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Evaluating the Mechanics of Big Ten Quarterbacks: Dan Persa, Northwestern

Northwestern QB Dan Persa looks to get the Wildcats back to a New Year's Day Bowl.
Northwestern QB Dan Persa looks to get the Wildcats back to a New Year's Day Bowl.

I was really looking forward to evaluating Mike Kafka, because outside of Minnesota’s Eric Decker, Kafka was one of my favorite Big Ten players, and with a name like Kafka, multiple, and VERY cheesy, play on words would’ve been abundant.  Kafkaesque, for example, would have been just one of many, but I digress.  But, being the smart guy that I am, I failed to realize that Mike Kafka was a senior and it being Northwestern and all, he graduated.  As in won’t be returning.  As in, who the HELL is Dan Schadenfreude Persa? 

Big Ten Report Card:

1. Kirk Cousins (A-)

2. Scott Tolzien (B+)

3. Tate Forcier (C-)

4. Ricky Stanzi (B+)

Well, it turns out that in the little bit of video I’ve seen on him, he’s pretty damn good.  Keep in mind, these grades are based on a very small sample size, but I will say this:  if this is a sampling of things to come, Dan will come to Persanify the prototypical Northwestern quarterback of recent memory, and that’s a good thing for Northwestern.  Persanify, personify...get it?  Seriously, if Northwestern is to get to the next level, Dan will be the Persan that could just help them do it.  Persan...person...maybe I won’t miss Mike Kafka as much as I thought.

 Snap (B):

·  Security/Ball Placement (B+):  Persa doesn’t seem prone to turning the ball over, and in his most extensive action of 2009, he was harassed and pressured all day against Penn State.  He took sacks, but didn’t force anything.  Seems very conscious about ball security, and didn’t make many typical rookie mistakes that young quarterbacks tend to do, especially in big time situations.   

·  Retreat Speed (I):  I don’t think a Northwestern quarterback has taken a snap from over the center since the Dennis Green era, so the only thing I can give this is an incomplete.   

·  Footwork (B):  Solid footwork for a spread quarterback.  A lot of spread guys get itchy feet right away, and seem defaulted to the 'run' position.  Persa gets the snap, and his feet are set shoulder width apart, head up, looking downfield.  Doesn’t get skittish, and stays in the pocket until he absolutely has to.  On the run-pass option, I don't think he sells the fake as well as he could, but if he keeps the ball, does a good job of tucking and running.  Doesn't seem like a natural runner, though.  

·  The Fake (C+): He just seemed okay on run fakes and run-pass options.  At times he looked a little too mechanical, and it seemed like it didn't come as naturally to him as it did Kafka.

·  Adaptation (A):  I really like this kid's moxie.  He came in to some pressure situations and more than held his own.  Got Northwestern in position to win at Iowa, and played respectably against Penn State. 

Release (A-):

·  Survey (A-):  Persa has a maturity that seemed to continually come out on the tape for an inexperienced guy, and it stood out when he got the snap and surveyed the field.  His eyes were immediately downfield, scanning.  He was very patient, and was willing to take a hit and hold the ball long enough for his guy to get open.  His 72 yard TD pass against Towson is a prime example of that. 

·  Stance (B):  Stands a little too straight up and down, and although I think he will do well in the Northwestern spread, he doesn’t always look or seem comfortable in it.  He looks like a drop back, pro style guy that’s still getting used to the spread.     

·  Step (A):  His step into the throw looks solid and confident.  Again, very little hesitancy for a guy with not a lot of playing time, and this will only get better as the season progresses. 

·  Wrist/Throw (A):  Persa has a strong, accurate arm, which is a requirement in this offense, and it doesn’t look like there’s a throw he can’t make.  He has a solid, mechanically sound, overhand delivery, and on the few rollout throws I saw him attempt, he lost little in terms of accuracy or zip.

How the Offense Affects Mechanics (TBD):  There isn’t enough evidence on Persa to make a reasoned opinion, so let me flip this around and see how his mechanics might affect the offense.  I have two observations about Dan Persa—he is not as good of an athlete as Mike Kafka, but he’s good enough to be a decent run option in the spread.  He also has a stronger arm and has the potential to be a better quarterback.  Kafka seemed like an athlete that was playing quarterback, and Persa looks like a quarterback who’s playing in the spread.  That is a subtle, yet significant difference, and one that favors Persa.  The only question I have with him is how effective a runner he will be, which is an important part of the spread QB’s game.  If he can keep defenses honest with his running, Persa will shred defenses, and I don’t see Northwestern losing anything as they transition from Mike Kafka to Dan Persa. 

I really like this kid, and I think you’ll see good things from him in 2010.

Overall: B+ or A-, take your pick