Pat White hoping read option craze will re-open door to NFL
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- As the throwing session wore on, the criticism grew sharper. Not from the coach. From the player himself. "And I underthew him by about five [expletive] yards," Pat White said recently after missing his receiver by five bleepin' yards on a post-corner route designed to beat Cover 2 defenses. "Son of a [expletive]."
Then the former West Virginia quarterback smirked. "I tend to curse myself out," White said moments before he delivered a teardrop of a pass into the waiting hands of his receiver.
White has cursed himself a lot in the past two years. He feels he squandered a prime opportunity with the Miami Dolphins, and the 27-year-old who once came within a Backyard Brawl of leading the Mountaineers to the BCS title game hopes to rejuvenate his career at a time when the pro game seems more accepting of a dual-threat quarterback's skill set. After receiving an inquiry from the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League in January, White decided to give football one more try. So after Geno Smith and company finish their workouts at West Virginia's pro day on March 14, White will try to show scouts he still belongs in the game. "I like to tell people that I'm a 2009 model with about 4,500 miles on it," White said. "It's just been sitting in the garage. It still runs -- just as well."
White came to California to work with private quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr., who will try to refine the 6-foot, 197-pound White's throwing motion so teams don't view White strictly as a Wildcat player. That's what happened in Miami. The Dolphins drafted White in the second round in 2009 with the hope of using him in a Wildcat package while he developed into a more complete NFL quarterback. But White didn't put in the work such a metamorphosis required, and the Dolphins cut him prior to the 2010 season. He opted to sign with the Kansas City Royals rather than move to another position. But White's pro baseball career didn't last. He was sent to the fall instructional league, and he didn't report to spring training the following March. Since then, White's only professional athletic endeavor was an unsuccessful training-camp stint in 2011 with the Virginia Destroyers of the UFL.
"I guess I really took a two-year hiatus," said White, who received $2.4 million in guaranteed money from the Dolphins. "I was running from myself with nowhere to go."
White realizes now the Dolphins weren't being unfair keeping him behind Chad Henne and Chad Pennington. He hadn't earned the right to play ahead of them. "I was in there watching the same amount of tape as the other quarterbacks, but I wasn't as knowledgeable as those guys," White said. "When they left, I should have stayed another hour."
In most cases, that history -- combined with his less-than-ideal size -- probably would slam the door on White's chances to earn a paycheck playing football. But after Seattle's Russell Wilson carried the torch for undersized quarterbacks and several teams found success running zone read concepts similar to the ones White excelled at running in Morgantown, White might have a slim chance to break back into the league. Given the high likelihood of injury for quarterbacks who run more frequently, teams that use the zone read may have to begin carrying more (cheap) quarterbacks on their rosters as insurance policies.
So maybe White wasn't a bust. Maybe he was just ahead of his time.
"That's what they say," White said. "I wouldn't say I was a little ahead of my time. I just wasn't prepared for my time." White knows now that the speed that allowed him to run for 4,480 yards and 47 touchdowns as a Mountaineer will not be enough. While the rushing success of Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III may have helped inspire White's comeback, he knows those players also bring rocket arms to the table. White does not, but he hopes his work with Whitfield will raise his throwing to a level acceptable to NFL coaches.
During a session last week, White worked on touch passes by throwing over brooms held three feet above his receivers' hands. He spent quite a bit of the session simulating under-center plays. All the while, Whitfield peppered White with tips and warnings. Here's a sampling...
"They don't make linebackers you can throw through yet." (After White forced a pass he should have lofted.)
"Five-nine, 5-10. No one's going to measure you back there. Get down." (After White failed to bend his knees and engage his lower body on a throw.)
White will have to take these lessons to heart and practice them until the concepts become instincts. If he is willing to work hard enough to do that, he could have a chance in a league that likely will seek out more inexpensive dual-threat quarterbacks this offseason. Four years ago, White was the concept car drivers (offensive coordinators) weren't quite sure how to operate. Now, his model has entered the mainstream, and he's a gently used version at a bargain price.
"More coaches are being more and more open to [the zone read]," White said. "Maybe I was a couple of years early. But I have an opportunity now, so I need to make the most of it."