work,” Yost said. “You have to be in to playing quarterback to be a quarterback. You don’t just show up and say ‘Hey, we’re going to run this play,’ and throw it to who you say you’re going to throw it to. The defense dictates that, not the quarterback.”
Yost said the responsibility a quarterback has on each play is a strong argument for redshirting a player, especially a quarterback. Many teams don’t start young quarterbacks because they don’t have a grasp of the system.
Smith said the game has slowed for him with experience.
“When I first got here, everything happened so fast,” Smith said. “After a while, the more you get comfortable with it, the easier it gets.”
Outlaw, a converted quarterback, said he is more than happy to have someone else worry about the quarterback responsibilities.
“Whew, I am glad I don’t have to do that anymore,” Outlaw said. “Brad’s a smart man and he does everything well, so he can take care of it.”