Having success as a college quarterback doesn't always translate to success in the NFL.
Many top prospects enlist the help of George Whitfield, referred to by some as "the quarterback whisperer" during the draft process. He has prepared No. 1 picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton as former clients and, last year, put together the much-anticipated Pro Day for Johnny Manziel.
This year, he's working with quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty at his San Diego facility. Taking snaps under center versus shotgun formation is one of the big challenges that Whitfield faces in training his high-profile clients.
"The pocket to the gun is a big deal, and there is a reason while people always question it," Whitfield said in an interview with Texans Radio. "Not all these guys traverse over that bridge with assurity. Some of those guys will go half way and they will go back. (In) the pocket, the ball is mailed back to me. I'm never really under that much pressure. My heart rate is not really up; I've got a five-yard head start. I'm going to get the ball, turn and go. To come up under center, there is only one human's worth of distance between you and a whole bunch of 300-pounders."
Whitfield has a group of interns he refers to as "the rat pack" who mimic offensive lineman that move with the play. He uses this exercise to help build a player's instincts on spacing and movement in the pocket. According to Whitfield, eight of the league's top ten passers were in shotgun formation two-thirds of the time, but it's important to demonstrate the ability to take snaps under center and work within the pocket too.
"Joe Flacco is the only QB in the NFL who spends a greater percentage under center than in the gun – that's it," Whitfield said. "(Tom) Brady, (Drew) Brees, (Peyton) Manning, like everybody, pretty much has to be in the gun on third down just because of how exotic that stuff gets, but it is fascinating."
Throughout his work with quarterbacks, Whitfield learned something too. Players need to be ready for the process psychologically. He took both Petty and Winston up to Ann Arbor this offseason to meet Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers former head coach discussed what to expect as a rookie, life in training camp, and how to handle being in the NFL.
"I think that is important," Whitfield said. "The position is filled with so many challenges externally, internally. Everything in this incredible team sport is really centered around one guy: you either protect for him, you catch him, you are trying to tackle him, trying to outsmart him, or you are trying to use him to get a win or feed him so that you can get a win. It's all centered around this one guy out of 22, so you just want them to be clear of all self-doubt and all sorts of things."