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Evaluating the Mechanics of Big Ten Quarterbacks - Kirk Cousins

It's called the June Swoon. You're tired, you're grouchy, and there ain't no CFB to remedy your sport boredom. This year that June Swoon isn't so pronounced. A new team will call the Big Ten its home, thus setting hearts aflame with talk of new rivalries, conference championships, and the fountains of money cascading out of Jim Delaney's ass.

I guess we can step away from Exparmageddeon 2010 for long enough to look at the prom king, the belle of the ball, the pretty boys of football...the quarterback. Last year we graded the mechanics of each Big 10 signalcaller, a process that gave us some intriguing results and helped us go beyond "Player A threw for ___ yards and __ TD."

We called Dustin Sherer the worst thrower in the Big Ten because of his horrendously long delivery. Bret Bielema took our analysis to heart and went with the formerly unknown Scott Tolzien, who turned out to be a tremendous upgrade. We called out Mike Kafka for his loose, disjointed delivery. A ton of offseason work showed in 2009 - he looked like a strong armed QB who was in control, instead of an athlete who just happened to play quarterback.

We're grading on a different curve this year, so please don't compare the grades from '09 with this year's marks. In '09, we graded from the perspective of "these guys are D1 quarterbacks, even the bad throwers should get C's." This year we'll take a more skeptical eye, grade wise. Someone like Adam Weber, whose body and eyes were off kilter all of 2009, will probably end up around a C-, while last year we pushed him into the B range.


So onto 2010. First up, the Christian Reform boy from Holland, Michigan with the heart of religious gold and the laser arm...Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. This accurate thrower easily took the starting job from former Sooner Keith Nichol and never relinquished it. His 19-9 TD to INT ratio, while excellent, should have been a lot better as the Spartan line gave him lots of time in the pocket. But his sophomoric tendencies failed him in big games, leading to ugly picks.

Tall, but solidly built, much is expected from this 2009 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten quarterback. Let's see how his delivery looked in 2009.

Snap (A-):

  • Security/Ball Placement (A): For the life of me, I cannot find any proof that he fumbled in 2009. That's either because CFB stat's don't count individual fumbles or because Cousins had a death grip on the ball. Either way, Kirk takes the ball cleanly from under center and quickly pulls the ball to chest level, forming a perfect angle to throw the ball from. Thanks to some great pass blocking, there weren't many "face in turf" moments in 2009 which tested his ability to hang onto the rock. We'll see if that holds up.
  • Retreat Speed (A): Retreats with perfectly measured chop steps and will even break quickly out of the pocket if someone is blitzing. I compare his controlled strides favorably to someone like Terrelle Pryor, who has a habit of loping back into the pocket.
  • Footwork (A): Does not get happy feet, can step comfortably into the pocket, Much quicker than expected. I asked my resident Michigan State expert, Evan Beach, if Cousins was better from Shotgun or under center. His quote: "Hey Graham, everyone's better from the Shotgun. Your idiocy notwithstanding, he's pretty good from both." Thank you Evan. Noted.
  • The Fake (C): Doesn't utilize a fake very much but in the Spring Game, I wasn't overly impressed with the fake. It was too drawn out and he didn't reset quickly. If you want to see a perfect A+ fake, look at Peyton Manning, who will fake one way HARD, and then instantly snap his body back into position and throw to the other side.
  • Adaptation (C+): The mistakes from last year which EVERYONE remembers (late picks against ND and Texas Tech) came when Cousins wasn't comfortable in the pocket and threw to a spot. While he showed some improvisational skills against Minnesota (the spin, followed by a TD, followed by him not playing the next series!!???), Cousins finds his throwing "chi" in the pocket, not on the run or the rollout. So it could be that he was a sophomore...and sophomores make mistakes. Or it could be that he's not spectacular out of the pocket. Cousins commented on this last year, saying "Instead of just staying patient and letting the game still come to me, I just tried to do too much to try and get it back so fast that I was trying to make plays where there weren't plays there to be made."

Release (A-):

  • Survey (B+): This is what Cousins does in the pocket: Look at option 1, check to option 2, move up in pocket and throw the ball away, run, or dump off the ball. Although that sounds like a simple process, that's more steps than most Big 10 quarterbacks have to go through. Cousins always has his head up and keeps the ball high on his chest while reading the defense.
  • Stance (A-): When he does it right, Kirk Cousins has the best overall set up in the Big Ten. When he lets his body open up, that's when negative things can happen. We'll discuss this in "Step" below, but people with laser arms (lots of zip, accurate) don't really have to possess perfect stances because their tremendous arm strength bails them out. Stands with legs slightly bent and keeps his torso straight - it's picture perfect. Compare this favorably to Scott Tolzien, who bends a little too much to get extra zip on his throws.
  • Step (C+): An underwhelming step, although I assume it's because his arm is so strong and the delivery is so clean. Cousins is VERY comfortable throwing off his back foot.
  • Wrist/Throw (A): Evan's thoughts here : "Cousins doesn't have the biggest arm, but he probably throws the best mid range passes in MSU history. And has the best quarterback mechanics in MSU history." Oh, better than Drew Stanton? (snickers, cries into cereal because Drew Stanton has played 5 years in the NFL with no discernible ability to throw a spiral)

How the Offense Affects Mechanics (A):

  • This is a new subject I've added. Let me give you an example of how this one works. A couple years ago, Adam Weber was being lauded as a strong armed, accurate QB up in Mini. Two offensive coordinators later, his feet are skittish and his accuracy on short throws is unquestionably bad. Did Weber devolve that badly? I would argue no, his body just couldn't adapt to fit the new systems he played in. As for Cousins, there couldn't be a better offensive coordinator or offensive system for him to show his talents. MSU isn't running the West Coast in East Lansing, no sir. OC Don Treadwell is giving Cousins a chance to showcase his skills. The three most effective passing plays, both from Shotgun or from under center, are the bubble screen/quick hitter, the 10-20 yard slant, and the comeback route in traffic. Those just happen to be throws that Kirk Cousins can make in his sleep.

Overall: A-

[Editors Note: I looked here, and here, and here]