Thursday, March 12, 2009

Q&A: Bob Johnson, Quarterback Coach

Interview with Bob Johnson co- founder owner/operator of Camp Quarterback with sons Rob and Brent Johnson, conducted on the All Access Football Radio by Ralph Mancini, Daniel Mogollon, and Rodney Towe.

You coached Mark Sanchez at Mission Viejo High School, can you tell us what his assets were then and what his assets are now and how he compares to Matthew Stafford?

I did coach Mark in high school, so did my son Bret and later years Rob. It was a lot of fun. He is a great quarterback. He had a great 2 years for us–we won the CIF Championship, and we lost two games in two years. He is an extremely good leader; he still has that quality, very accurate. I think that is one of the best qualities that you can ask for in a quarterback, plenty of arm strength and pretty much the whole package. He is very athletic, very strong, he can escape the rush real well, keeps his eyes down the field all the time. He had a lot of those qualities in high school and just worked on them and other little things subtly. Here he is, one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft with Matt Stafford being the other one and a couple of other guys right around him. It’s an exciting time for him, he’s been working hard the last three months and he’ll have a great Pro day at USC on April 1st and then wait for the draft.

What do you say to the people who say, I am a little concerned because he's not that experienced, he only has 16 starts?

I don’t see that at all. He had 16 starts and he is playing everyday against one of the best defenses in the country and they get after it at USC and compete together one’s versus one’s. No one ever seems to mention that, but if they ever come by a USC practice, every day of his year starting and the three to four games he started as a sophomore he’s going against the best defense in the country, arguably. He’s getting pressured playing behind a young offensive line; he knows how to handle pressure. I don’t see that 16 starts as being too much of an issue. Matt Cassel did alright without any starts. I'm sure people can give you stats on everything. I just throw it out the window. He’s a 22 year old, he’s had plenty of football and he’s going to go through the same growing pains as everyone else, but he’s ready to go.

Years ago, Bill Walsh would say when he was evaluating quarterbacks he would always search for the guy that throws a very catchable ball and that is one of the things Sanchez does. Could you tell us how important that is for a quarterback transitioning from college into the pros? How important is it to throw a catchable pass?

Mark really has a nice touch on the ball and when he has to he can really bring it in there big time. He showed his arm strength several times this year with some tight balls into tight coverage down the field on some seam posts and some wheel routes against cover 2, getting it in there at just the right time. When he has to take it off he really does. He’s an athlete. He played basketball as well in high school and like a lot of these guys played baseball for a long time, but stopped it after a while. I think it is a great quality, one of the top ones, there is no doubt. He doesn’t just come to the ballpark waiting to throw a fastball. He has all the throws there are. He can take it off on certain balls, which he really has to. It’s a great quality, when you’re ranked that high most of the guys have all of those qualities, some of them more than others.

Speaking of great athletes at quarterback, you’re also working with Pat White and he’s probably been the most debated player in terms of “is he or isn’t he a quarterback”. You know better than us–is he a quarterback and should he allow anyone to move him to wide receiver, if he believes he’s a quarterback?

I think you do allow them (NFL teams) to, they’re calling the shots, if that’s what they choose to do. Is he a quarterback? Absolutely. He played four years in college and it’s what he wants to do. He proved it in the Senior Bowl. He had very good practices. He had a very good game, had a great combine. He’s been out here with us for three months and it’s been my pleasure, because he is a great young man. He can certainly play the quarterback position, but I wouldn’t go so far that he should tell somebody what to do. It’s pro football, so if he gets to a camp and has to do some things to help the team out I think he’s willing to do that too, but he certainly wants to play quarterback first and he’s told me that, he’s told everybody that. He’s not saying no to something else. I don’t think you should do that. I think that would be a bad decision. He’s very talented. He can do a lot of things and with a lot of this gun stuff they are doing now and the different stuff they put in the game or certain plays for him, he can do a lot of things with the football in his hands. So I wouldn’t limit it to saying I’m the guy, all I am going to do is play quarterback. I don’t think anybody would want to hear him say that in pro football.

A lot of the focus with Pat is on his athletic ability, can you talk a little about his intangibles and leadership skills. I think because he is a quiet young man and he’s not very demonstrative, that gets overlooked with him.

I am so impressed with the guy. He’s got a good ball. He needs to put on some weight probably and get a little bit more durable for that next level, but he knows that, all the kids do. He’s very athletic and you’ve seen what he can do in college and he’ll do a lot of those same things in the pros with the ball in his hands. He can make people miss. He can throw on the run. He can do a lot of things. He can drop back and throw as well. I think his leadership skills are very strong. He’s got a great personality even though he’s quiet, he’s quick to smile. He’s not extremely hard on himself. He’s just hard enough on himself to keep improving. He’s very competitive and I just see him doing very well at the next level, I really do, at quarterback. He’s got a chance there just as much as he does at being a multi-talented guy and helping out at receiver and with any kind of plays they want. He’s a good take. He’s really gone through this process and come out smelling like a rose, so to speak.

I really want to ask about Nathan Brown. Here’s a player that, when you see him for the first time, doesn’t have the physical attributes to really wow you but if you watch him in the flow of the game, he’s a guy that I think can get it done. He operates well within the flow of the offense. Can you describe some of the challenges that Nate Brown is facing coming from a smaller school versus some of the higher profile quarterbacks?

He’s got to get over some things. He’s always going to be thought of as coming from a Division-IAA school, a smaller type of school, not playing against quite the competition, and that is all true, so it is a bigger adjustment for him when he comes in. I think he’s very capable of making that adjustment. He’s a very competitive kid. He holds things inside a lot and has a chip on his shoulder, so to speak, just to show everybody. That has worked quite well for a guy like Ben Roethlisberger. I had the pleasure of working with him for just a week one time. He always wanted to show people that he’s going to make it on his own just because some of the big schools wouldn’t take him to begin with, he really wanted to do that and I see a little bit of that in Nate. He’s certainly a totally different kid than Ben as far as size and all that, but he's got the same kind of attitude. He’s got a little bit of a good chip on his shoulder, not a chip on his shoulder in any bad way whatsoever. You really wouldn’t notice it, but I know it’s there. I know he wants to down deep show everybody. He’s tired of getting in line second to last or something when it comes to some of these quarterbacks. He’s got plenty of arm strength. He’s got plenty of skill. I just hope he has a great career. He’s certainly going to get with a team and have his chance, that’s for sure. Hopefully the chips fall good for him and he’s going to need a break here or there early on in his career to get a chance to show people and I hope he gets that.

As a man with 35 years coaching experience and a former quarterback at Fresno State, this is a question you can answer–with all your experience, what qualities make an elite quarterback on any level? What qualities do they need?

The biggest quality that I like in a quarterback, if I was to just name one, it is pretty hard to just name one and stop, but accuracy would be that one. Without accuracy you can’t be a great quarterback. You can have all the protection in the world, you can be the toughest guy in the world, which is a very big quality, but if you can’t complete the pass, you’re gone. You can’t play. Accuracy is huge. The windows of opportunity as you get to the higher levels, especially the pro level, get smaller and smaller, they're ready to break on your ball. It’s easy when you have all the protection and no one is in front of you and coming at you when you’re playing high school football, especially for the good ones. It becomes so easy. Then college is a little different from the pros where you have extremely tight windows. Accuracy has to be the number one thing. The next one is toughness, if you don’t have it, you’re not playing because it is going to break down, there is going to be a battle, there’s going to be a war and you’re going to have to rally the troops. If you’re not a tough guy, you don’t play quarterback in pro football, so you have to be tough. The leadership qualities are huge. There have been a lot of great arms and guys who can do those two things I just said but they can’t lead and they think a whole lot of themselves and not much of the team. There have been some guys like that and that doesn’t work so the leadership and sharing the wealth by taking those linemen out to dinner because you can’t play without them. Peyton Manning’s one of the best of all time and he can’t play without an offensive line, that was shown when all of that was done. Tom Brady last year (in the Super Bowl) when they got pressure up the middle and the Giants found a way to get to him was very average in that game. Tom Brady was average, Peyton Manning was average in a couple of games when the Patriots were getting to him. You just can’t do it without a line and those guys are top of the line. You have to have a lot of character to withstand that. There’s a lot pressure on you and a lot of those things, but accuracy and toughness are without a doubt, to me, the top two qualities.

Let's not forget Tom Brandstater from Fresno State and Curtis Painter, who spoke about playing for you...

I can’t have an interview without mentioning them because they work just as hard and they’re just as skilled in a lot of ways. Tom Brandstater, who played in the East-West Shrine game from Fresno State, he’s a Bulldog, and so you got to mention a Bulldog and he’s very good and had a very good combine, maybe one of the best combines of anybody back there from what I understand. He’s a 6’4 1/2 kid who can really sling it and I think he has a chance to have a real good pro career and you’ll see that. Another kid who I think is going to be a starter, I think someday he is going to start in the league, I think people are missing a real sleeper if they don’t take him early, earlier than they thought and that’s Curtis Painter from Purdue. He was picked as the top senior coming into his senior year and now they have a couple of seniors ahead of him. I don’t know who is putting that together but they didn’t play quarterback and they haven’t coached a lot of quarterbacks. Curtis Painter is going to surprise people and end up starting in this league. Curtis is a great kid, they all are. Those guys...I’m the lucky one to be coaching those guys the last 2 1/2 months. They’re great kids. It’s awesome.

I’d like to point out that we do have Pat White and Curtis Painter as our top 2 senior quarterbacks. I guess you agree with our rankings.

I sure do. I really do and I don’t know them all, but I know a few of them. I am partial, there’s no doubt, to those two guys because I’ve been with them and I’ve been with Curtis a little bit longer this time. Last summer at the Elite 11 he was a counselor for us. Sometimes your senior year doesn’t go quite the way it’s supposed to and maybe his didn’t, but there are a lot of things to be said about that whether it was protections or receivers or new coordinator, whatever it was. Curtis was the same guy that earned all of those stripes before his senior year and for people to think too much less of him based on the senior year, they will be sorry.

Do you think people are making too much of the spread offense or is it a bigger adjustment than before going from college to the pros if you are coming out of the spread?

Being in the gun doesn’t help a guy a whole lot. It’s a big deal. They can certainly learn it, they’re all athletes, but the gun guys sometimes have a little tougher time, there’s no doubt , taking that drop, especially the guys that played in high school. There’s so many high schools in the spread and in the gun and that doesn’t prepare them as well for the pros. They can certainly learn it and they will learn it, but the guy who has been under center is better at taking his drops than the other guys, at least initially.

You have Camp Quarterback and you run that with your sons Rob and Bret Johnson. Would you like to tell us anything about the camp?

It is on Bret’s done a great job. I have never been on a website in my life. The website’s nice and all that stuff is real good, but I'm just an old school guy who shows up when he tells me to. He and Rob have done a great job of taking it to the next level. I am at every camp. All three of us are and that’s a fun deal. We get Mark Sanchez back. We get all of our ex guys back, and several of them are pro guys. It’s just so much fun for this old guy to be around that and stuff and we really are hands-on guys. It’s not like giving out a tee shirt, having a pro guy talk to them and saying thanks a lot guys. We get down and dirty with them and the camp has really been special for the guys and we have been told that by many. That’s a nice deal, I am glad you asked about it. There’s four weekends, they can check all the dates at

Photo Credit: College Press Box (West Virginia), Kathe Osborne (USC), Purdue University Sports Information, Southland Conference