When he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 60s and early 70s, Bill Walsh knew he had to find the right quarterback to fit his system.
Back then, the “right quarterback” had the same attributes as the “right quarterback” does today: Tall, strong-armed, intelligent, etc. But Walsh knew that in order for his offense to work, he needed a signal caller who was accurate first and foremost, and who possessed the ability to make quick decisions in order to get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner.
In Sam Wyche, the Bengals had what some deemed a prototypical quarterback already on the roster. But Walsh clearly didn’t think Wyche was the exact fit to run what is now called the West Coast Offense, so the Bengals acquired former sixth round pick Virgil Carter from the Bears.
Unlike Wyche, Carter wasn’t your prototypical quarterback in that he only stood 6’1” and 192 pounds and didn’t posses a strong arm. But he was smart and accurate, which is exactly what Walsh envisioned for his offense. Carter went on to lead the NFL in completion percentage in 1971 and was third in overall passing. He was the first player to successfully implement Walsh’s system.
Fast-forward to present day where Browns’ team president Mike Holmgren hopes he has found a quarterback to implement his system. Like Carter, the biggest knock on Colt McCoy is arm strength (or lack thereof). He lasted into the third round of the 2010 draft because teams were worried about whether or not he could make all the throws required of a pro quarterback. But Holmgren snatched him with the 85th pick because he too runs a version of Walsh’s West Coast system and sees a signal caller born to run his offense.
In theory, the West Coast predicates itself on using short, horizontal passes to stretch a defense sideline-to-sideline, as opposed to more traditional offenses that want to stretch a defense out vertically. In essence, the WCO uses those short passes to help open up longer running plays and create opportunities for deeper passes to be completed at a higher percentage.
But in order for the offense to work, it needs a quarterback that can read a defense quickly, get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner and most importantly, be accurate with his throws. If his passes are off the mark or delivered too fast or too slowly, the receiver’s timing is off as well and the entire play breaks down. Thus, there’s no need to have a quarterback with Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength running the show. (Although it certainly doesn’t hurt, as the Mike Holmgren-led Packers can attest to with Brett Favre.)
In the Browns’ first preseason game, you can see why fans are starting to get excited about McCoy’s potential. He completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown while running Pat Shurmur’s offense to near perfection. He looked comfortable, poised and spread the ball around with little to no hesitation. If he can carry that performance into the regular season, there’s no reason the Browns can’t at least be competitive.
Now, nobody is suggesting that the Browns are playoff bound or that McCoy is heading to the Pro Bowl anytime soon. One preseason game does not a player or team make. But for a franchise that has desperately searched for direction for nearly a decade, this is a positive start for Cleveland. And it’s not like McCoy didn’t posses these same attributes in college: His completion percentage never dipped below 65.1 in any of his four seasons at Texas, and he finished his junior season with a comp percentage of 76.7 and his senior season with a mark of 70.6. He also posses the intangibles that every team wants to see out of their quarterback, including strong leadership skills and the willingness to work on his craft (which was on display this summer when he sought out Favre’s help in Mississippi).
In McCoy, the Browns seemingly have the perfect fit at quarterback for Holmgren and Shurmur’s offense. They seemingly have found their Virgil Carter.