David Morris knows a thing or two about the quarterback position. From Eli Manning, whom Morris befriended during their time together at Ole Miss, to AJ McCarron, the founder of QB Country has tutored some of the more recognizable names at the position in recent years.
Morris will focus first on getting McCarron ready for NFL workouts before shifting to Coker.
Given his working relationships with both McCarron and incoming transfer Jake Coker, Alabama fans suddenly have a good bit of interest in the David Cutcliffe disciple. With the past and future of the quarterback position at UA in his hands over the next few months, I decided to catch up with Morris, who was more than gracious with his time.
Reier: First, talk about how you got into the business of working with quarterbacks.
Morris: I was training quarterbacks sort of part-time when I got out of college. I got into real estate but as you get further away from college you get to where you miss football more. So I started to do more and more (quarterback training). Initially, it was more of a hobby but it got to where I was getting a good number of phone calls, so I decided to pursue it as a side project. I started QB Country four or five years ago. Before I did that, I really saw that there was a niche for this kind of work. It’s definitely been a grass roots effort. Not a lot of advertising or marketing. I just kind of worked hard at it and tried to treat people right along the way. We’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve been able to make a living doing it.
Reier: Was your old coach at Ole Miss, David Cutcliffe, instrumental in striking your interest in quarterback development?
Morris: Absolutely. First of all, he was the one who taught me the depth of the position. He was the one who made my head spin about playing quarterback. I didn’t realize how much you could delve into the position until I met Coach Cut. It was one of those moments like, whoa, this guy know what he’s talking about and knows how to teach it. You remember those moments because it’s seldom when you have an experience where you think, I am lucky to be taught by this guy. There’s no question that I had that experience with Coach Cut at Ole Miss. The foundation of what I’m teaching comes from what I was taught by him. Obviously, along the way you catch on to some things for yourself and you learn other techniques and fundamentals. Ultimately, you are always learning. But the foundation is absolutely from Coach Cut.
Reier: Do you have any ties with the coaching staff at Alabama?
Morris: (UA director of football operations) Coach (Joe) Pannunzio was at Ole Miss my true freshman year and he’s just a great guy. I’ve known him forever because he was on staff there and you can’t help but like the guy and he’s a great coach. Another connection is (UA football analyst) Ronnie Letson, who was at Ole Miss when I was there. He played receiver and I played quarterback and he was a senior when I was a freshman. The other connection is (UA associate director of player personnel Tyler) Siskey, who was (the offensive coordinator) at St. Paul’s when AJ was there and also worked at Ole Miss.
Reier: You’ve worked with AJ for quite some time now. How did you guys connect initially?
Morris: I think it was right after his freshman year at St. Paul’s. I remember seeing this tall lanky kid playing on TV. It’s just not often that a freshman starts in Mobile because it’s big-time football down there. I’m watching this game and thinking, this could get really ugly. Then I remember thinking, my goodness, this kid is really good. He threw a curl and a dig and those are throws that you have to have an arm to make. Not only was he kind of a tall kid but he could really throw it and he looked really comfortable doing it. After the season, I got a call from a family friend of mine and AJ’s father, Tony, and he said he had a kid that he thought was pretty good and he wanted to bring him out to a workout. We hit it off and I started working with him and that’s how it all started.
Reier: I read a tweet from @QBCountry that claimed McCarron was putting in 13-hour days. Is it really possible to put that much time into one guy at one position?
Morris: Actually, I’d say that’s pretty typical. We’re working our tails off and it’s pretty intense. You’re trying not to miss a detail so you’re trying to get in as much work in as you can. On the strength and speed side of things, Lyle Henley is running that. He has a great reputation of training athletes and I really think he’s the best around. He’s trained everybody in the Mobile area from Julio (Jones) to AJ to (DJ) Fluker. Everyday they’re going to lift, either upper body or lower body, and they are either going to do speed or agility, so those are two separate sessions. Obviously you have some (physical) therapy because you’re tired and you’re doing anything to get and stay healthy. Then you’re eating between workouts and then you get into the quarterback specific stuff. You’re doing field work every day, you’re doing board work every day and you’re doing film work every day. You start adding up all those items that you’re trying to cover and next thing you know you’re going from 6 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. And that’s a pretty typical day. We’re also working on Saturday, although not as intense. It’s an intense process because it’s such an important time in his career.
Reier During Senior Bowl week, McCarron and Nick Saban both touched on the need for McCarron to take time to heal up from the variety of health issues he accumulated during the 2013 season. Is that more of a standard practice than most fans realize?
Morris: I’m best friends with Eli (Manning) and he takes off two months after a season. It has nothing to do with injuries really, it’s just that you’re body needs to rest. Everybody is different but it’s important to rest. I just think it was the right thing to do. I know some people were upset but he’s got to do what’s best for him. He’s got some people that are pretty educated in their profession that advised him to take a little breather. I honestly believe it was the right move.
Reier: AJ comes off as a guy who doesn’t require much of a kick start when it comes to putting in the work. What makes him tick?
Morris: He’s a self-motivated guy. People might think he’s had an easy road or that anybody can do what he’s done, but I don’t think a lot of people know just how competitive and hungry he is. One of the more impressive things about him is how hungry he’s remained even with all the success he’s had. He’s a worker and he comes in every day and goes hard and wants to learn more and more.
Reier: Again, not that he seems to need much help when it comes to motivation, but those lingering questions about whether he can get the job done as a starter in the NFL have to make your job easier.
Morris: What does the guy have to do? He’s won two national championships as a starter, has three rings total and had just 15 interceptions in three years as a starter. You go back and look at Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and some of the best quarterbacks in college and the NFL and his touchdown to interception ratio and completion and winning percentages are off the charts. As an NFL guy looking at the situation, if AJ, (Johnny) Manziel, (Blake) Bortles and (Teddy) Bridgewater are the top guys, how can you not be totally intrigued by AJ? He looks like Tom Brady from a skill set and stature standpoint and he’s a guy that has won and won and won. Ultimately, in the league, winning percentage and taking care of the ball is how you win ball games. I think it’s a little perplexing but I do think he feeds off that.
Ultimately, you have to be an accurate passer. Secondly, you have to be a great anticipator. Third is when arm strength comes in and he’s got plenty of it. He can make NFL throws over and over again. Intelligence also has to play a big role in how you good you are. As far as football IQ, I think he’ll be the smartest quarterback in the draft and I think that goes a long, long way with people who know what the heck they’re looking at.
Reier: Shifting gears, what’s the plan for Coker?
Morris: First and foremost, he’s got to graduate (from FSU). Secondly, he’s got to get ready to compete for the job. He’s got a lot of (class) hours and he’ll have some catch up to do in a system that may change a little bit but from a nuts and bolts standpoint I wouldn’t imagine the scheme changing a ton at Alabama. He’s got a heavy load but he’s a blue collar worker. He’s a guy who rolls his sleeves up and gets there early and wants to throw after practice. We’ll chart 115 throws after warm up and he’ll want to go more. He’s one of those kids who does not want to stop so I think he’s got the right makeup to handle the tough task.
Reier: We know Coker has prototype size and arm strength. Where’s he at in terms of accuracy and instincts?
Morris: He can throw the football. He’s an accurate kid and he is an anticipator. There’s no substitute for experience so I think he’s going to get better in those two areas. It’s the natural progression of a quarterback that you become the better anticipator with the more games you play. He can hit you on a dime so I think he’s going to be fine. I think he has the tangibles and intangibles needed to be a starter in the SEC for sure.
Reier: So what are your objectives for Coker between now and summer?
Morris: It’s not my job to implement the offense so what we focus on are the mechanics and fundamentals of playing the position and getting into quarterback shape. You can’t ever have enough muscle memory, either under center or in game drops. Then what you’re trying to do is get him prepared for every situation, so you rep the heck out of footwork and situational throws. The way we train is that we do perfect scenario repetitions and then we try to incorporate worst case scenario repetitions. If you can do both those things you should have a guy who things can happen naturally for because you’re prepared for a situation where everything happen in rhythm and also when you have to get off your platform a little bit to make a play.
Reier: Bigger hurdle for Coker in winning the job at Alabama: getting the playbook and terminology down or developing chemistry with his teammates both as a passer and leader?
Morris: I think it’s a combination. Ultimately, you’ve got to learn the playbook. You’ve got to learn the ins and outs of terminology for protections, route concepts and the run game. And then, like anything else, if you’re going to be the quarterback you’ve got to be one of the leaders. I think he’s a natural leader but he’s not a very local guy. His way of leading is natural to him. He’s just kind of a worker and a laidback guy. As long as you’re authentic in that, then I think you’re leadership skills will speak for themselves. He doesn’t need to try to be AJ. They’re different in how they lead but they both do it well. There’s no cookie cutter way of leading. It’s just a matter of being yourself and working hard and I think those are two things he’s good at.
Reier: What’s the timeframe for getting Coker going?
Morris: I’m training these guys for the draft and that’s my priority for now. He’s got some getting healthy to do and that’s his priority for now. He’s got a lot of school work to do, too, so that’s also a top priority. I think he’s going to come home (to Mobile) on Thursdays and we’ll probably work through the weekends. We’ll come up with something that makes sense for him but isn’t too much with his workload. And he knows how to work on his own. He’s the kind of guy that no matter where he is, he’s going to get some football work in every day. Between school and getting back home to prepare for football, he’ll have a good balance.
Reier: Coker’s top attribute as a quarterback is ….
Morris: I think it goes back to him being a blue collar worker. He’s just a kid that doesn’t mind working his tail off. Nothing has been handed to him. He was in a challenging situation last season (at FSU) and he handled it very well. Jake’s a great teammate. He’s a great person and people are going to love him around there because he’s a hard worker.