Informal Musings: Drew Lock Mid-Season 2019

Hi guys, last time I weighed in on the Drew Lock situation, I framed it as a response to Tyler Polumbus’s tweet. Which, in retrospect, was probably not the best way to present my opinion of the situation. So I hope you won’t mind if I therefore clarify my stance, and also share what I observed when I went back and studied Drew Lock’s preseason footage.

First, I don’t at all think that playing Drew Lock this year would “destroy” him- my use of that wording was a direct reference to Polumbus’s earlier tweet. In fact, I think playing Lock for 1-2 games at the end of the season would likely be beneficial to his long-term development- it would be a bit of a trial by fire, and would give him some experience with true NFL action/ speed. Andy Reid did this with Mahomes during his rookie year, and we’ve all seen how successful Reid has been developing/ nurturing numerous QBs over the years (Mahomes, Smith, Detmer, McNabb, Garcia, Kolb, Vick, etc). But it’s important to remember that the last time we saw Drew Lock on the field was also the last time he played football, due to his in-game injury and subsequent IR stint. Reportedly he only started throwing again a few weeks ago. So whatever progress he made in improving his mechanics as of preseason week 2 is still likely the case today.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the preseason footage. Only preseason week 1 is available on Youtube (and I’ve linked it at the bottom of this post) but if you have access to footage of preseason week 2 I think you’ll find the same pattern shows itself in both preseason weeks 1-2. Which is that for the first quarter-ish of action, Lock’s release is tight and quick, where he consistently steps into his throws and shows good accuracy. After about a quarter or so, he starts to throw with a longer windup, while he also begins to throw off his back foot (particularly when under pressure) and his accuracy drops.

To understand what is happening, it’s helpful to understand why QBs sometimes throw off their back foot. Most often, this happens when posterior dominant QBs lose synchronicity between their posterior and anterior throwing-related areas. Because posterior dominant athletes show greater response time/ control over their posterior areas, if they are caught off-guard, their anterior areas are unable to organize into the throwing motion on time. The result is posterior force in the throw, but without the anterior control to channel it (in general posterior muscles supply force, while anterior areas channel/ direct said force). Accuracy therefore suffers.

Although some skepticism was leveled at this claim last week, I am fully confident in my observation that Gary Kubiak created a technical system of throwing, organized around lateral posterior borrowing. Every QB who has played in a Shanahan / Kubiak offense for the past two decades has showed this particular style of throwing- the list includes Joe Flacco, Jimmy Garopolo, Nick Mullens, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, RGIII, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Jake Plummer, Brian Griese, and John Elway. In addition, QBs who played in this system and then left for a different system (such as Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, RGIII, Jay Cutler, and Kirk Cousins) stopped showing the signature lateral posterior borrowing as soon as they switched offenses (while Cousins is showing it again this season). The chances of this being coincidental- across so many QBs, years, and offenses- are, to my estimation, zero.

Drew Lock’s vastly improved mechanics for the first quarter-ish of those two preseason games showed this same Kubiak-style lateral posterior borrowing. And for a QB who is naturally lateral-oriented and posterior dominant like Drew Lock, this type of throwing- oriented as it is around the lateral posterior areas- is a perfect fit. When utilizing these techniques, Lock shows greatly increased accuracy, as his anterior areas fully sync with his posterior ones. His footwork and his release are tightened up, and he is also able to make accurate throws on the run.

However, as can be seen in the preseason footage, these mechanics are not yet fully ingrained. It only takes about a quarter of play before Lock starts to revert to his old throwing habits, throwing off his back foot with a longer windup and looser footwork. As a result, his play noticeably worsens as the game goes along, with his release time and accuracy dropping the longer he plays.

If anyone reading this has ever tried to change a long-ingrained physical habit, you know that the longer you continue using an old habit, the harder it becomes to change it. If Drew Lock were to start a Broncos game tomorrow, he would undoubtedly revert to his old throwing mechanics, much as he did during those earlier preseason games (remember, he hasn’t played football since then). And for every game he plays using old habits, the harder it will be to shake the old habits in favor of the new ones.

This, in my opinion, is why Broncos coaches are seemingly so reluctant to activate Drew Lock from IR and put him in an NFL game. They know that learning new techniques while shaking old habits takes patience. They want to make sure that Lock has the time he needs to adjust to his new mechanics without reverting to his old ones. And they know that once Lock is fully thrust into the spotlight, there’s likely no going back- if he is still using old habits at that point, they will be continually reinforced as he plays. He will still be able to make improvements during the offseason, but changing his mechanics will likely be a far more drawn-out affair if he is continually reinforcing old habits as he plays. Blake Bortles (another posterior dominant QB) went through his whole NFL career (to date) unable to change his habit of throwing off his back foot.

One other observation- watching Lock’s preseason footage made me more convinced than ever that Lock- when using his new mechanics- has franchise-caliber QB potential. The raw talent that drips from his college reels congeals to form an enormously powerful and accurate thrower when Lock’s posterior and anterior areas fully sync. I spent the weekend watching footage of the consensus top 8 QBs for the 2020 draft. Granted these are just first impressions (and I was unable to evaluate Tua since I’m not currently equipped to analyze left-handed QBs), but of these 8 QBs, only Burrows seems to me to be as good a prospect as Lock, when Lock has his mechanics in place.

Again, getting in a bit of starting time at the end of the season seems like it would be a net positive for Lock- whatever bit of old habit re-ingraining he does would likely be more than offset by a valuable head-start on NFL experience (again, like with Mahomes). But Denver’s coaches need to balance Lock’s need for experience with his need to continue developing his mechanics, in order to maximize his NFL potential.