Here are the top ten things to look for when I pick an option quarterback
10. ARM STRENGTH: Not as important as others but more important then accuracy. Strength and the ability to throw the ball over the top of the defense keeps the defensive structure sound. It keeps the top of the defense as the TOP OF THE DEFENSE. How many times have you seen an incomplete pass fly harmlessly over the head of a receiver only to here the opposing head coach yell at the other player to "get back" Coaches fear the quick strike and will be sound because of this. This keeps the numbers on your side.
9. QUICK HANDS: Everybody talks about "quick feet" in an option quarterback but quick hands are equally important. (Maybe more so) Quick hands allow a quarterback to get the ball out of a mess. They allow the quarterback to handle the back-to-back and echo reads easier and later in their thought process. They allow the quarterback to hold the pitch just to the right time and keep the pitch key from being a two assignment player. They smooth the mesh. Show me a lot of fumbles and I'll usually show you a slow handed quarterback.
8. QUICK FEET: Great speed is nice but quick feet are more important. The option quarterback is going to find himself working in tight quarters. He will have to change direction on a dime. Speed is great but a long leg loper will usually not make is out of the backfield unless you get a play that is exactly as it's been drawn. This is the reason why most great option quarterbacks are usually shorter. Take foot quickness over speed anyway. There are a lot of option cuts 90 degrees and greater.
7. INTELLIGENCE: While I would like to put this higher - you as a coach can overcome this deficiency by adapting your system and taking on more responsibility. Ideally, I would like the quarterback to handle everything from the line. I would like him to understand football theory and what we are trying to do. This doesn't happen as often as it sounds though. I have continually tweaked and adjusted our play calling communication to handle the wide variance at this level. We gone from leaving him out there alone to sideline cards to sideline calling depending on the quarterback. Once it was so bad that we had the tackle make a call and the slot then make a perimeter blocking call. The only thing the quarterback needed to know was when the two calls met a certain criteria to check "opposite." He was doing this by rote! Was it the ideal way - no! But it goes with my philosophy that it is the coach's job to find a way to win However, if you can get a intelligent one.
6. A DESIRE TO RUN: We've had a number of quarterbacks with limited running ability and were still successful. We went to the state quarterfinals with a 5.1 40 QB and this year went to the state finals with probably the least athletic quarterback I've ever coached. I can design and tweak the offense to get the balls out of his hands but when the opportunity presents itself he must take advantage of it. Even it's only 5 yards, it's a success. I tell the quarterbacks - if you get me 4 every time we will win. The defense will have to respect you as a runner or we'll score 4 yards at a clip. You have no chance with even an athletic quarterback who doesn't want a part of running.
5. SPATIAL VISION: The ability to see space while focusing on one key is essential to the option quarterback. He cannot be successful without it. It allows him to handle back-to-back and echo stunts. It allows him to leverage pitch. It creates the big play for the quarterback with a second cut. Most of all it prevents fumbles caused by plays that are already in duress as he can see the problem before it occurs.. (I.e. pitching into a pitch man with a support player up and through to him.)
4. GOOD DECISION MAKING: This goes without saying as to the nature of the offense but once again - you can tweak it with a player who has the other characteristics. Run more double option, etc. So it's important and the more you have the better but it's not in the top three. (NOTE: while some quarterbacks have come out and read well immediately, this is a learned skill. Mistakes usually take place in the teaching process. That is why in some other list I've listed this as low as 8th.)
3. LOYALTY: By the very nature of this offense it takes care of itself. It compensates for lack of ability (aka the academies) and takes advantage of an abundance of it (aka Oklahoma's and Georgia Southern's heyday.) But it is different. It is outside the norm. It is not the offense of the week. Because of this there are a lot of naysayers (As I found out recently - even when you're winning!) A quarterback who hasn't bought into the offense will destroy it. Just the slightest hesitation will cause doubt and lose the execution which is the reason for its success in the first place. (I ran into the problem this year with a quarterback who thought we should throw the ball more to fit his skills. We were the worse executing offense I have ever had as the quarterback was indifferent to its necessity.)
2. A WINNER: This is strange and hard to define but when you see it - you know it. It's that swagger that permeates to the team. It's the confidence that radiates. It's the ability to make something out of nothing. It's the unflappable demeanor in hard times. It's not brash and baudacious. It comes across in different forms.You are putting the ball in this person's hands every play. It is the most valuable piece of equipment in the game. If he is not a winner - you will have a hard time winning with the ball in his hands and all the decisions in his control. period. Simple stated I'll paraphrase the judge who defined pornography: "I can't define it but I know it when I see it."
1. SELFLESSNESS: I have lost two playoff games where I thought we would win state titles because of this very trait. By the simple nature of the offense the ball must be distributed as the defense dictates. It is a decision driven offense and by that nature a post-snap offense. The offense if executed takes care of that. Any pre snap or predetermined decisions will kill it. As with the quarterback who won't run, the quarterback who keeps too often destroys your chances of success. Maybe it's a pet peeve because I've lost state titles through this (one last year that was a perpetual problem and the other years ago where the quarterback was insistent that he would break the 1000 yard mark like the fullback.) but this is a team breaker. I always tell them there are games they will gain 100 and games they will have 2 carries - live with it. The object is to win. (think of a point guard who shots every time he crosses halve court. Why is he a point guard? And what has he done to team morale?)
I know there are others but I consider these the most important. One I left out that people probably wonder why is physical toughness. I believe this is overrated. If you teach a quarterback right he should not be exposed to undue hit and punishment. He does not take extra hits. So he only has to be as physically tough as any other player on the team.
Finally, I believe there is a huge separation from the top 3 and the rest. The three intangible ones. If you have those three and you are expert enough to tweak the offense as to the plusses and minuses of the other 7 - I believe you can be a constant winner. However, without those 3 no amount of the other 7 will suffice.
Hope it helps - looking forward to your replies.