Learning Curve Accelerates For Second-Year QBs


QBs Brian Brohm (11) and Matt Flynn (10) observe a training camp drill last summer with quarterbacks coach Tom Clements.

In a perfect world, second-year quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm would have gotten to do this last year, before getting a huge playbook thrown at them as rookies.

The schedule doesn't really allow for it, though, with the NFL Draft in late April and OTAs starting roughly a month after that.

So this second season is their first opportunity to take advantage of a full offseason to prepare and improve their games, and Flynn and Brohm are soaking up everything they can in their first go-round through the team's offseason workouts.

It's a fairly comprehensive program that coincides with the offseason schedule for the entire team, with aspects designed specifically for quarterbacks. In addition to regular strength and conditioning work, the QBs also work to hone various fundamentals and watch film to learn the finer points of Head Coach Mike McCarthy's West Coast offense.

"I think it's really going to help, just from going through a whole year of being in the offense and now getting to go through the offseason," said Brohm, a second-round draft pick a year ago. "Really, to play quarterback in this system, you need to understand every little detail, and going through this will help solidify that.

"When you know all the details, you can just go out there and play and not have to think about them, so I think it should be very good for all of us."

Aaron Rodgers is proof of that, having gone through three offseasons of QB work in 2006, '07 and '08 with McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements before his first game as a starter last year, and he went on to throw for more than 4,000 yards.

Even as the starter, Rodgers still participates to keep himself sharp and improving, as well as to help teach Flynn and Brohm at times. As with Rodgers in previous years, the process is really geared toward quarterbacks in their early stages of development, and the learning curve is dramatically different from a quarterback's rookie season, where everything from the playbook to the drills to life in the NFL is coming fast and furious.

"Now we get to take it slow and take it step by step," said Flynn, a seventh-round pick who beat out Brohm for the No. 2 job last season. "When we get here as rookies, you're just thrown in and you start running plays immediately. The first year, especially at the beginning, it was a lot of memorization. You're just memorizing things. Now, we get to take a step back and actually learn the offense and understand why."

Why the running back chooses to stay in to pass block or slip into the flat, for instance. Or why a certain receiver is the hot guy against a particular blitz, but why there may be a different hot target if the defense changes its look. Or why a tight end might run his route a certain way, or why his blocking assignment is a particular defender.

That learning is accomplished primarily by analyzing the film of every snap of the previous season - the pre- and post-snap reads, the adjustments, and the decisions made by the quarterback, in this case Rodgers, who took all but a handful of the regular-season snaps in 2008.

The studying can be done at a pace and a level of detail that's not feasible during a quarterback's rookie season, when his first exposure to the playbook is the first week of May and training camp is less than two months away. Compared to a year ago, Flynn and Brohm will have six weeks of work in this year before they even knew they would be Packers in 2008.

"You try to hit everything during the season, but at the same time you have to get ready to play," Brohm said. "A lot of times the minor details get lost when you're just trying to figure out what the play is and where the receivers are going.

"Now we're learning all those small details. What if you get this look? How are you going to adjust the protection? What's the tackle going to do? Why is he going to do that?

"Knowing why everybody is doing what they're doing really helps you understand the offense and will make you much more comfortable when you get out there."

More polished fundamentals can add to that comfort level and efficiency for a young quarterback, and much of the on-field time is spent focusing on things like footwork, drop depth, throwing mechanics, and out-of-pocket movement.

"Footwork is one of the most important things you can do physically," Flynn said. "You have big guys coming as fast as they can, so you need to get away from the line of scrimmage, and you want to get as much depth as you can, get there as fast as you can, and be on balance, because if you're not on balance, you can't throw accurately.

"That's the main thing, staying on balance at all times, and being ready to throw at different steps in the dropback in case there's hot routes and blitzes and stuff like that. It's a lot different than what I did in college, so it's a learning process right now."

{sportsad300}A learning process that, come OTAs and training camp this year, will make these quarterbacks' whirlwind rookie year seem a lot longer ago than it really was.

Of the two, Flynn had the better of it last year, winning the backup job with a stronger preseason showing. But he's well aware there are a lot of gains to be made, and he plans to start making some of them in 2009.

"I want to be able to go to practice, and when I get the play call and call it, I don't want to have to be thinking about it," Flynn said. "I want it to become second nature so I can focus on what I have to do, instead of worrying about where people are lined up or where people are running, kind of like it was at the beginning of last year."

Brohm went through the same thing, and though the No. 3 job wasn't what he had in mind for his rookie season, the quarterbacks' offseason program has given him a chance to start fresh and focus on improving at every stage.

"In college I fully understood the offense I was in, I was able to make adjustments, check off at the line, and that's where I need to get," Brohm said. "I need to get to that point in this offense, so when I get out there, I'm fully comfortable, I know what everyone is doing, and you can play fast. That's really the key, is understanding what you have to do and being comfortable out there, so you can play as fast as possible and just play football."

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