How Notre Dame Has Adapted To QB Evaluations Without In-Person Viewings
There’s no need to regurgitate the specifics of the COVID times’ effects on football recruiting, but let’s just say it’s not ideal for evaluating quarterbacks. If there’s any position where an in-person viewing is a non-negotiable, it’s that one.
Right now, though, it’s not an option.
The pandemic wrench has altered recruitment of 2022 quarterbacks most of all. Many 2021 prospects were committed by March 2020. If not, they had at least played their junior years and had opportunities to be seen. But the 2022 recruits were ending their sophomore years, many of their recruitments in their nascent stages.
As the NCAA dead period has dragged on, some concessions had to be made. In August 2020, Notre Dame finally caved. It’s believed the Irish may have been the last Power Five team to extend their first 2022 quarterback offer. On Aug. 17, four-star Steve Angeli from Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic and four-star Gavin Wimsatt from Owensboro (Ky.) High School picked up Notre Dame offers. The Irish coaching staff had seen neither in person.
There had to be a little uneasiness from Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees. Angeli wasn’t even his team’s starter as a sophomore, even though he had 14 offers before the Irish entered the mix.
“There’s a big difference between evaluating on camera and evaluation in-person,” Rees said on National Signing Day.
But not enough to justify remaining stubborn and waiting out a dead period.
“The great thing right now is all of these kids are putting together pro day-type videos,” Rees said, “where it’s field-level, behind the quarterback, bird’s-eye view of the whole field and you’re able to see different angles of the throw. It almost gives you a live audition.”
Sure enough, Angeli and Wimsatt both sent workout videos to Notre Dame this summer. College coaches’ demand for them has increased as the dead period has lingered, said quarterback trainer Will Hewlett. They’re not a perfect replacement, but they can add to the evaluation.
The Irish have since extended a third 2022 quarterback offer, to four-star Martin (Tenn.) Westview’s Ty Simpson. They’re also monitoring three-star Medina (Ohio) High quarterback Drew Allar, who has added Michigan, Indiana, Washington, Texas A&M and Kentucky to his offer list since late January.
“These kids, their coaches and their trainers have done a wonderful job of understanding that, knowing that and being able to supplement it with workouts,” Rees said. “It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect. We have to work through it. You have to go a little bit with what you see on the tape and workouts. Trust how you can put them side-by-side and compare them. That’s when those intangible things start to differentiate one guy from the next.”
And deep dives into intangibles are not hindered by the pandemic. They can be done over Zoom conversations with the quarterback prospect himself or on calls with his coaches.
More pluses that can make one player stand out: strong reviews from opposing coaches and multi-sport participation. A Division I-level quarterback, theoretically, should be athletic enough to be in the rotation on his school’s basketball team, a starter on the baseball team or some other active role on another team.
“You should be doing something else,” Rees said. “You may not be the star. You might be a role player. It teaches you how to be a different type of teammate, about being selfless, how to take ownership of a different role. Ultimately, that’s going to help you where you’re a star.”
But above all, Rees said, the goal is to gauge the player’s love for the game and for the position.
“Ask about the games played on Sunday,” Rees said. “Throw a curveball and ask where Tom Brady went to college. Ask who was in the College Football Playoff the year before. Ask if he saw the game Thursday night. Is he watching the game? Is he following the game? At this position, you need to in order to be committed to being the best version of yourself.”
Sometimes, the pop quizzes can take on a more professional feel. Rees attended the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in his one year as a Los Angeles Chargers offensive assistant and saw the quick-hit interviews teams put quarterbacks through.
“There are different ways to see cognitively how well they can learn, adapt, pick things up in a short amount of time,” Rees said. “Teach a concept or two in a quick formation, take the sheet away and see how the retention was of those quarterbacks and how well they could process it and verbalize it back to you.
“When you’re able to find those layers out about players, you’re able to start differentiating guys who are similar in their physical traits, but this might give one guy the edge over another.”
Without the in-person viewings, those edges become even more important to gain.
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