In today’s game, coaches are always trying to think of new formations or game plans to keep the opposition guessing throughout the game. Depending on the personnel available, one tool that can provide immediate dividends is a quarterback platoon. Throughout this article, I’ll break down what kind of players you need, as well as examples of platoon systems gone wrong.
The first part of a platoon that you need is a quarterback who can sit in the pocket and make consistent reads.
With this player, you’re looking for someone more in the mold of a Peyton Manning or Jay Cutler. While they may be able to scramble for a first down every now and then, they should be more comfortable making throws downfield to pick up first downs. This player usually has fairly good size and can easily see over the offensive line to make throws.
Here Todd Dodge, former head coach at Southlake Carroll High School breaks down the QB pocket Presence.
Source: Training a Championship QB
The second half of the platoon will consist of a quarterback who has running ability. In terms of this, think of a Robert Griffin III or Colin Kaepernick. Although this player can complete passes downfield, they are more effective outside of the pocket. Occasionally, they might not have ideal height, but possess the athleticism to scramble and make throws on the run.
Advantages of Combining a Pocket Passer with a Scrambler
Utilizing these two drastically different skill sets can provide immense benefits to coaches, as well as the quarterbacks who will be more effective when put in situations designed for them to succeed. It also presents challenges for the opponents.
Along with the presence of challenging in-game strategies, it requires opposing coaches to plan for a variety of formations that may be thrown at them. Another advantage rests on the fact that it protects your most valuable player from injury. By giving them a breather every couple of plays, they’re less likely to take on those additional hits.
Next, a platoon system should remove all the drama leading up to the game as to who the starting quarterback will be. This will allow the rest of the team, and especially the quarterbacks, to be able to stay focused on the match at hand. Finally, the reality is that most teams won’t have an elite quarterback that can do it all. Sometimes, you have to work with what you got and mix-and-match in places.
Here the Spread n’ Shred Community explains the power tool of a scrambling QB.
Source: Top 20 QB Run Schemes
Situations to Avoid a Quarterback Platoon
While all the reasons I mentioned above are perfect examples of utilizing two different quarterbacks skill sets, there are times where teams should completely avoid using a quarterback platoon. This all goes back to a point I mentioned in the introduction: it all depends on the personnel available. Every team has a different group of capable quarterbacks.
With this said, some teams may have three passers that have similar skill sets. In this case, it doesn’t make much sense to be pulling a scrambling quarterback for another scrambler that may be a little less talented in other areas. Another situation where it doesn’t make sense to use a platoon is when you already have an elite quarterback. Even if he may just be a pocket passer, you’re not going to remove the sure-fire top quarterback from the game on a consistent basis.
A final situation where this should be avoided is in-game tactics. Over the course of each game, coaches need to be analyzing how the quarterbacks are doing. If the scrambling quarterback is on a roll and making steady throws downfield, then it doesn’t make much sense to disrupt the rhythm. Rather, play it out on a down-to-down basis and make decisions accordingly.
The term “Smelley Garcia” is often used to describe one of the situations that I discussed above. Essentially, it is what you call a platoon that is switching out quarterbacks that are essentially the same players. They don’t complement each other’s skill sets and really produce no immediate advantages to the game. As for the origin of the name, it comes from two University of South Carolina quarterbacks, Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia, who were clearly used in a platoon unsuccessfully.
1997 Ohio State
Possibly the best example in recent memory of an effective quarterback platoon occurred with the 1997 Ohio State Buckeyes, who went on to win the Rose Bowl that season. They went through the entire regular season with a two-quarterback system consisting of Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine. Neither were tremendous quarterbacks as Germaine was a 4th round NFL draft pick and Jackson went undrafted.
However, their skill sets were complimentary. Although Jackson was a decent passing quarterback, it was his running ability that benefited the Buckeyes so much in the 1997 season. Combine that with Germaine’s pocket passing and they had themselves a perfect example of taking advantage of two dynamic skill sets.
The one point that was mentioned earlier and can’t be stressed enough is the injury factor. As is the case in nearly every sport, injuries are a part of the game. If a team were to lose their lone starting quarterback mid-season, there is no question that it will be an uphill climb the rest of the season.
Adding to the fire, if you’ve only been using one quarterback the whole time and the back-up has been mainly holding the clipboard, then you’ll be forced to play someone that has limited reps with the first-teamers. This immediately spells disaster. However, a platoon system allows two guys to be completely knowledgeable on how to run the offense. Further, by having one spell the other throughout the game, it limits the risk to a degree of a quarterback taking a tough knock.
In the end, there are an incredible amount of benefits to running a quarterback platoon. While a lot of it depends on the personnel on the team, it can make one’s offense much more dynamic and consistently keep the defense on their toes. However, just as it can be effective in many areas, it can also be an utter disaster and create a “Smelley Garcia” situation. The best advice I can give to a coach is to know the skill sets and leadership qualities of each of your players.