“I want to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and I want to play in and win a Super Bowl.”
Although this quote might be something that you’d expect to hear from a top quarterback prospect or likely first round draft pick, like Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, these words, from his scouting combine press session, are straight from the mouth of an FCS player from Tennessee Chattanooga. And, if you’d expect a small school signal caller with only nine touchdowns in his senior season to simply be hoping to get drafted and given the opportunity to play in the NFL, then you’ve never met B J Coleman. As one of the most positive, upbeat players in college football, there wasn’t a trace of cockiness in him, as he put everyone on notice that he isn’t just looking for the opportunity to make plays, he’s dead set on making a difference.
Coleman has always had high aspirations. As a four star recruit for the University of Tennessee, he set his sights on adding his chapter to the Vols’ football tradition, and following in the footsteps of Peyton Manning. Coleman was also drawn to Tennessee by the opportunity to work with respected quarterback coach David Cutcliffe; however, when Cutcliffe left to take the head coaching position at Duke, and Lane Kiffin’s traveling circus rolled into Knoxville, after the firing of Phillip Fulmer, Coleman found himself at a crossroads. Unable to win over Kiffin, and faced with the real possibility of not making an impact at Tennessee, Coleman transferred to Chattanooga, who went 1-11 in 2008 B.C. (before Coleman).
B J immediately got to work, and head coach Russ Huesman says that Coleman was the driving force in resurrecting the program, providing direction, leadership, and the expectation of winning, as well as personally running a full scale, summer practice program, without input or aid from the coaching staff. Coleman, a top academic performer who put in as much time in the film room as the classroom, was elected team captain as both a Junior and a Senior, and led the Moccasins to back to back winning records, after they only had two winning seasons in the previous twelve years combined. And, after graduating, Coleman continued to display his high football IQ, work ethic, and ability to make an impact at this year’s East/West Shrine Game, where he took charge on the first day of practice, flashing leadership and intangibles that earned him the starting quarterback position over FBS players from Florida and Southern Mississippi.
At just over 6’3” and 233 pounds, Coleman, who is long and lean, possesses good NFL size and big hands (10.5”), which aid in all facets of ball handling. Though only exhibiting average overall athletic ability, minimal burst and change of direction skills, and movements that are more mechanical than fluid, Coleman has the agility and good enough footwork to buy extra time in the pocket, get to the edge on roll-outs, and, when flushed, can extend plays with his legs, though he lacks the speed to challenge defenses downfield.
Coleman exhibits above average, but not elite, arm strength, and can make all the necessary throws. He displays excellent velocity in the short and intermediate zones, and, although he won’t throw a forty yard strike on a rope, and his deep ball tends to flutter, he has more than enough arm to challenge secondaries in the deep third. Coleman comfortably pushes the ball from the opposite hash to the far sideline, and can fit stick throws into tight windows.
Overall, Coleman demonstrates solid upper body mechanics, featuring a smooth, compact, consistently repeatable delivery with a quick release, from an overhead slot. He does a good job keeping the ball high and tight during his backpedal and read progressions, and the pedal is balanced. However, his footwork tends to be choppy, with steps of inconsistent length, and he doesn’t always get good, or the same, depth with his drop. When set, Coleman displays a solid, wide throwing base, and delivers with good balance, with the notable exception being three-step throws to the left, where he tends to rush himself and falls away laterally upon release. When not facing pocket pressure, he forcefully steps into throws, and follows through completely, transferring weight to the front foot, and snapping his hips into the throw. However, when pressured, or forced to move off his spot, he rushes his delivery, usually getting the upper-body ahead of the lower, with the result being balls that sail or a loss of accuracy. Coleman particularly struggles with pressure up the middle, where he’ll throw off his back foot, or even while falling away; here, it’s virtually an entire upper-body throw. And, he has difficulty quickly re-setting his feet and hips, when moving from one read to the next, or when forced to move in the pocket. In these situations, he often won’t square his shoulders, and, again the upper and lower body are disconnected.
Coleman’s accuracy is almost invariably connected with his mechanics. In instances where his footwork is sound and his overall technique solid, he is accurate to all levels of the field, and throws a catchable ball. He is particularly adept on deep balls, smash routes, and swings out of the backfield. However, he does not showcase pinpoint precision, which limits run after the catch potential, and prevents him from being able to lead a receiver to an open area or away from an impending big hit. Coleman did play in a pro-style offense, featuring a significant number of downfield throws, so one would expect his completion percentage to be somewhat lower than other quarterbacks whose stats are padded due to an inordinate number of close to the line completions, but his career percentage of 57%, combined with a 52-31 TD-Int ratio, is certainly cause for concern. Where his accuracy suffers is in situations where he is forced to move off his spot, or his rhythm is upset, in the pocket; here, his mechanics break down, and his completion percentage plummets. Almost without exception, one can watch Coleman deliver the football, and know the instant that it leaves his hand, without even watching the remainder of the play, whether or not it will be an accurate throw. On shorter throws requiring feel, he has a tendency to put too much zip on the ball, though he does exhibit nice touch on bucket throws. He can also struggle with pump fakes, where he tends to rush, and often releases from an off-balance position. And he lacks a developed sense of anticipation, typically waiting for the receiver to make his break, before committing to the throw, at times resulting in him being late to deliver.
Coleman does an serviceable job making pre-snap reads, with respect to blitz recognition and audibling out of bad plays, and he does have experience making downfield reads while dropping from center, but he doesn’t always see the whole field, tending to lock on to the primary receiver, without showing the ability to quickly locate secondary targets. When he does move from one read to another, it’s often too late, and either he rushes the throw, or the throwing window is already closed; and, in these instances, often he doesn’t set his feet or square his shoulders, and his balance suffers. Coleman does a good job locating hot reads, and, at times, he will look-off safteys, but when forced to break the pocket, he has trouble re-sighting receivers downfield after taking his eyes off them, and too often settles for check-downs.
When faced with pressure, Coleman has good feel for a collapsing pocket or areas of defensive penetration, but he’s slow to recognize and utilize exit routes or areas where he can climb the pocket and get the pass off. Admirably, he stands tall in the face of duress, and will take a big hit to deliver the pass, but he doesn’t step into the throw, again throwing off the back foot, with the ball typically sailing. At times, there is room for him to either step up in the pocket or side-step defenders to obtain a clear throwing lane, but he rarely invokes these options. To his credit, when under pressure, he never gets rattled, and will find checkdowns, but he rushes throws, forces too many balls into coverage, and doesn’t judiciously throw the ball away enough.
Coleman does consistently display poise in the pocket, and never gets discouraged after committing a turnover or a negative play. He’s always in control of his game, and his teammates rally around him, often resulting in come-from-behind wins. He’s a natural leader, who plays big in big games, displaying grit and toughness throughout. He possesses the intelligence, athletic ability, physical skills, and upper body mechanics to excel as an NFL quarterback. How far he will go depends largely on his development with respect to footwork, touch, field vision, movement in the pocket, and accuracy under pressure. Without question, he has a long way to go; however, with good coaching, his work ethic, drive, and will to succeed make it a good bet that he’ll get there in three to four seasons. As he stated himself, to Tom Melton at the East/West Shrine Game, “I want to look people in the eye and show them that I am a guy who will compete and has what it takes in football and in life.” As he navigates his way through both, it is clear that B J Coleman is not content with simply making his way, or making a team, he’s intent on making a difference.