Every time Richard Quinn's name comes up, you begin to hear the same Greek chorus - "He's only a blocking back. He only caught 12 balls in college." The second statement is true. The first is up for considerable debate. What many people don't seem to know about Richard Quinn is that before he was a TE, he'd been a WR/TE in high school. He was a good one, too, and highly recruited. Sometimes you don't get the whole story when you only see headlines. Quinn is an unknown quantity to most Denver fans. That's going to change over time, and I'm betting that Broncos fans will like what they see.
Think about this predraft statement from Rivals.com:
"Caught the ball extremely well at the Combine despite being greatly underutilized as a receiver in college alongside three legitimate NFL starting-caliber receivers"
Quinn served in an offense that used TEs almost exclusively as blockers. Does that mean that he can't catch? No. It means that his college didn't use TEs a receiving threats. It had NFL-quality WRs - Obviously, they didn't see why they should use a receiving TE. Personally, I love to see TEs catch out of formations, but not every coach does, nor do they always need to. If you phrase the question "Did he catch a lot of balls in college?" the answer is no. If you phrase it "Is Quinn capable of catching balls as an NFL TE?", the answer is a definite yes.
"Just give me a chance and I'll get it done for you."
That's what Quinn told teams at the Combine and the Broncos are counting on it.
At times, there is an obsession with the idea of a 'blocking TE'. It's as if that's somehow not a particularly good thing. Is there something 'wrong' with being a talented blocking tight end? Absolutely nothing at all - some teams, and some schemes depend on them. As far as Quinn goes, the fact that he's got a talent for blocking should be seen as a positive with no drawbacks. Some fans might remember that by week 7 of last season, many news outlets including the National Football Post were talking about several teams that were looking for a blocking TE. The questions in Quinn's case are 'Can he block; can he catch, can he learn NFL level routes and can he contribute in both phases of the game?' To answer the first, Quinn was rated in the top three TEs last draft in terms of his blocking skills.
As to the others - Quinn reputedly had trouble picking up the Broncos offense last year. That's not exactly unusual - it's a very complex offense, and TEs were used a a wide variety of ways that were unknown to him when he arrived - remember, his college team didn't use much in the way of TE routes. Denver ran 1, 2 and 3 TE sets, with various levels of blocking and receiving. Do you put out a rookie TE with little college receiving experience to catch in his first year? No. You work with him in practice, you use the skillset that his college prepared him for and you work on his receiving to prepare him for a bigger role down the line. Player development was a huge part of the success story in New England, and you can already see it in Denver. Marquez Branson came from a school where he was one of two leading receivers, even though he was a TE. Josh McDaniels spoke about him recently, and mentioned that Denver expects good things from him in the next season. Just for a moment, think about this:
That's a guy, in Branson, who transferred from a Community College to a small school - Central Arkansas - and over the next two years totaled 82 career receptions for 1,236 yards (15.1 avg.) with 18 touchdowns at Central Arkansas. This player was prepared to become a receiver/TE in the NFL and still he spent a year on the practice squad. After an additional year of training and preparation, he's ready to move into a bigger role on the Broncos. So, why the hurry to pidgeonhole Quinn as 'just' a blocking TE? Simple - many people feel that since his college had 3 NFL ready receivers and rarely used a receiving TE, Quinn must be only a blocking back. There's no real basis for that conclusion, but it's simple, sounds definitive and makes a nice soundbite. It may also be completely false, but that won't stop it from being mentioned consistently.
Here's a conclusion about the third question above that does make some sense: Quinn will take longer to develop as a receiver TE. He has little recent practice at route running, and so it's not his strength. He has a background in receiving, showed good, soft hands at combine and over time, there's no reason to believe that he won't pick up the NFL level passing aspect of the TE position. It won't be immediate, but that's all part of player development. Those two words, 'player development', are going to be words that Broncos fans will hear frequently over the next few years. That's a very, very good thing. Do you know why?
Player development is often ignored in the NFL, even among teams that should know better. Player development is tough, and it can be a crap shoot. Fans often ignore it because it's a lot easier to sound cool and knowledgeable with a quick soundbite - "He only caught 12 passes in college - he won't make it as a receiver." The first half is true. The second is sheer supposition with little or nor credibility, but you can see how easy it is to spout off that kind of thing. You can find those types of comments on a variety of subjects, all over the web. A quick remix of fact and supposition can make a fan sound like they know what's really going on with the team. They don't, but it sure sounds like they do. It's an easy trap to fall into. Lots of folks did.
Here's an easy way to check this out - go to any other sports site except a Broncos site. Check out the stuff that they say about Denver, which you'll hear spoken with complete confidence and an utter lack of accuracy. Amazing, isn't it? Cut blocks are chop blocks, McDaniels fired Cutler, Xanders has no real role with the team, etc, etc....total nonsense, but very popular nonsense. And right now, on sites where the Broncos rule, you're able to catch comments on why Quinn can't catch. Except, of course, for that little fact that he can. His routes need a lot of work, but as to the rest....just go back a few years. His high school work was good enough to draw a lot of interest when he chose his college. We'll cover that more below. But first, to finish the subject....
Player development isn't ignored in Dove Valley these days, and that goes to the credit of the young guy who designed the systems - Josh McDaniels. Every practice squad player won't make it in the NFL, but many of them can. You won't know which is which without putting the time, effort and coaching into those players. Marquez Branson is a good example of that - he had three strikes against him. He comes from a smaller school, he was a transfer from a community college and his build wasn't NFL ready coming out of college. But the Broncos saw the potential, and now he's looking at making a slot of the 53 man roster. Will he make it? From what McDaniels said, probably so. In fact, he's expected to be productive. All from a UDFA from a school most folks couldn't find on a map.
Chris Baker, thankfully, is expected to be a solid contributor this year. Why? Good player development - meeting every day at 7:30 am with Wayne Nunnely, covering the film of his practice the day before, forcing him to learn to critique himself as well as others. Now, we're told by McDaniels,, he's ready to begin to become our starting NT. It may or may not be this year, but that's how development goes.
As far as PS players, Ryan McBean is alternately praised and condemned on MHR of late. What's strange about that is that he was a solid player at LDE last season, even though his build fits RDE much better. When he went down mid-year, so did the defense. The two may not have been linked, but that was the timing. McBean did a good job for Denver last year and he's likely to be in the mix this year as well. He'll be fighting for his slot against several new or moved players - that's what training camp is about, and three new DL players will make every slot both precious and crowded. I wish him the best, but I don't have any magic mirror that will tell me who comes out on top this year. And that pleases me - the competition on the DL will be fierce, and that's just what we want. May the best player win - and may Denver win a lot of games.
But to go back to Richard Quinn - most fans don't even know that with the offseason, Quinn is getting well ahead of the curve in terms of studying the playbook. Why? Because this is a guy who was smart enough to be able to skip his last semester of hgh school and move straight to college. He did well in college, academically and on the field, regardless of how the offense was structured. It's true that it took him a little longer to absorb the Denver playbook right off the bat, but that's what I'd expect from a player who's looking at a brand new kind of offense with new skills, requirements and expectations. He hasn't really run much in the way of routes for the past 4 years. Is he smart enough? Quinn graduated in December from North Carolina University with a degree in sports science, maintaining the pace he set in high school. He even still had a year of eligibility left when he decided to turn pro, in part with the mentoring of Alge Crumpler, which whom Quinn is close. Rivals.com said of Quinn:
"Is big, strong and physical and could turn out to be a better pro than college player."
Not only did Quinn have a 6'4, 260 lb body coming out of college, he had the rangy bone structure to put on as much as 15-20 more lb of muscle, which mean that he and Rich Tuten are, by now, old friends (and daily enemies). It takes more than 1 season to pack on and keep on that kind of muscle weight, but it will come. Quinn has had a reputation as a hard worker. His reputation as a blocker won't suffer from the extra muscle. Neither will his ability to separate from defenders. Quinn will never be a speedster off the line, but he can get faster and more explosive. "I am very confident in everything that I do -- in my blocking as well and catching the ball," Quinn said last year. He excelled as a blocker on special team and filled in a a second TE on multiple packages. He'll add that other dimension to his game over time. While he's not a budding Wes Welker, he's not without experience at playing the receiving TE.
To try to cover this thoroughly, the TSN War Room put it this way,
Strengths: Is a big, well-built tight end. Run blocks with good knee bend and technique, locking up targets and eliminating them from plays. Pins defensive ends inside side blocks to spring ballcarriers on outside runs. Shows quicker footwork than expected. Once off the line, accelerates to full speed quickly and shows good speed in routes. Shows hands to pluck balls away from body. Twists and adjusts to catch off-target throws
Weaknesses: Is not a quick-twitch athlete. Has not been used much as a receiver in college; must work on route running and hand usage to fight off contact in routes. Must run with better balance to make routes sharper. Lacks explosiveness off snap and into routes. Lacks elite speed to gain separation deep. Lacks burst out of cuts to create space from defenders, which will be a bigger issue against NFL defenders.
Bottom line: No doubt, Quinn looks the part of an NFL tight end, with the size and strength to be a strong in-line run blocker. Although he is not the explosive receiver teams are always on the lookout for at that position, he has the tools to be a solid possession receiver.
A solid possession receiver? Well, to be fair, that's all the Broncos want out of him. Another PS player, Marquez Branson, will hopefully be a TE/Receiver this season who can stretch the field a little more. D. Thomas will stretch it even more. The Broncos want Quinn to block right away and to learn to be that possession receiver. After all, consider his Combine results:
40 Yard Dash : 4.88 seconds
Bench Press : 24.0 reps
Vertical Jump : 32.5 inches
Broad Jump : 119.0 inches
3 Cone Drill : 7.5 seconds
20 Yard Shuttle : 4.62 seconds
The broad jump - in which he scored 11 feet and 9 inches, good for 4th among TEs - is a test that measures, in part, the players lower body explosion. This gives an indication that he's likely to be capable of a greater explosion with proper training. He also scored 4th among TEs in the bench press, although the predraft indications were clear that he was going to become a regular in Tuten's weight room. There are other reasons to believe that his level of explosion can improve if it even needs to, so let's come back to that. It may be a non-issue. NFL.com said
Naturally large man with a powerful upper and lower body. Good initial quickness off the snap to gain an advantage as a run blocker. Good hand placement and upper body strength to pop the defender. Plays with leverage. Can get under the pads of the defender and drive him off the line of scrimmage. Has the phone booth quickness to get to the second level and shows at least adequate lateral quickness to block in space. Uses his big frame to shield defenders from the ball as a receiver. At least marginal hands for the reception. Gets low and can run through arm-tackles to gain positive yardage after the reception.
Ok, good initial quickness off the snap equals at least some level of explosion. Note that NFL.com claims that he's faster off the snap than many graded him on. They weren't alone - ESPN Inside said this about his separation skills,
Quick off the ball and can get a clean release when linebackers try to jam him. Reads zone looks well and generally finds a vulnerable area. Unpolished route runner that rounds too many cuts off and isn't quick enough to get away with it at the NFL level.
Quick off the ball is just exactly what he needs to be in the NFL. Now we've got two sources that indicate that the problem with a lack of explosion was solved at some point. How about his run blocking?
Fires out of stance and gets into proper initial position. Flashes ability to jar defenders with a strong initial punch. Stays low and rolls hips into blocks. Shuffles feet well and uses long arms to keep edge rushers at bay when asked to help out in pass protection.
Ok, you've got a player with an 11 foot 9 inch broad jump, who's quick off the ball on passing downs and fires out of his stance on run downs. He needs more explosion? Fine by me. What you're looking at is an example of a player who had an issue with something in his early years at college, but who has apparently overcome it well. That happens all the time in college football scouting. But let's take the issus of gaining explosion. Is that a potential problem?
In fact, I have no worries there at all - for two reasons. The first is that you see this all the time in draft reports - the player struggles with something freshman or sophomore year. They get better, and you wind up with a bunch of conflicting Scouting reports. I actually like that - it tells me that the player is learning and rowing into their role.
And if he does lack explosion? Rich Tuten has a major bag of tricks on that. Ever since the Russian/Soviet Union track and field guys dominated in the mid to late 70's, there have been new ways to develop explosion. An American group of trainers were permitted into the Soviet Union in 1985 as part of 'glasnost'. Among them were Chris Smith and several others. They brought back the techniques, improved on them and now there are plyometrics and a dozen variations, by trainers as diverse as Smith, Loren Seagrave and a dozen or so others, including Charles Dimry. If you see film of a player wearing a waist belt that has rubber tubes tied to it, and the player is bending his knees and then exploding up, you can actually thank the Russian track team for sharing it's secrets - which quickly gained popularity through the world.
The route running? That one is likely to take a while, but that's fine - a combination of Bob Ligashevsky (TEs) and Adam Gage (WRs) will be looking at getting him up to speed there. A first, it's likely that Branson will handle the receiver/TE duties, Daniels Graham can handle the flexible block/catch aspect while Quinn is learning and then Denver will have two good big TEs who can catch, Russ Hochstein if they need an extra blocker and Branson for passing situations. There's not much of a downside here. As far as I'm concerned, there isn't any. Consider a good side of Quinn that doesn't get much airtime:
Since Quinn had another year of eligibility after a medical redshirt for breaking his shoulder blade in 2006, why not go back to college and try to inmprove his draft standing? The answer was found on an ESPN analysis of Quinn:
Before the 2008 season, Quinn announced that it would be his last at North Carolina. He was scheduled to graduate in four years, and wanted to pursue a career to support his newborn daughter.
Quinn is the father of a daughter who was born over the summer of 2008. Like all of us who suddenly have those kinds of responsibilities (slept recently, Tim Lynch?), Quinn quickly established that he was going to go to the NFL. I seem to recall the kind of effort that Denver saw from David Bruton, who is fighting to make sure the his son is well paid for.
Well, Ok, but didn't the Broncos overpay for Quinn? Drifting through the draft sites, I'd have to say no. SI.com rated him as a fifth round player, but other sites disagreed - rivals.com had him as a second to third round layer, cnf.scout had him as a third round player (he was drafted 64th, the last pick of the second round so they were pretty close). This was a far more serious business than he faced when choosing a school. The fact is, there was not a shortage of suitors. At the time, Quinn was still considered a candidate at WR and TE, where he spent his first two high school seasons before moving to TE (where he was successful as a receiving TE) during his last two seasons at prop school. It's clear that his receiving skills are better or at least more extensive than is usually stated. How about this interview published in an Ohio State section of Scout.com?
Wide Receiver Richard Quinn of Maple Heights is one of the true sleepers in the state this year. He's getting some serious looks early on.
"I've been invited to Iowa, Michigan State, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Pitt," he said. "Iowa and North Carolina are talking about offers."
Now that things are picking up recruiting-wise, Quinn is starting to get into the recruiting process a bit more.
"I am now taking this more seriously now that I'm getting to see schools," he said. "I can see where things are starting to happen. I can make things happen for myself. I am now seeing that it is possible."
Quinn took in the Michigan State spring game ("I saw that they throw the ball a lot," he said) and plans on camping at North Carolina, Duke, and Michigan State.
He has fine WR size and is working on getting even better.
"I'm 6-4, 220," he said. "I do a 4.6. I think I can do better than that though. I'm benching about 295.
With that size, is TE a possibility?
"I played a little tight end, so I can work with that," he said. "I don't know if I will commit early, it depends on who offers."
What will be the factors in his decision?
"I want to major in sports medicine or computer science, so education is a priority," he said. "And the weather. If I have the option, I'd like to play in warm weather."
Any favorites right now?
"Michigan State, Pitt and North Carolina," Quinn said.
I don't know that Denver really qualifies as a 'warm weather' city, although compared to Chicago, where I spent most of my own schooling, it's quite balmy. More importantly, with the trade of Tony Scheffler, Richard Quinn should get an even better chance to show his abilities in 2010. Let's hope that the hard work of the past year is evident in his play. Notice that above he was talking about weighing only 220 coming out of high school/prep school - he gained 40 lb of muscle in college. He was also talking about being picked up by a major college program as a receiver. That doesn't sound like he's going to lack in that area, does it? I think that Richard Quinn has had a bum rap placed on him. I'm going to be honest - I think that it came from folks who really don't research players - they pick a couple of sound bites and go for it. This time, they got it just about perfectly wrong.
To bring this issue full circle, Quinn is back to where he started in high school - blocking defenders and catching passes. Quinn spent his final two prep seasons at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio, where he caught 44 passes for 722 yards (16.4 avg.) with 11 touchdowns during that time. He was named all-conference and all-district as a junior and senior. He was ranked the No. 15 tight end in the country by Rivals.com and was a member of SuperPrep's All-Midwest Team. That was some years and quite a few pounds ago, but you still control the ball with your hands and bring it into your body. You're working against better competition, but your coaching, training and schemes are a lot better, too. Since Quinn caught the ball well at Combine, what's the rush to assume that he can't? From my perspective, it has a lot to do with that word 'assume', and what you get when you break it down. Better to recognize that he gives you some skills now, and he's re-developing the others. Player development is a beautiful thing.
And it you're still on of those who are sure that Richard Quinn can't catch passes? No worries there. I'm sure that he'll look forward to the chance to prove you wrong. Personally, I'm betting on the big guy.