Footwork

Second from left, WVU assistant coach and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell looks at his three quarterbacks footwork at a practice this week.

MORGANTOWN — The ability of most West Virginia University quarterbacks — except for Patrick White — has always been placed upon the throwing arm.

Judge him on the strength of his arm, the accuracy of his arm, spin rate if you want to enter the hi-tech world.

But with the addition of Graham Harrell and his Air Raid philosophies, the making of a quarterback begins not at all with his arm but instead, surprisingly, with his feet.

That’s right, while you are trying to gain yards, your ability to do it is measured in feet.

We’re not talking the Patrick White kind of feet that turn planned aerial bombardments into infantry maneuvers, but, instead, timing that is based on the feet.

Where is Harrell’s emphasis at present being placed as he acquaints himself with three wannabe starting quarterbacks in Graham Greene, the most experienced of the lot but hardly what you would call game hardened; Will “Goose” Crowder, a redshirt freshman who threw only two passes last season but who has not yet thrown either an incompletion or interception, and true freshman Nicco Marchiol out of Arizona, the highest rated freshman QB at WVU since Geno Smith.

This is the way Harrell approaches building the quarterback he wants to run his system.

“If a quarterback’s feet are good, the ball usually comes out right. A lot of that is just timing. We got a long way to go from that standpoint and can be a lot better. It has to become habit. It has to show up in live periods,” he said.

“It’s something we’ll always work on. No matter what, we have to work on the footwork.”

With Harrell, it’s almost like a dance step ... one, two, three, throw ... one, two, three, four, five throw.

Growing up and going through Pee Wee football, high school, quarterback camps, all kinds of things are drilled into a developing quarterback’s head.

Too much, Harrell believes.

“I think quarterback is the most overcoached position. I’m not necessarily talking schematically, but there’s so much stuff and so many people who work with quarterbacks nowadays that it is an overcoached position. I think you can put too much in their head,” he said.

To Harrell, the two things that must be coached have nothing — and everything — to do with throwing the ball.

“I think they can have a plan with their feet and the other important thing is they know their reads. If they can do those two things really well ... be really disciplined with the feet and be really disciplined with the reads, then the quarterback has a good chance to be successful.”

And so the drills begin with the footwork, with taking precise drops that work in tandem with the receivers’ routes.

“If you take the proper drop, the ball will come out on time,” Harrell said. “If the receiver runs the proper route and quarterback takes the proper drop, the ball will come out on time. We’re designing the play that way. We design the play for the quarterback’s feet. You have to be consistent with your feet and consistent with the drop ... the same with the route.”

Out of that grows the read by the quarterback.

“The first read or two is based off the route and his feet have to be right. It’s hard enough to get everything right ... get the receiver to run the route right, get the protection right, so the play can’t go bad just because the quarterback didn’t use the right footwork. That’s why we’re so hard on them,” Harrell said.

“We do different drills every day but every day we work on our drops. We have to be right with our feet.”

It is no different than other sports. Footwork leads to balance. It leads to confidence. You’ve heard Bob Huggins talking about how good Taz Sherman’s feet are as they give him a solid base from which to shoot and the timing to get it off.

“Things aren’t always going to go right,” Harrell said. “When things don’t go right, you still have to make a play. We’ll work a ton with drops and having a plan and throwing on time. When it doesn’t go right, we will still be able to move and make a play. It still comes back to feet on that, too.

“You have to have your feet right so when you see something, you have to be able to throw it now. That’s why I say you throw with your feet. Everything has to be great there.

It creates a new definition for the term “athlete’s foot.”

The three quarterbacks on hand are drilling to make it second nature. You can’t be worrying about your feet when the game is on. Too many things are transpiring too quickly for that.

Right now they are working with new plays, new terminology, new receivers and they are installing the offense and their role within it.

“This whole week will be the first time they’ve worked with the plays we’re running that day,” Harrell said. “The most important thing with those guys is that Wednesday they are better than they were this Tuesday on what we are working on. They’ve all shown some flashes of good things.

“The most important thing for these guys is going to be where they truly understand to the point of there being no hesitation,” Harrell said. “There’s obviously been some hesitation because this is the first time they are doing things. That’s something you have to work on until it becomes second nature and they become completely confident in it.

“When that happens, the level of play goes up. Then you have to be consistent doing it. If you eliminate hesitation and be consistent every day, we can move the offense.”

So it is that for WVU’s quarterbacks in their new offense, the old cliche is filed away. It’s not a game of inches.

It’s a game of feet.

Maybe that’s why they call it football.

Follow @bhertzel on Twitter

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