“This looks like a nothing throw,” Chris Palmer says as he replays the video.
Perhaps to many of the 63,771 who witnessed it live in Provo, Utah, in September, and most of those who saw it on television, Jake Locker’s delivery to running back Chris Polk in the left flat was just a basic 7-yard gain.
To Palmer, the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, and others on the coaching and scouting staffs, it was one throw among the compilation of 759 they have on file that was worth watching again.
For those who looked closely enough, though, there was plenty to see.
“I’ve gone through this tape three times,” Palmer said. “You pick up something new every time.”
Film review is at the heart of nearly everything that happens in the NFL, whether it’s preparing for an upcoming opponent, self-analysis or — as was the case with Locker — evaluating talent prior to the draft.
Because of the lockout instituted by league owners in March, it’s also the only thing the Titans have at the moment to remind and reassure coaches that they made the right choice taking the Washington quarterback in the first round of last month’s draft.
“It’s the process of watching the tape and knowing what you kind of think of him when you go to Seattle [for a pre-draft workout] and watch him throw,” quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said. “Then you get him in here [for a visit] and you see his football IQ and his personality come out.
“You’re drafting a person as well as a football player — a face of the franchise, a face of the community and … at that position, it has to be right.”
Virtually everything on film is revelatory, and often not the plays that wind up on TV highlight shows or as YouTube snippets.
The “nothing throw,” as Palmer described it, actually showed a lot. It provided evidence of Locker’s intelligence and awareness because he didn’t deliver the throw with all the zip he’s capable of.
“Either he’s been coached or he understands that he has to put a little more personality on the throw so he gives this guy a chance to make a play,” Palmer said. “[Personality means] not as hard. … It’s the personality of the player [he’s] throwing to.”
Palmer figured that the target, a running back, probably was not the best catcher on the team, and therefore, required a softer touch. As it turned out, it was Polk’s only reception in a 23-17 Washington loss to open the 2010 season.
Locker completed 20 of his 37 throws that day, and his misses said as much as anything about why the Titans felt he could be the team leader they sought.
There was a screen pass that he threw into the ground when the defense kept the play from developing properly. That and a later attempt, when he looked at multiple receivers and pondered running before throwing the ball away, showed his football intelligence.
“You look for things like [that] on film,” Palmer said. “… That’s good football. He doesn’t get you beat.”
Not all of Locker’s 148 attempts that were incomplete or intercepted during his senior season were intentional, of course, and there were questions about his accuracy in the weeks before the draft.
Watch the film and a minor flaw shows up from time to time. Rather than point his front foot toward his target, for instance, Locker occasionally turns it in slightly, which limits his accuracy yet does not necessarily mean an incompletion. It is nothing Palmer hasn’t seen before and something he considers an easy fix.
“That is a problem with strong-armed quarterbacks,” he said. “They are so strong and so talented that they can get away with things.”
Of course, there are also limits to what film reveals.
Locker’s first incompletion of 2010 came on a first-and-10 at the BYU 12. When he watched it, Palmer deduced there were three possibilities for what took place.
When shown the play by Loggains during his pre-draft visit, Locker recounted in vivid detail the combination of one blitzing defender and another who undercut the route by the intended receiver that convinced him quickly to just throw the ball away.
“You’re also testing their intelligence and how much they recall,” Palmer said. “The guys who don’t remember, you have a lot of questions about.”
As they watched film on Locker, Titans representatives quickly saw evidence of his arm strength, quick feet, courage in the pocket, ability to throw on the run and most — if not all — of what they considered physical prerequisites.
The closer they looked, the more they saw some of the other things that separated him from other top prospects at the position.
“For me, when I’m looking at any player, I’m looking for the physical traits,” player personnel director Ruston Webster said. “Then, with a quarterback, you have to factor in decision-making and accuracy and those things. When a trait jumps out at me, that’s when I kind of get excited.”
Ultimately, everyone eventually sees enough — for good or bad.
“There will be a point that seals the deal,” Palmer said.
And it won’t necessarily be one that most would think.