Allow myself to introduce…myself. Justin here, I post as NFLGimpy on Panther Lair and twitter. I graduated from Pitt in 2008 and still live in Pittsburgh. I’m a proud football season ticket holder. I’ve been writing about the NFL for several years now, most recently on Scouts Notebook, an NFL/College Football website mostly focusing on the draft. This has led me to looking at a lot of tape and highlights for draft eligible players and I wanted to add a little bit of that to my first post here on Pitt Blather. I reached out to Chas and Reed and after successfully
blackmailing demonstrating my worth, they agreed to humor me.
I figured I’d start off with Tom Savage. With Savage as the likely starter at QB for us in 2013, most of what us fans know about him is purely from memory and practice notes. Tape has been difficult to find for him since he was a freshman and most of what I found is purely highlights which are obviously the “good” and not the bad or the Tino Sunseri pocket presence. But you can still learn a lot about a player from the highlights, mostly the “what COULD this guy be?”
I’ll start off with a video I found with his 2009 highlights. Take a look (feel free to mute the music, it doesn’t add much unless you really like Disturbed for some reason..which I’m not sure how that’s possible).
A few overall things to take note of in the highlights:
-The second play (starting at 14 seconds) was the first thing that really jumped out at me. Savage executes a solid play action and sprints to his right. He throws on the run to an open receiver and hits him in stride. This is the type of play we can expect to see a lot of in 2013, especially when the running game is working. It’s a simple execution play that works tremendously when done properly; aka the kind of play Chryst loves. Savage had two reads: high and low. Savage correctly threw it to the low receiver in a way that enabled him to turn upfield. Simple but highly effective. If you take a look at his roll out in combination with his 10 yard run at 51 seconds, you can see Savage has some wheels. He’s much faster than I recalled and faster than Tino. He won’t outrun most LBs, but he has enough speed to get 5-10 yards when necessary.
-Savage can absolutely rip it when he wants to. He has an NFL arm and when he steps into his throws there’s steam coming off of them. They can be a bit wobbly, but that’s a huge nitpick because Peyton Manning throws an ugly ball and that hasn’t exactly hurt him. He easily has the strongest arm since Rutherford.
-Savage’s main problem as a freshman was accuracy. He completed 50% or less of his passes in 5 out of 12 games. To put that into perspective, Tino did that twice in 3 years as a starter. For all of Tino’s flaws, accuracy on short and intermediate throws wasn’t one of them. Something that I noticed even in the highlights was inconsistent footwork. You can see that on his throw at 28 seconds. He has the ability to step into his throw but keeps his legs wide and just kind of whips it. The throw there wasn’t bad, but the two things a coach will fix when a QB has accuracy issues are footwork and throwing motion. Savage has a solid throwing motion. He can throw it a bit sidearm at times, but at 6’5 he can get away with that. His footwork though leaves a lot to be desired and is the main area he can improve on to improve his accuracy. I bet if I watched every incompletion I would see a lot of throws where he wasn’t stepping into them. With consistent footwork, he will clear 60% completion. We’re seeing the plays where his footwork wasn’t a hindrance. If you watch the throws again, you’ll see he consistently isn’t stepping forward when throwing even with a clean pocket. That’s a huge reason for his low completion %.
– Take a look at 1:35 if you really want to see a big boy throw. He steps into his throw and guns it over the middle. The WR is right in front of the DB and a split second later and the DB can make a play. You can see how poor footwork (like his throw at 28 seconds) would be a problem there because if he doesn’t step into his throw it’ll be late. I’ll be blunt. I doubt Tino or Palko make that throw. When Savage steps into his throws he can hit them on a frozen rope. That ball travels 25 yards in the blink of an eye.
-While they are highlights, his deep ball blows my mind. True freshmen do not go deep like that and Savage hit more throws 20+ yards downfield in that highlight reel than I think Tino ever did. He also had a 4th quarter comeback against UConn, something that never happened with Tino at the helm. Take a look at 1:06 if you want to see the throw. It was a little lucky but Savage threw a perfect ball.
One more video with a couple of new observations:
-Savage doesn’t seem to panic anywhere near as much as Tino has with pressure in his face. He made a couple of throws in this video against USF with a blitz or pressure in his face and he wasn’t phased. In that USF game he finished 15/30 for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns. Great yards per completion but a low completion %. You can see in those throws against USF he was throwing off of his back foot a lot, which you have to do sometimes in the face of a blitz. He only lost 7 yards to sacks and had 0 interceptions, so the pressure didn’t lead to negative plays, which is good. But, it’s a good reason why he only completed half of his throws.
-Savage does seem to stare down his receivers a bit. If you watch his helmet it won’t move. I can’t see his eyes, but he clearly isn’t looking at the whole field. If you’re watching most QBs in a pro offense, you’ll see their helmet move as they look around. Obviously most true freshmen aren’t looking off safeties or finding their 3rd and 4th reads so this is way overly critical on my part. Tino never excelled at that either and his big killer this past season was happy feet in the pocket. I didn’t see that from Savage, so there’s a huge upgrade. However, Devin Street has the talent to allow Savage to key on him. I didn’t see hesitation to throw it to his WRs, a level of confidence few QBs at his age had.
Overall what you can discern between the highlights and the stats is that Savage wasn’t really expected to win. They ran the ball roughly 60% of the time, including a wildcat look with Mohamed Sanu (now with the Bengals). They clearly tried to avoid letting Savage be the reason they win or lose but when given the opportunity, Savage did step up. He showed a tremendous amount of talent as a freshman and the flaws I saw in those highlights can be fixed with good coaching. Improved footwork would be a huge benefit that would fix most of the problems I saw on the tape. If you compare 2010 Tino to 2012 Tino you’ll see a big jump in that area (2011 didn’t happen) and coaching is the main reason for that.
As crazy as it sounds, I could see Savage drafted in 2014. The talent is there. The opportunity is there. It’s up to him and I have a feeling after everything he has gone through, he’s ecstatic that the only thing that can stop him is himself.
Constructive feedback on this would be fantastic. I know the premises is a bit off, but please watch the tapes again after you read and you’ll see what I’m saying. Obviously with 3 years between any real playing time he could look completely different, but I wanted to look at talent and skill and I know I learned a lot from it. I’m a lot less concerned about his accuracy now that I focused on his throwing motion and footwork. He doesn’t have an awkward hitch like a Tim Tebow, it’s a fluid motion. I knew he was talented, but I forgot how many “wow” type throws he made. He has things you can’t teach.
I have something different in store for my next column later this week but if you guys like this format I can see what I can do to break down other players, just gotta find the tape.