s the title suggests, I had the distinct privilege of interviewing former NFL General Manager and Pro Scout, Ted Sundquist on Sunday. Needless to say I was thrilled when Ted obliged to my request to discuss his thoughts on both Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns. The idea to ask Ted for this interview surfaced after I saw a few Brandon Weeden related tweets from him following the Cleveland Browns vs. Detroit Lions game last Thursday night. If you follow Ted on Twitter then you are probably already aware of what he had to say:
Steve Gallo ( NFL Analyst / Writer for USA Today's The Huddle ) responds to Ted:
@Ted_Sundquist Should be. If he was 24 perception would be different, doesn't mean he can't be productive QB longer than most 24 yo wash out— Steve Gallo (@SteveGalloNFL) August 16, 2013
A very good point, that most Browns fans, and Ted, agree with:
Here's where I sneak in:
Personally, I was very impressed with what I saw from Weeden. I noticed improved accuracy, better touch, quicker decision making, and good velocity on his passes. The ball got out of his hand quickly, had a tight spiral, and was often thrown where only the receiver could catch it. He seemed much more comfortable operating the offense and it appeared as though he knew where he wanted to go with the ball. I was encouraged to see Weeden begin to show the ability to work his progressions and even "look off" the safeties, both signs the game may be slowing down for him. Brendan Leister, as always, does an excellent job breaking down all the games and providing in depth analysis and game notes. If you haven't already, be sure to check them out here.
Still No Starter?
On Friday, however, we learned that Browns Head Coach Rob Chudzinski still wasn't ready to name Brandon Weeden his starting QB. This came as a surprise to many Browns fans because Weeden had just turned in two excellent performances against both the Rams and Lions starters. Personally, I don't think it's a big deal but it does seem odd that the coaches want to keep the "competition" going. I "get" that they want the players to earn their position as a starter and I also realize that pre-season wins and loses mean very little and are not a good predictor of success in the regular season - due to "vanilla defenses" and teams not game planning specifically for the other. That being said, I believe there's still something to be said for individual performances in the preseason, especially the performance of Brandon Weeden:
Weeden in 2013: 18 - 25 ( 72% completion rate ) 229 yards; 3 TD's; 0 INT; 0 sacks; and a QBR of 139.
Weeden in 2012: 24 -49 ( 49% completion rate ) 297 yards; 0 TDs; 1 INT; 4 sacks; and a QBR of 59.
Ted Sundquist's Background
Ted graduated in 1984 from the Air Force Academy where he played fullback and was voted captain his senior season in 1983. Ted played in the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl vs. Vanderbilt and in the 1983 Independence Bowl vs. Mississippi, winning both contests.
Shortly after College, Ted was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force and found himself stationed in Berlin, Germany. At this point in time Ted had already had knee surgery and he was looking for a competitive outlet that took him away from the pounding and bone crunching rigors of football. Thus began his training for the Olympics between 1984-1988. His hope to make the U.S. National Bobsled Team. During time trials, however, Ted hurt his shoulder which ultimately prevented him from competing and making the 1988 US Olympic Team. In case you're interested, I thought one of his recent articles was excellent. It's titled, NFL Players & Offseason Conditioning – An ounce of prevention, and in it Ted talks about the training involved in Bobsled "back then" vs what the training is like now and goes on to relate it to the NFL.
After returning from Germany in 1989, Ted went back to the Air Force Academy where he became an assistant coach and eventually head coach of the United States Air Force Prep School. He joined the Denver Broncos as a Player Personnel Assistant (1992 - 1994), was promoted to Director of Scouting (1995 - 2001), and promoted yet again to General Manager in 2002. Ted built his own success and blazed his own trail. He was credited as a very smart and aggressive General Manager, acquiring Champ Bailey and Dre Bley via trade while also amassing draft picks. But the biggest coup of them all was the draft day trade in 2006 where the Broncos moved up from the 29th pick to the 11th pick in order to select QB, Jay Cutler.
We put an immense amount of work into the 2006 draft and truly had the entire staff on the same page. That one season produced a trade for QB Jay Cutler, found Tony Scheffler at TE, picks Brandon Marshall – Elvis Dumervil – Domenik Hixon in the 4th round, and selected a starter on the OL in Chris Kuper.
In 2008, Sundquist was fired from his role as General Manager of the Denver Broncos. Ted was understandably disappointed by this announcement but I'm not here to re-hash the past. However, I do want to call attention to a piece of his experience as outlined in a great article written by Denver Post's Mark Kiszla, Writing on The Wall for Fall Guy, that I think helps paint Ted's side of the story.
"I'm personally willing to stand up for the decisions that have been made, but understand I don't necessarily agree with them. The military taught me a lot about how to handle situations like that,"
"The question isn't whether Mike is getting the right advice, as much as how it is being used. I think the assumption that our personnel department has somehow let him down and that Denver needs to hire a 'guru' to get things right is a bit off," Sundquist said.
Ultimately, even though Sundquist got knocked down, he's been able to get back up. He's gone on to work as an expert analyst / commentator for NBC's ProFootballTalk and has been in the discussion for several NFL GM vacancies, including the recent openings for the NY Jets and San Francisco 49ers. Ted recently published his own book: Taking Your Team to the Top: How to Build and Manage Great Teams like the Pros, and has started what I believe to be a very informative website with a growing readership called: The Football Educator. I highly recommend that you check out both!
The Q & A
Krupka >> What explanation can you give for Coach Chudzinski not naming Brandon Weeden the starter yet? Do you feel there is more to the decision behind the scenes or is this more about a mental challenge and making Weeden earn it? Lastly, do you think fans and media making too big a deal of this?
Sundquist >> "One of the things that every new regime coming into an NFL organization should do is RESPECT the assets and resources that were invested in prior to your arrival. It’s necessary to take a thorough inventory first before you make snap decisions based upon bias or emotion. Jimmy Haslam’s organization made an investment in a first round QB in 2012. Financial and opportunity costs were made to secure the services of that player (Brandon Weeden). Weeden was a highly thought of prospect at the position. Even outside of the Cleveland Browns and many within the game, along with those responsible to follow it, felt Weeden had the skill set to be a productive quarterback in the National Football League.
I think the mindset of the new regime (front office & coaching) is to set the tone throughout the organization that they are in control. It’s indicative of how they’ve operated in past organizations. I’m assuming this move is to create a sense of urgency and competition in the preseason. I don’t see anything wrong with this whatsoever and do feel it’s being blown out of proportion a bit. If Weeden does win the starting position, he will have built even more credibility in the eyes of his teammates and will undoubtedly earn leadership points as having withstood and survived the challenge."
Krupka >> Tell me about what you saw from Brandon Weeden vs. Detroit and St. Louis that really stood out to you as a major improvement?
Sundquist >> "In limited action Weeden hasn’t forced the ball or tried to make something happen as a result of the imposed pressure of having to prove he’s worthy of being the starter to Cleveland’s front office & coaching staff. Passing the ball at 20 of 25, 229 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 Int’s, and 27 points, I’m not sure what else he could be doing to show "productive" improvement. I see a confident and decisive player in the pocket. A lot of this comes from the maturity level that I think his age brings, a positive from my perspective."
Krupka >> What parts of his game do you still need to see demonstrated to be convinced he can take the Browns to the playoffs?
Sundquist >> "Really nothing. You always like to see the ball thrown downfield more and ultimately I’d like to see his net yards per attempt improve. The biggest thing Weeden must do is play within the system, spread the ball around to his play-makers and not turn it over via the interception. This again comes with poise and confidence, knowing that he can come back on the next down and not have to force things to make something happen. The maturity must begin to shine through late in the game to give the Browns the confidence necessary to produce more 4th quarter comebacks and or game winning drives. As fans are well aware, Cleveland lost 5 games in ’12 of a TD or less."
Krupka >> If you're the GM of the Cleveland Browns and Brandon Weeden has a great statistical year in 2013 - do you still look to grab a QB in the first round next year?
Sundquist >> "If I’m the GM, no I don’t. If the club is successful under Weeden in 2013 then the Browns are likely not to have a top 10 selection and will be picking in unfamiliar territory (at least as of late). Chances of finding a player superior to what they’ve already got in Weeden would be nominal at best.
It wouldn’t be out of the question to look for 2nd or 3rd round talent that you could bring along slowly behind a successful Weeden and perhaps then strike on a player like Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson.
But to draft a 1st round QB would only create chaos and unwanted self-imposed drama surrounding the most dramatic position in football."
Krupka >> Should fans be worried about Mike Lombardi being the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns?
Sundquist >> "I'm very surprised that he's back in the NFL as a general manager."
Krupka >> What are the most important attributes you look for in a QB when deciding if he's your franchise guy?
Sundquist >> "Poise and Confidence. The two go hand in hand with believing in your skill set. There are a number of quarterback with the physical tools capable of creating success in professional football. But many careers were thwarted before they ever got started by a lack of support from the team they were drafted by. Top 10 clubs in the draft usually are selecting in that reason because they earned it…through losing. Without the proper support system of coaching and personnel, along with a well thought out plan to develop the player over time, the prospect is likely to fail. You can find highly productive, winning, and CONFIDENT college players enter the league, only to be beaten down a season or two later by a losing situation. Those that can build upon small successes and not lose their cool under fire. Those that can withstand the pressures on and off the field that are inherent with the responsibility of the position. Those that can raise the level of play of their teammates surrounding them. These are the QB’s most likely to succeed in the long run."
Krupka >> Who were the top 5 QB's you ever scouted?
"In no particular order:
I was also high on Chad Pennington, Jay Cutler, and Philip Rivers."
Krupka >> Can you share the story about the one draft pick you were "the most wrong"on and who that was?
Sundquist >> "I think the player that stands out the most to me is LB Patrick Willis of San Francisco. Willis was the 11th overall pick of the ’07 draft and there were aspects of his game that just didn’t sit well with me. Our LB’s in Denver were always very athletic and dynamic type players that showed up all over the field. I struggled finding that kind of movement with Willis at Ole Miss. He was highly regarded player and prognosticated to go just as high in the draft. I couldn’t recommend him at our pick (he ultimately went higher) and has since become a 6 time Pro Bowl and 5 time All Pro player for the 49ers. I think it’s GREAT to see the kind of career he has forged and that I was off on my evaluation.
As for players we selected in Denver, I was probably disappointed that Maurice Clarett didn’t work out. We were faced with a need at the position, had a supplemental pick at the end of the 3rd, and didn’t pick again until late in the 5th. Our process said he’d have been a productive player in our system, but we ultimately missed on our ability to bring it out of him and the negative attention was bad for our club.
As a point of reference, Maurice and I were reunited in Omaha with the United Football League. He has turned his life around and I would gladly work alongside Maurice Clarett in any capacity, both in and out of football. One of the great stories I’ve had a chance to be a part of over the years. Maurice’s journey is one all fans should explore, especially those in Ohio. Trust me."
Krupka >> What's the story about the one draft pick you fought for, but nobody else wanted, that actually worked out an who was it?
Sundquist >> "Our organization was very inclusive in draft meetings and ultimately in our selection of players. The coaches, pro personnel, the scouts, salary cap…all these influences played a factor in who we did or didn’t select. Perhaps our best year was towards the end of my tenure in Denver when I thought that everything went exactly as I’d hoped it would over every season. We put an immense amount of work into the 2006 draft and truly had the entire staff on the same page. That one season produced a trade for QB Jay Cutler, found Tony Scheffler at TE, picks Brandon Marshall – Elvis Dumervil – Domenik Hixon in the 4th round, and selected a starter on the OL in Chris Kuper.
My most impactful individual evaluation was 1st round LB John Mobley out of Kutztown in ’96. This was early in my career and John was a small school player that epitomized BIG SCHOOL talent. He would knock down the final attempt of Brett Favre for our first Super Bowl victory against Green Bay."
Krupka >> The Browns and the Broncos met often in the past in what later became "The Drive" and "The Fumble". While you weren't there for those days, you worked for the Broncos and with John Elway, did those games between Cleveland and Denver ever get discussed? Any cool stories?
Sundquist >> "The great match-ups between Cleveland and Denver in the ‘80’s were certainly part of the lore that built the legend that is John Elway. But those seasons were ultimately not successful in winning a Super Bowl Championship and so for many in the organization that came along afterward, they served as a motivator to finish what many players, coaches, administrators, scouts, etc… couldn’t. *As a matter of record, I never worked "for" Elway while with the Broncos. John retired after ’98 Super Bowl and his dad was still part of our Personnel Department until passing in ’01. I became GM in ’02 and left the club in ’08. John Elway was not a part of the organization over that time period."