Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni was not happy with Jalen Hurts yesterday, as the Eagles practiced against the New York Jets. Sirianni was riding the young quarterback and I appreciated the job the Birds head coach was doing. Hurts was doing something that reminded me of a former teammate I had, who should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. The reason that he’s not is because early in his career he leaned too much on his ability to scramble. I’m talking about Randall Cunningham, who may be the most talented quarterback that ever wore an Eagles uniform.
Unlike Donovan McNabb, who was developed as a young NFL quarterback and was forced by Andy Reid to play the game from the pocket, Cunningham was allowed by Buddy Ryan to rely on his scrambling ability and it damaged and delayed his growth as a young quarterback. McNabb wasn’t as reliant upon his scrambling ability as Cunningham. He developed as a complete quarterback especially when he was given some weapons such as Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook.
Cunningham would make the highlight plays, but he couldn’t execute from the pocket and that cost him and the team in the playoffs. You can’t rely on your scrambling ability in the playoffs against a good, disciplined defense. In three consecutive seasons in the playoffs, the Eagles were beaten by good teams with disciplined defenses because Cunningham couldn’t operate from the pocket as a pure pocket passer. He would abandon the play without giving it a chance to develop.
All great NFL quarterbacks operate from the pocket by giving each pass play a chance before improvising. They get the play from the sideline, then they drop into the pocket behind their offensive line and give the play a chance to develop. They give their receivers a chance to run their routes and see if anybody comes open. They will operate this way throughout the entire game if the receivers are getting open.
As a young quarterback, Cunningham would drop into the pocket and start looking for a place to run before giving the play a chance. He would take his eyes off downfield and start looking at the pass rush to see if there was an opening. He would thrive against undisciplined defenses, but he would struggle against disciplined pass rushers and disciplined defenses.
Waiting on your ability to scramble is a crutch for a young quarterback and it will prevent them or not allow them to grow as a pocket passer. You must be a pocket passer in order to be a great quarterback in the NFL. Cunningham did develop into being a great pocket passer late in his career when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He had a MVP season throwing the ball to Randy Moss and Cris Carter. If he had had a head coach, quarterback coach or offensive coordinator, who demanded that he operate from the pocket without relying on his scrambling ability early in his career, he would have developed as a pocket passer and it would have allowed him to develop as a great quarterback much earlier in his career.