Jake Spavital will serve as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Texas A&M next season, but over the past five years, he has had an interesting college coaching career that relates very much with the quarterback situation of the Cleveland Browns.
In 2010, Spavital was a Graduate Assistant for Oklahoma State, where he was able to work with quarterback Brandon Weeden. In 2011, he became West Virginia's offensive coordinator, where he worked with Geno Smith. How is the situation pertinent to Cleveland? Obviously, Weeden was the team's starting quarterback last season, and with a new regime coming in, there are questions as to the level of confidence they have in him. Regarding Smith, I wouldn't say there are significant rumors of him coming to Cleveland, but there are at least a few rumblings out there.
On Wednesday, Spavital joined Bull & Fox on 92.3 The Fan (full audio here) to compare Weeden and Smith, and how he forecasted each of their futures in the NFL. I have transcribed most of the interview below:
Bull & Fox: "What are your thoughts on Brandon Weeden when you coached him, and now that he's in the pros?"
Spavital: "I thought he was a unique talent. He has an unbelievably strong arm, a very fast release, and I thought he was pretty accurate. We used that to our advantage just doing what he did best and that was keeping him in the pocket and have him be able to throw those deep comebacks and do a lot of quick ins with him. I thought he was a very accurate quarterback, like I said. I thought he turned out to be a very good quarterback for me."
Bull & Fox: "We recently interviewed Tyler Dunn from the Journal Sentinel, who you spoke with recently and he had some quotes from you in his article saying that 'Geno Smith, of those three names I mentioned, was the best all-around quarterback of the three.' Tell us why he is better all-around than Case Keenum and Brandon Weeden."
Spavital: "Brandon has more of a gunslinger mentality. He enjoyed to show his arm off. With Geno, he has a strong arm. He doesn't have the quickest release, doesn't have the strongest of arms, but I thought he could just handle everything we asked him pretty well. If we want him to go under center this week and just do a run playaction scheme, or the next week we'll just be in Shotgun and throw it all around, Geno was capable of doing that.
With Brandon, we just kept him back in the Shotgun. We never went under center with him. We just had him spread the ball around. In the case of Case Keenum, he was just a straight drop-back passer. He was smaller, so we had to keep him in Shotgun, keep him away from the line of scrimmage. Geno is just naturally a big guy. That's what I referred to -- he's just a good, all-around guy because he can do anything."
Bull & Fox: "How much did it help you guys when you had Geno Smith, as you mentioned there, to kind of go into a game where you could do a lot of different things? With those other guys, it sounded like you were limited in certain aspects. But with Geno, he could make plays, he could get outside the pocket. Talk about that and how it allowed you to do more."
Spavital: "We used a lot with his running, but I never really called any pure run plays for him. We emphasized in the meeting room to use your athletic ability to scramble to get the first down. I watched a lot of Green Bay Packers tape and Aaron Rodgers was very, very good at keeping the play alive, scrambling for about 7-10 yards and flying and getting down. I thought Geno did a great job with that. He never really got sacked. He took care of the ball. He knew the time when to throw it away, and he knew the time to scramble. I thought that was a pretty good weapon. He was the only quarterback that I've had that's had that ability to take off and run with it."
Bull & Fox: "In this article I referred to before, you were talking about Geno Smith and you said 'he studies it -- with Brandon Weeden, I couldn't say that about him. I love the guy to death, but he had some good guys around him.' Something that we've been concerned about -- is [Weeden] not as much of a 'film rat' as Geno Smith and some other guys? Is that something we need to be concerned about here in Cleveland?"
Spavital: "No, it's nothing to be concerned about. With Geno, Geno was constantly up there [in the film room]. He lived up there. Brandon had a wife and had a home to go back to. Geno, he didn't have anything. He just wanted to stay up there and just watch ball.
Weeden watched tape in his own ways. He'd come up separately. He didn't like to be around a lot of the coaches when he watched tape. He liked to be by himself. Geno was a guy who, it was pretty interesting it was crazy how much tape that kid watches a week. I wasn't trying to bash Brandon in that aspect. I was just saying that Geno, he out-worked everyone in the film room that I've coached in the past."
Bull & Fox: "There was some stuff back in 2009 where Weeden kind of got benched, kind of went to third-team, and your coach Gundy basically said he didn't show it in practice. Is that a mentality with him, that he kind of turns it on and flips that switch when he has to?"
Spavital: "Sometimes I'd have to get on him with the sense of urgency, but that's just the nature of that kid. You have to challenge every quarterback in different ways, and with him, you just kind of had to pick it up. He was always ready, he was mentally in the game. Sometimes it looked like he was being lethargic at times, but it's just the nature of him. You get used to that being around him more.
The whole thing with Gundy back in 2009, he was in a system that was ran by pretty much Zach Robinson, who was a dual-threat running quarterback, and when we got there in 2010, we put Brandon back there just as a pure pocket passer because that's what he is."
Bull & Fox: "When I hear the term lethargic, I know that's always a dangerous term, especially from that position at the quarterback standpoint. When you talk about being a leader, emotional, and all that stuff, where do Geno and Brandon compare? I see tape of Geno Smith, he seemed very vocal, he seemed like the guys really rallied around him. Talk about that."
Spavital: "Geno is more of a vocal leader. Brandon was a guy who that would have to just go out there and lead by example. [Weeden] was more of a confident guy around the kids. He would sit there and be like, 'listen, I'm going to throw this ball 45 yards on a dime, you just be ready to catch it.' Geno was more vocal; he'd say 'this is what we need to do to go down and score' where Brandon would just individually go up to guys and talk with them."
Bull & Fox: "You said Geno was the better all-around quarterback, you said he's the more vocal leader of the two, and that he does more in the film room. Does that mean if you were the Browns at No. 6, that you would draft Geno Smith at No. 6?"
Spavital: "Not if I had Brandon Weeden. I think Brandon's a very good quarterback. That's a tough decision. If we needed a quarterback and I didn't have faith in Brandon, yes, I'd draft Geno. I had a good, successful year with Brandon and I know he has the tools and capabilities of leading any team to win."
Bull & Fox: "Even though you think Geno's better, you think Weeden's good enough that the Browns should stick with him?"
Spavital: "Yeah, I agree with that. He's got a remarkable arm and he's very accurate with the ball. Once he gets familiar with the system and gets settled in, I think he'll have a lot more success."
Bull & Fox: "Do you think Weeden will be a franchise quarterback some time?"
Spavital: "Ehh, that's tough to say. I wish him the best and I hope he does, but I can't really say that. I don't know -- I really don't have a comment on that one."
Bull & Fox: "Yeah, I understand, you don't want to get in a tough spot there. If you were a top-5 team, like Philadelphia or Oakland, teams that need that quarterback, would you take him top-5? Is he a top-5 talent is what I guess I should ask?"
Spavital: "Yes, I believe he's a top-5 talent. I thought he'd be going first to the Chiefs. You know it's a business and people go the direction they want to go. I believe he's the best quarterback right now that's on the board and I think he's a top-5 talent."
Bull & Fox: "I find this fascinating -- you seem to think [Geno] is great. We've seen video of the kid, he looks sensational on tape. He appears to be a great athlete. He's got an arm, maybe he doesn't have the biggest arm in NFL history, but he's certainly got a good enough arm. He's got the size, the speed, and the strength, and yet I hear all of these draft gurus saying, 'he's a first-round pick, but maybe he's a late first-round pick.' Nobody's given me a good reason why. I haven't heard one good reason why he's not a top-10 pick. Do you have any idea why the draft guys are saying that?"
Spavital: "I don't know, just to cause controversy I guess. I think he's a no-brainer when you watch him, and once you get around the kid, he's unbelievable. He's very good with the media, he's very good around people. He knows the time when to turn it on, when to turn it off. I think he's an all-around guy."
Bull & Fox: "You were there last year at West Virginia. You guys had a rough stretch there where you lost five, and then lost the Pinstripe Bowl. Is it fair to put some of that on Geno Smith? What really went wrong? People kind of maybe point to that, maybe that's why he's not considered as high, because the team kind of fell apart a little bit. What happened there?"
Spavital: "I think a lot of the nature of the conference changed. We weren't used to playing a lot of spread offenses and we often had to rally every single time. I probably put a little too much on Geno at times, but he handled it great. He's been the same kid since the day I had him two years ago until now. Sometimes he'd come out there and have some bad games. You're all going to have bad games, but the thing that I keep looking back at is that he only threw 13 interceptions in two years, which is pretty remarkable. He kept carrying the ball. I thought his production was a lot better than what our final record was. I think there's a lot of factors that played into it, but I think the kid's the same as he was two years ago."
Bull & Fox: "When you're coaching a kid who is going to be an NFL player, how do you deal with that as a coach?"
Spavital: "That is tough. It actually made me a better coach because I had to challenge him in different ways just to keep him entertained and show more NFL tape. The main thing is that you've got to keep him humble and make sure they are focused on the task at hand and being around their teammates and trying to win in that regard.
As you said, it's human nature to look forward and look on to the NFL, and Geno I guess you could say he could have looked ahead really early from the whole preseason hype that he had, from the Heisman to top-10 pick in the preseason, but I thought he did a great job at handling it."
Bull & Fox: "Do you think some of the stigma with Big-10 quarterbacks is being put to rest?"
Spavital: "Before I got to West Virginia, they had Geno under center running 22-personnel stuff, running option, running all sorts of things. He went a good year where he had a lot of experience under center. If it comes down to it, I think he's more comfortable being under center. With our system, I think it's all we know how to do. The only thing I know how to coach is put him in Shotgun, and spread in the gun.
As the year went on, I found out that he was more comfortable under center and he could so some really good things. We kind of evolved the offense a bit around him because he was pretty good under center. Just the nature of us being in the Shotgun all the time, he can operate it because he's had so many snaps in the Shotgun."
Bull & Fox: "When you look at Geno Smith, maybe this is unfair to do, if you try to compare him to an NFL quarterback, who does he kind of remind you of?"
Spavital: "That's kind of tough. Right now, I think he's kind of a mixture of everything. It's hard to just say he looks exactly like this guy because he kind of has his own spin off of things as well."
Bull & Fox: "Do you see any Aaron Rodgers in him?"
Spavital: "I think we tried to do a lot of things like Aaron Rodgers with his running ability. Rodgers is the top in the game, I can't just sit here and say that Geno is like Aaron Rodgers -- that's a pretty bold statement. I see similarities of how he and Tom Brady work under center, and how there's been throws out of Shotgun that he's made like Aaron Rodgers. There's little things in part of his game that is similar to other guys in the league, but I couldn't tell you just a main guy right now."
Weeden has a good season statistically in 2010, but it's worth remembering that Spavital was not around for Weeden's senior season in 2011, which was his best season at Oklahoma State. The age difference cold have also played somewhat of a factor in the situation, since Spavital was actually younger than Weeden.
I wanted to transcribe the discussion because I heard some reactions to people regarding Spavital's comments on Weeden's leadership abilities. Overall, my impression is that he really wasn't trying to put Weeden down, but rather tout Smith. Weeden's already in position to start for another NFL club, so it's in Spavital's best interests to promote his latest quarterback to be drafted as high as possible. If Weeden, Smith, and Manziel all go on to have successful NFL careers, it'll certainly look great on Spavital's resume.
What did you think about Spavital's comments on Weeden and Smith? Is there anything that stood out to you?