It’s time to discuss Longhorns fans’ favorite position, backup quarterback. This is presumptuous of course, because it assumes freshman quarterback, Sam Ehlinger will earn the backup quarterback position. Nevertheless, he is the next hyped player at the position and I’m here to at least decipher some of his highlights. Now, it’s important to understand that highlights, and in this case, Hudl highlights, are heavily curated. They are obviously meant to focus on a player’s best traits and plays. There is nothing wrong with that. What I try to do is figure out a bit of the player’s high school offense and some of the decision-making involved. As I did last year with Shane Buechele, where I asked, in December 2015, ‘Could Shane Buechele Start?’, I suppose I’ll address Sam’s case the same. Since I’ll be including the whole Hudl film, I’ll discuss some before and after viewing, to guide you through what I see, as an armchair Trent Dilfer, if you will, ha! Now, in Sam’s case, what I’ll have to do is, review his junior highlights. As you may already know, injuries kept Sam from competing a majority of the 2016 season. That said, I shall give it a go.
Starting with his 2015 highlights, right out of the gate you’ll see a ‘Drive’ passing concept against a match-quarters scheme. Sam is reading the field side where the #1 receiver (outside-in) is running a deep Post, the #2 is running running a ‘Dig’ or square-in, and the #2 receiver to the boundary is running a Drag route from the boundary slot across to the field. Note, I use the ACTS (Advantage, Concept, Third Fix, Scramble) passing approach (Dan Gonzalez) to analyze passing games. If you haven’t read Dan’s books, do so, they are the best I’ve read on the subject, as an outsider looking in. So, what we have here is an Advantage route, the deep Post, a concept, the Dig-Drag, but what we don’t know for sure is what Sam’s Third Fix and Scramble are, as those can be altered within a concept. Note the inside of the hash and shallow alignment of the field safety. This should automatically ‘alert’ Sam to the deep Post. In many systems, the initial Advantage routes are referred to as ‘Alert’ routes. Sam knows, based on pre-snap alignment alone, that he either has the safety beat deep or can come underneath to the Dig route. As it happens, both actually come open. Sam’s feet are well-spaced, he’s calm and balanced, and he delivers a strike deep, beautiful.
As the film progresses, you’ll note the physicality to Sam’s game and his high school staff used it. At the high school level, he’s very difficult to bring down and it shows. Also, while he’s not a ‘burner’, Sam possesses speed similar to Buechele. Where they differ is in trunk and upper body strength and power. You’ll also notice step up in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield to complete passes. He has the ability to buy time and complete Scramble passes. Watch and enjoy 12 minutes of glory (Note 12:02, mentioned below).
I know the “reel” is a bit long, but it’s patently obvious why Shawn Watson made Ehlinger a priority so early on. Also, that the ‘scouting services’ didn’t rate Sam highly for quite a bit of time was also somewhat laughable. I’m not here to pump sunshine you know where, but a damn good player is a damn good player, Sam is one. So, based on what we can see only, what are my thoughts on the young gunslinger?
Accuracy – First off, Sam is accurate throwing to every zone, deep, intermediate, and short. His ability to place throws to the Post, Fade, and Corner routes will go a long way in Herman’s offense. There are few highlights of him throwing quick and intermediate, but the few in the hudl do demonstrate that Sam has a good release and accuracy.
Footwork – Sam is incredibly coordinated and balanced. He moves very naturally with both hands on the ball, whether in the pocket or scrambling, buying time. This is very important, a quarterback should not appear mechanical in this aspect. His athleticism will lend itself to the Herman offense, which will feature Power Read and Draw, two concepts Sam shows proficiency in. While he won’t be running away from defensive backs at the next level, Sam possesses the athleticism and strength to force defenses at the next level to honor the 11th player on offense, the quarterback.
Vision – Sam already has what’s referred to as ‘pocket presence’. He steps up and slides very well, but more importantly, he is able to keep see things come open and keep his eyes downfield to find receivers off-schedule or in the Scramble.
Trouble Spots – It’s very difficult to know what you can’t see, but the hudl does offer hints. While Sam possesses the requisite athleticism, oftentimes this can lead young quarterbacks astray. Simply, the athletes at the FBS level are far and away better than those at the high school level. It takes a lot of training to help a quarterback understand what it is he can’t do, especially when earlier habits were highly rewarded. Arm strength may also be an issue, as he’s more Montana than Elway. As noted above, throws like the one at 12:02 will become much more difficult at the next level.
I really enjoy watching Sam play, he’s aggressive and physical. Though he’ll need to reign both traits in some at the next level, the competitiveness he’s shown at the high school level should translate to college well. As far as his fit, many fans are concerned about the Texas quarterbacks, mainly because they lack the athleticism as past Herman quarterbacks. However, no one mentions that fact that Herman has never utilize gifted passers. There is plenty within the Herman offense and it’s framework that the new staff can utilize to play to the strengths of both Buchele and Ehlinger. Don’t get me wrong, it sure as hell is nice to have a quarterback who can run a 4.5, but when you have a guy that can complete passes to move the chains, one that still offers some effective mobility, it’s still winning football. Herman’s approach is mostly ‘defensive’ in nature. His offense seeks to gain 1st downs and play for field position first. Herman knows defenses win championships, hence Todd Orlando. Where good quarterbacks come into play, is executing the ‘routine’ while also contributing to said routine’s upside, whether it be by running or passing. Ehlinger provides just that.