Frank Reich has his coaching staff, but who’s going to be QB?

New Carolina Panthers coach Frank Reich has assembled an all-star coaching staff. That’s been the overarching headline of the past three weeks in Pantherville, ever since Reich got the job in late January and began working the phones with a list of contacts he’s been developing for decades.

But to his credit, Reich isn’t indulging in any “Look what I did” banter, because he knows very well that a good coaching staff solves only a fraction of the Panthers’ problems. Same thing with inventive play calls. While Reich now plans to start the season as the team’s play-caller, the best call in the world goes nowhere if the quarterback fumbles the snap.

Every sports team is ultimately about the men or women wearing the numbered jerseys, not those blowing the whistles. Reich was an NFL quarterback for 14 years and he knows that well. In fact, he went so far as to put a percentage on it Tuesday in a press conference — his first meeting with the media since his “re-introductory” press conference Jan. 31.

“I have a couple of good friends in the coaching business and, we like to throw numbers on this,” Reich said, “because as coaches we know this is a player’s game. So I have typically always said that this game is 80-90% about the players, It’s 80-90% about the players, and 10-20% of it is coaching.”

That sounds right to me. If you have Patrick Mahomes at QB, you’re going to win a lot of games no matter who’s wearing the headset. If you have Jimmy Clausen, there’s no way even Bill Belichick or Andy Reid is making the playoffs.

With that said, though, Reich offered a thought on where coaching does make a difference — in NFL games decided by eight or fewer points, which is typically about half of the league’s contests.

“Because of the percentage of games that are won by one score, 10-20% is a very significant difference,” Reich said. “If you can compete and ‘outcoach’ your opponent by 10 or 20%, and you win 10 or 20% more games, that’s three games a year maybe, that’s a huge difference. But at the end of the day, it’s a player’s game.”

New Carolina Panthers head coach Frank Reich (left) said coaching is only 10-20% of the equation as to how successful a team is. The other 80-90%, Reich said, is how good your players are. Here Reich shakes hands with Carolina offensive tackle Taylor Moton during his introductory press conference on Jan. 31. JEFF SINER

That it is, and that’s where the Panthers as usual have a gaping hole — starting quarterback for 2023. How well that one player performs is likely worth more than the entire coaching staff put together (while we’re on numbers, former Carolina coach Ron Rivera told me that quarterback play accounts for 55% of a team’s success rate).

Reich wouldn’t give any hints Tuesday as to how he and general manager Scott Fitterer are approaching quarterback. But they only have two under contract — Matt Corral, the third-round pick in 2022 who never played a snap due to injury, and Jacob Eason, a practice-squad backup who joined the team at the end of last season.

Will they bring the suddenly available Derek Carr for a visit? Reich demurred.

Will they both sign a free-agent quarterback and draft a QB, too? This seems to me the most plausible scenario but, again, Reich demurred.

The free agency period begins in mid-March. I think the Panthers should sign a quarterback, draft another and let those two along with Corral go into training camp as the top three, with Eason as injury insurance. Should it be Carr? Perhaps I’m too scarred by his older brother David’s unimpressive stay here as a starter (he was 1-3 in 2007 and it felt worse), but I don’t think that’s the right play.

I’d be more inclined toward Jimmy Garoppolo (40-17 as an NFL starter), although Jimmy G. does have trouble staying healthy. Honestly, Sam Darnold as a bridge QB would be OK. The key is making that No. 9 overall pick count in April, because that’s likely where you get your long-term guy unless Corral develops.

That’s a large part of the 80-90% — solving the QB issue. But no matter the QB, Reich — the first starting QB in team history in 1995 — will be calling the plays for him to start.

“I think the right thing for me to do for our team and for our offense right now is for me to continue to kind of use my experience there,” Reich said. He added that he was going to “pass off” those duties at some undetermined point to new offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.

“I do know it’s going to be hard to let it go,” Reich said of calling the offensive plays. “But I do know that I do want to let it go.”

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has earned 18 national APSE writing awards and hosted The Observer’s podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named 2018’s “Podcast of the Year.” His new podcast and online series is called “Sports Legends of the Carolinas” and features 1-on-1 interviews with NC and SC sports icons.
Support my work with a digital subscription

Source link

Leave a Comment