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All across America, quarterbacks were expected to make their media rounds prior to, or just after, the draft. Once such mandatory stop was the “QB Camp” at ESPN.
Started in 2010, Jon Gruden’s QB Camp took highly touted NFL draftees and subjected them to an intense breakdown of their throwing style & mechanism, spending time both in the film room and on the practice field, followed by analysis of their personality and lifestyle choices. He spent about 7-10 days studying college tape and crafting a unique lesson plan for each passer. It was a rigorous, somehow mandatory part of a draftee’s hazing into professional football. In total, 60 quarterbacks took part in the Gruden experience, each with a story to tell and insight on why the man has returned to the sidelines.
Deshaun Watson – 2017
The man kept calling me “Dragonslayer”. Screaming it, like he was playing “Street Fighter” and had just used the Hadouken. “DRAGONSLAYER!!” I was never sure what he was on about – that was a movie, and that dude was white.
Besides, Coach Swinney said dragons don’t exist, because the Bible never mentions them.
How did the coach approach your sessions?
It seemed pretty standard at the time. We reviewed my season; broke down drives based on how they ended. Kept bringing up how many yards interceptions were returned for, and how many drives ended because of a missed catch. The man was obsessed with making me feel bad about interceptions. Honestly, I think the dude hates quarterbacks.
How do you think?
Well, I know I threw a lot – 30 picks in 30 games – but that was all part of the gameplan. It’s not like we had much of a running game. Our offence was designed to go 100 miles per hour, with me behind the wheel. Sometimes a pick is just part of the process; we had a good enough defence. So, next time out – try to avoid that, and get a touchdown on the board. My job was to take what Coach (Swinney) said and turn it into results. Shit – we played for the title two years in a row. Not many people outside of Alabama can say that!
Anyway, the man kept talking down to me. “A number of those interceptions aren’t your fault at all,” he said, like he’s blaming the other guys, or me for putting the guys into situations where an interception is inevitable. “Some of those are correctable. You’ll fix those.” Well, no shit, Sherlock. But who am I going to complain to? It’s not like I could tell him to step-off; those ESPN cameras were taking it all in. So I just have to sit still like I’m at my Grandma’s house and listen to this random white dude with a TV show that has part of my future in his hands like he’s the smartest guy around.
You know how on draft day Eisen says things like “character issues” have come up regarding players? Shit like that happens because people like Coach sit there and try to draw that poison out of you. Looking to affect your stock because it makes them look & feel good. Justifies their jobs, you know what I mean? Well, I just take that garbage – keep my head down; write notes in my binder; say “Yes sir” a lot. Do everything I can to look like a good little soldier.
And what happens? I go 12th to Houston, who I didn’t know had a football team until Roger Goodell calls my name next to theirs. The shit you learn when you’re outside a Clemson classroom. Mitch Fucking Trubisky goes second to the Bears. The Jets have the fucking nerve to pass on me?! Man, I should have just told him to kiss my a–
Tim Tebow – 2010
Tim, you were at the first Gruden QB Camp. What was the experience like?
It was a real blessing. Coach took me under his wing for a whole 8 minutes and gave me the benefit of his wisdom. “Watch other left-handed passers,” he said, “because they have a throwing motion you could actually use.” Now, I told Coach that the Lord gave me the shoulder I’ve got, so I have to throw passes the way He intended. I know he understood me, because he kept saying “Jesus” every time I threw a check-down option.
Any insight into his methodology?
Well, I was confused at first. He said that because I had gone to Florida he was going to have to speak slower and introduce a different “pedagogical” style to teaching me some fundamentals. I was concerned, because I was afraid that he was going to hurt some child because I had only heard that word when we visited Penn State. Worse, my degree is in family, youth and community sciences; as a general studies major, I was concerned where this was going. He sensed there was some confusion, so he repeated the word again – “pedagogical” – and he must have see some look on my face because he then snorted “…oh Jesus, you thought I said pedo-…” He then made some off-color remark about Catholics and continued on like nothing had happened.
We then watched tape of my final season in college. He noted the play I ran well, and then broke down the rest of my season, noting that “improving your game should be our number one priority.” When I pointed out that, actually, my faith is my number one priority – as it should be for all Christian Americans – he observed that it was pretty easy to say that considering that I always played on Saturday afternoon and the only thing I did on Sunday was send the cheerleader home happy.
He sure didn’t like it when I told him I was a virgin. I can’t repeat all the words he used, but my Father in Heaven knows what I went through at that moment, and He gave me peace.
Why are you such a big supporter of him?
Well, Coach has always had my back. All the way back to my draft year, his constant support is what helped propel my short NFL career. Through Coach Gruden, Coach McDaniels saw the Light and convinced the Broncos to pick me in the first round. Just think – the Broncos traded a second, third & fourth-round pick just to select me. Why, in those positions they could have actually chosen Rob Gronkowski, Sean Lee and Golden Tate. It really makes me feel blessed that someone would value me over other such great players.
Even after I left the sport, knowing someone like him felt I could still compete at that level really means the world.
On that topic, he famously said that “I could come back to the league one day and win some games with Tebow”. What would it take for you to leave baseball and return to football?
That’s not a question I can answer right now. Currently, I’m happy just being a Rumble Pony,
Shockingly, not a gay joke.
but when August comes around and camps open – well, if he calls and He gives me a sign, we’ll see what happens.
Why do you think he went back to coaching?
I believe he has a genuine love for the game, and he has so much to teach. The years of sitting in the broadcast booth clearly lit a fire in him that only returning to the sidelines could extinguish. It’s kind of like when I transitioned from football into broadcasting, I decid–… his voice tailed off in the distance as, unnoticed, I began walking away.
Brett Favre had retired long before the QB Camp came into existence, but since Coach always seemed to be on his dick, it seemed natural to talk to the Old Gunslinger about it.
Why did Coach ask you to be a part of his QB Camp?
He and I had worked together back in Green Bay. Has he ever mentioned that? Jesus fuck – the man just can’t let it go. We worked together for three years. That’s it! Dude makes it sound like I was fucking vegetable before he came along. Kept yapping at me about “launching the ball” and “reining it in”. He wasn’t even my coach – he was the wide receivers coach! Our sole interactions involved him asking me to gently throw his guys the ball during practice. “DO I THROW IT GENTLY ON SUNDAYS?!” was my response to that, and I think the results speak for themselves.
I could only have won the Super Bowl after he left.
Then he goes to Philadelphia. Three years of Rodney Peete & two of Ty Detmer? Oh yeah – the man’s a QB genius.
Then why did you agree to work with him?
The man sure can scout some quality trim, and gets even more thrown at him. You know they call him “Chucky”, right? Well, have you ever met Jennifer Tilly?
That girl was crazy about Coach. Had to meet him. Needed to meet the living embodiment of Chucky so she could prepare for the role, and that role involved banging that fucking puppet. So you know what her agenda was for the meeting. Now, the problem is, the only thing Coach likes to munch is tape, so now she’s all depressed about where this is going to go. I hate seeing an engine all revved up like that and being stuck in neutral, so here comes the Old Gunslinger to the rescue!
That shit happened everywhere ESPN went. Every Monday Night some horror movie weirdo would come along and ask Coach to fulfill her fantasy. He’d just toss ’em aside, and I tell you, they should’ve called me the Trawler, because of how many castoffs I scooped up in my net. Why do you think I tried out for the gig after he left?
How did it feel when you saw Coach had given one of your nicknames to someone else?
Man, that hurt. You let a guy suck your dick for that long, you get a bit complacent. But I guess he had another ‘job’ to do. Get it? GET IT?! (He elbowed me in the ribs, proud of his bawdy dad joke.)
Why do you think he went back to coaching?
Honestly, I think it’s probably a relief for him to be back in a locker room. All those years in the booth analyzing plays and no one to run them for him. He can only abuse those rookies so much before the League makes him stop yelling at them. If he’s working for a team, then all that time munching tape means he can then tell people what to do right, which I think is the ultimate reason. Power – he sure likes telling people what to do.
*wistfully* Man, what he could have done with all that Chucky puss that kept coming his way…
Jared Goff – 2016
Coach & I spent a few hours together. It wasn’t much – he still had to see what seemed like 32 other people that day. But he did want to focus on my talent at quarterback. Well, “talent” (makes air quotes) as he called it. Said the best play of my college career was a seam route. Not a touchdown or a 50-yard bomb, but some pass over the middle.
I don’t even remember how that finished. What you don’t see is me getting my bell rung and trying to avoid the ref’s eyes, because I was not on this planet for about five minutes. But Coach just wants to replay this one pass over and over. I think he had an erection under the table watching me get hit that many times. Then he says on camera, “That’s the greatest throw in the history of throws. I see stuff like this, I’m saying ‘What could this guy do if he had protection?'” Great – now he’s thrown me under the bus because he accused Coach Dykes of trying to have me killed.
But he still found time to bring up my darkest memories and relive them, so – as he put it – I would know what I was getting into. “If there’s one thing I want you to write down today,” he told me, “it’s this right here: 1-11. I want you to keep that with you forever. I think it’s going to push you through some of the dark times. Somebody’s going to draft you early, and you know why they’re picking early? Because they’re probably 1-11.”
Push me through the dark times? Man, that shit made me believe all I was ever going to be was 1-11. I don’t get this fucking guy.
What turned it around for you?
As it turned out, I was drafted by the one team that had a coach who hated quarterbacks more than Coach Gruden. Jeff Fisher looks like a Crimestoppers ad about not walking in the park at night. Kept going on about some record he was trying to break. It gave us incentive to play well, y’know? But at practice, he keeps yelling at me about accuracy – saying I had too much of it. Said he wished me and McNair’s girlfriend were more like Keenum and missed occasionally. Really brought me down. Plus, who’s McNair?
Turns out, the motherfucker wanted to set the record for most losses. Well, we sure fixed his wagon – got him to the edge of it and then got him fired before he could break it. Then they hired Bro Coach and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
From your time with Jon Gruden, did you think he wanted to return to coaching?
I’m not sure if he wanted to on the surface, but the man sounded pretty queer during our time together. Kept saying things like, “If I only had you…” and “The things I could do for you…” under his breath, like I couldn’t hear it – despite the fact that we were mic’d up and wearing ear pieces. Came across like he was Buffalo Bill and I was the girl in the hole. And, like her, by the end I just wanted to get out alive.
Mitch Trubisky – 2017
Man, that guy was a fucking asshole. “Why the hell would you go to North Carolina? It’s a basketball school!” Well, if he’d done his fucking homework and looked at my high school transcript, he would have known why I went to North Fucking Carolina. I can’t read! UNC was the perfect school for me; the only male athlete who ever left there that could read at grade-level was Rasheed Wallace. Luckily, I left before they figured it out.
When I got to the Bears, Coach Fangio spotted it right away – kept calling me “Dexter”. I thought it was from the TV show, and that he thought I was a killer; turns out there’s this guy – Dexter Manley – who used to play in the NFL that went his whole career without knowing how to read. Man, not being able to read the bad things people say about you, that’d be pretty sweet, especially before social media. Coach Fangio’s still a dick, though.
Anyway, Coach Gruden had me working on snap counts while I was there. Not difficult ones, mind you, but basic numbers – “1…2…3…Hike!” Who am I, Count von Count? He forgets that he’s the one who used to coach John Lynch; I at least know basic math.
You seem kind of bitter about the whole experience.
I’m not; it’s just the process. I really should be more grateful. After all, without Coach Gruden’s lavish praise and seal of approval – saying I “had all the intangibles he was looking for” – I don’t think I would have gone as high as I did. But there’s a part of me that thinks he was fucking with the Bears, like they were a division rival and he was trying to rook them into picking me just to guarantee two easy wins every year. I mean, he called me a “reach” for the Jets, and they were picking sixth.
But there is no NFC Central anymore.
I know, but there was when he worked in Green Bay. He kept making cracks about Jim Harbaugh every time he mentioned the Bears. Hey, did you know he worked with Brett Favre?
You were part of the last QB Camp before he went back to coaching. What do you think he saw in players like you and Deshaun that convinced him to go back onto the field?
Not just us. There was also Patrick Mahomes, DeShone Kizer and Davis Webb. We were all taken third-round or higher. Coach ran down that list of everyone picked and said that if he “could win one Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, imagine what he could do with any of us”. He then made this weird face
and said something like, “I’ve got to return track suit’s calls.”
Russell Wilson – 2012
Thank you for talking to me. It’s a great honor to speak with you about Coach Gruden. Go Hawks!
A lot was made of your time at the camp, and how much of the focus was on your height.
Coach tried to make a an issue of it, even trying to provoke a reaction from me about it – “I’m trying to tick you off, I’m trying to get under your skin,” – but I wouldn’t let him. This was an audition, so I asked Him for the serenity to see it through. I like to think that the camp measured physical attributes but not intrinsic ones. You know – they can’t measure your heart. Would you like some Recovery Water? Go Hawks!
No, thank you. Actually, I believe they can measure the heart, and that’s why Andy Reid was forced onto that diet. But back to your height – was there ever a problem with long-range detection, not being able to see an attacker over the middle?
Well, all I can tell you is that every day I had, I played to survive. When it comes to the pro game, there is much more attention to detail. Routes are run more precisely, and players are more settled into their oles that you can predict certain behaviors or outcomes. For example, even if a lineman is six-foot-six, he’s expected to line up low on the line, so until I snap the ball I’m going to be able to see into the defensive backfield and pick my lane. It’s all about having a high, quick release, delivering the ball on time and throwing through lanes. After that, I rely on my “circle of sensory security,” the maximum range of my ears, nose, fingertips, and feet. Go Hawks!
Did you always beat your opponent on your first read?
Always. (He throws an imaginary crossing route.) Throw forward, never lateral. At first I would aim for the checkdown option. Later, as my skills grew with time and experience, I learned to strike here… (he threw an imaginary ball to the sidelines about 10-15 yards away)
What about multiple attackers? Were all-out blitzes more of a problem?
Yes, in the beginning. As their numbers swelled, I began to find myself increasingly surrounded. Those early battles were…“untidy.” I must admit, I allowed my emotions to rule my hand. I was the typhoon, not the lightning bolt. Now, that’s where scrambling comes in. Coach Carroll always gives me the option to improvise if the read I’m looking for has disappeared. Also, the fact that they stack my offensive line with fat kids from the chess club means I have to think on my feet a lot. I need to drink a lot of Recovery Water™ during the game because of all the running for my life. #Nanobubbles. Go Hawks!
At the end of the camp, Coach Gruden did speak quite favorably about you and your skill set.
“I think Russell Wilson will be one of the steals of this draft. He’s going to be overlooked, I think, by some (teams) because of his height. But I do think at end of the day, when you check back on this draft 10 years later, he’s going to have had a very good career.”
It is difficult for me to describe my feelings at this moment, hearing that again. Love had exploded within my heart, a strength and courage that drove away my inadequacies as the sun drives the night from heaven. I suddenly knew God had favored me. Coach Gruden hadn’t been sent to kill me, or to keep me from being drafted – he had been sent to warn me. I didn’t understand the reason right then, but I knew I had to survive until the day when that reason was finally revealed. And that day was Friday, when I was drafted in the third round by Seattle. Go Hawks!
Why do you think Coach Gruden wanted to return to the sidelines?
Strange as it seems, I think he wants to be part of the Raiders rebirth. The chance to possibly win a Super Bowl in Oakland before the team leaves is a strong incentive. I think he feels he kind of owes it to the city after taking the last one from them. Also, possibly being the first coach to win a Super Bowl in Las Vegas, and all the endorsements & free stuff likely to accompany that, is also a strong incentive. From everything I’ve ever heard, Chucky likes free things – and not just haircuts. Plus, if he actually makes it beyond two years, he’s earning that salary in Nevada, so he’s not paying state income tax.
It’s a real love for him – not like the true love I feel for my wife, our children, and my Lord, Jesus Christ, but he loves football like it’s a real person. It’s sweet, but also a bit disturbing. When I took over his show – it’s now “‘QB2QB’ – with Russell Wilson” – they had to buy me all new equipment to use. Some guy on the set made a comment about how “Gruden went Randy Marsh” on the equipment before he left for the Raiders, like he was putting everything he had into that one final broadcast, as if he knew he wasn’t coming back.
Luckily, we only play them in the preseason this year. Go Hawks!
Derek Carr – 2014
Derek Carr changed his mind about being interviewed. When I arrived at his one-bedroom bungalow in Oakland, all I could hear from behind the door was sobbing and the words, “Why me, Lord?