In the time I've spent with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the attitude towards developing and being patient with young quarterbacks seems to strangely resemble my habits of selecting breakfast cereal.
While I know that "steel cut oats" are a far superior product to the "quick oats" that sit next to them on the shelf, and will benefit me more in the long run, I never end up buying them. The reason for this is that they take far too long to cook and I would rather just throw my oatmeal in the microwave for two minutes and be done with it, which seems to be the prevailing attitude towards procuring quarterbacks in this town.
If they don't come near instant ready, and prepackaged for prime time, nobody has the patience or time to develop them, when we know we would be better off if we did.
I'm not saying the endless procession of pivots that have come through here over the last decade or so would have become the next big thing if we had let them cut their teeth at varying degrees of expense to the team. It is a gift and a skill to recognize when an athlete has shown you all they have to offer and is a foregone conclusion. Yet knowing what I know about the time it takes to adjust to the pro game out of college as a nosetackle, I can only surmise that the quarterback position requires inherently more seasoning to bloom.
It is practically a bylaw that when interior defensive linemen are drafted into the NFL, it will take them a minimum of a year or two to adjust to the pros. They may be able to play and start on situational downs with a training camp under their belts, but their learning curve to becoming complete players and full-time starters takes at least a full season of hard knocks.
No matter where you played and what you have done in the collegiate ranks, the biggest adjustment for defensive linemen is being able to react simultaneously to both the pass and the run in professional football. The reads come so much faster, by the end of your first step you have to have a full diagnostic of the play unfolding in front of you and an understanding of how to react accordingly, and that is a lot easier said than done.
So far this season we have seen Joey Elliott start only six games. In my evaluation, he has acquitted himself very well in three of them. Against Hamilton, he threw for over 400 yards and won. Against B.C., he managed the game expertly and had the team in position to defeat the defending Grey Cup champions with less than 30 seconds to play. Most recently, he accomplished something far more daunting than the initial two milestones. He went into Montreal against the first-place team in the Eastern division and pulled out a convincing win.
Not only did Joey lead this football team to its first road win of the season, a feat that up until Monday appeared to be a near impossibility for this roster, but he stared down the most prolific quarterback in CFL history and won a blinking contest. The skeptics will tell you that it was an inconsequential game for the Alouettes, that Anthony Calvillo was short-changed and didn't have his full complement of weapons at his disposal, and that any defence that Jeff Reinebold presides over doesn't exactly require a doctorate to interpret and exploit.
Yet regardless of how much stock you place in these excuses, and regardless how Elliott fares in the remaining four games -- if he even gets the opportunity to play -- he has shown me more than enough potential to warrant spending another year evaluating his growth.
For not only was I impressed by who he defeated and where it occurred, but by the fact that he seemed oblivious to all the criticisms and his own performances of late. It would not have been a stretch to expect a young quarterback, who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass in five games, and three interceptions in his last go, to be rattled and lacking confidence going on the road into the most hostile of environments. Yet Joey played with the moxie of a professional QB squaring off against a junior football team, and showed no lingering residue of negativity or self-doubt.
A young quarterback that fosters these kinds of intangibles and steel cut characteristics is worth investing in the extra time it takes to produce the final product.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.