Part of the reason the Oakland Raiders are projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2013 is because of a shaky quarterback position. The Raiders exchanged the proven Carson Palmer for unproven Matt Flynn during the offseason and Terrelle Pryor is still trying to become an adequate passer to complement his running ability.
With so much unknown at the position, the Raiders used a fourth-round draft pick last April to select Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson to see if they could catch lightning in a bottle. A lot of people liked Wilson’s potential and some even believed he could win the starting job over Flynn. Instead, Wilson is losing third-string snaps to undrafted rookie Matt McGloin.
It’s now worth wondering if the Raiders are mishandling their rookie quarterback. Practice reps are precious for any young player, so it’s curious the Raiders would take them away from a player who head coach Dennis Allen acknowledged has all the physical tools.
The reason Wilson is losing ground is simple enough; Allen said he’s behind in the mental aspect of the game, which is vital for any quarterback. The Raiders feel like Wilson would be better off watching than participating, which is an odd strategy for multiple reasons.
The Confidence Factor
A good quarterback has confidence. Quarterbacks that play scared because they aren’t confident in the offense or themselves are typically not very successful. The Raiders should be doing everything possible to get Wilson prepared while building up his confidence level.
What’s the worst thing that can happen to a quarterback? He loses his confidence. - Terry Bradshaw
Players that are naturally overconfident sometimes need to get knocked down a peg, but that doesn’t appear to be Wilson’s issue—at least as it pertains to the mental aspect of the game. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Wilson had a tough year at Arkansas, the type of year that would have even the most confident quarterback with doubts. Wilson also slipped in the draft, which had to be a little damaging to his confidence.
Despite what Wilson went through, he has maintained his composure. Unless you want to read a lot into body language, Wilson looks like the most mentally tough quarterback a team could ever hope to find.
"Watching his film, he's the toughest guy I've ever watched," former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said, via Yahoo! Sports. "Nobody has taken as many hits and come back to make plays as he has.”
Weinke knows what it takes to make it in the NFL at the position and runs IMG Football Academy where Wilson trained prior to the NFL draft. Weinke has tutored other top quarterback prospects as well, so his comments aren’t irrelevant.
While Wilson is tough, putting him behind an undrafted rookie on the depth chart may do more harm than good. Wilson is not the type of quarterback that needs extra motivation to study the playbook—he’s already got a chip on his shoulder—all the Raiders are doing is telling him he’s not good enough.
“I’ve had a chance to sit behind Matt and Terrelle, watch their reps and try to pick up every detail I can,” Wilson said after practice Sunday. “I think it has been good for me.”
Maybe sitting and learning has been the best thing for Wilson or maybe it’s not. Wilson also said he’s learning to cherish every rep and that sitting and watching hasn’t been a bad thing, but, competitively, he wants to be out there.
Turning Weakness into Strength
There’s another big problem with the “watch and learn” technique as it pertains to football. The game of football is played on the field and quarterbacks have to be able to adjust and learn on the fly. At most, quarterbacks get to check photographs of the defense between each offensive series.
There’s only so much that can be learned from watching Flynn and Pryor execute the same plays Wilson has likely already seen a dozen times on video. You can show someone how to do something a million times, but that doesn’t mean they will do it right the first, second or third time.
Consider that Wilson was first put behind McGloin on Day 6 of training camp. How many mental mistakes could Wilson actually have made? He wasn’t getting a ton of reps as the No. 3 quarterback, so probably not that many.
If Wilson is struggling with the mental part of the game, you could argue he should be getting more reps. Now, Wilson may be trying to do too much, which is a problem he also had last year at Arkansas. Wilson was either holding the ball and taking big hits to try to make a big plays or trying to thread the ball into tight coverage during his senior season.
The result of the added pressure was that Wilson took too many hits and threw too many bad passes during his final college season. Wilson also missed a game with a concussion and the ugly throws were a red flag on his resume going into the draft.
“I think it could go both ways,” Wilson said when asked if getting limited reps was causing him to press or if it made it easier to focus. “I’m excited about having the potential to get more plays down the road, get in a game situation where you kind of get to get into a rhythm, but I like to be back there learning.”
It’s hard for a player to really get better without practice reps. Maybe Wilson hasn’t earned the reps and McGloin has, but it’s still a bit odd for a fourth-round pick, and potentially the quarterback of the future, to basically be the camp arm for four days early in training camp.
If Wilson was losing snaps to a veteran, this probably isn't much of a story.
The Preseason Opportunity
With the first preseason game on Friday for the Raiders, Wilson will get an opportunity to prove himself. Unfortunately, we may never know if the Raiders have been handling Wilson the right way.
If Wilson plays well on Friday night, the Raiders either did the right thing, or his progress could have been made during practice and the Raiders actually slowed him down. If Wilson doesn’t progress, the Raiders may have been right to hold him back, or he made mistakes he could have been making in practice and already corrected.
Like it or not, the regime in Oakland is going to be judged by its ability to find and develop a franchise quarterback. Right now, the Raiders have three players vying to be the quarterback of the future, and the rookie Wilson is off to a bit of a rocky start.
It's far too early to make any determinations about Wilson, but a good preseason performance will certainly suppress the doubts about Wilson and the way the team is handling him.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first hand.