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Dennis Grosel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Eagles' signal-caller has been inconsistent through his three starts this season.

At all levels of football, bye weeks are an excellent time to take stock of how the season has played out. Teams typically go through a process known as “self-scouting” at this time. This is also an excellent time to evaluate the quarterback position. This is critical for the success of any team. 

For Boston College, there has been a significant amount of discussion surrounding their quarterback. In this piece, I’ll dive into an evaluation of Dennis Grosel up to this point in the season. We’ll go through some clips from the last two games and discuss what Grosel does well, where he struggles, and how Frank Cignetti Jr. can help him.

This article is titled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Grosel’s three starts have been precisely that. His first against Temple falls into the last category, where he only completed seven passes for 59 yards. Grosel’s second start earns the Good distinction; after a questionable interception to start the game, his decision-making and accuracy led BC to victory. Finally, while he put BC in good positions against Clemson, Grosel’s costly interceptions ultimately doomed the Eagles. I think Grosel will perform as he did against Missouri for the rest of the season. But the coaching staff needs to put him in some better positions.

The Ugly: Deep Passing

We’ll go in the reverse order of the title. BC fans are well-acquainted with Grosel’s lack of arm strength (in terms of distance). This puts Frank Cignetti and the offensive staff in a bit of a bind, as this offense was designed with Phil Jurkovec in mind, who can easily push the ball downfield. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the coaches, or Grosel, from dialing up and throwing the ball vertically.

In the play above, the Eagles run a variation of the Yankee concept. BC ran this a lot with Jurkovec at quarterback, as it’s well-suited for a big-armed QB. Typically, one receiver will run an intermediate crossing route over the middle of the field; the other will run a deep post route. This play typically features a play-action fake with max-protection with some late-releasing routes to the flat. Zay Flowers runs the post while Jaelen Gill runs a deep curl.

Even if Grosel hit Flowers on the deep post, the play would have been called back for illegal formation, as Flowers did not line up on the line of scrimmage. Grosel does basically everything right with this play in terms of his mechanics. But he simply lacks consistent deep accuracy. 

On a similar play against Temple, he underthrew the pass to Jaden Williams, and it was intercepted. Since then, Grosel has been overthrowing the deep receiver, and he’s thrown two of his four interruptions when pushing the ball downfield more than 20 yards. Obviously, BC needs to keep threatening to throw deep. But with Grosel at quarterback, they need to reduce how much.

Long Dropbacks

As I’ve written before, another issue for Grosel has been how long and deep his dropbacks are. While the offensive line is good, they struggle to deal with exotic blitzes. Missouri and Clemson were able to generate pressure on Grosel by blitzing six or seven defenders and stunting/looping them to confuse the blockers. BC likes to use heavy protections, keeping seven or even eight players in to block. But those stunts and twists have still been successful at getting to the quarterback. To make matters worse, when you keep more players in to block, fewer players are running routes. On those plays, those routes are usually very deep, so Grosel struggles to get the ball to those receivers.

Above, you can see such a play. BC keeps both tight ends and the back in to block. Both receivers try to get vertical, and while we can’t see their exact routes, we see Grosel sit in the pocket and wait for them to get open. He waits as long as he can and gets the ball away before he gets sacked. But the other thing to consider is the down and distance. After two penalties, the Eagles face 1st and 21. 

While you’d like to get back those yards quickly, it’s probably a better strategy to call a play with more options that allow you to make it 2nd and manageable; call a quick pass or RPO that enables you to make it 2nd & 13 or better. Instead, this pass falls incomplete, BC faces 2nd & 21, and they go three and out on this drive. At the end of the day, some of these playcalls ask too much of Grosel and put him in situations where it’s difficult for him to succeed.

The Bad: Facing Pressure and Beating the Blitz

Despite Grosel’s age and experience, he’s still prone to mistakes. Typically, these errors are compounded by pressure and blitzing. Some quarterbacks perform better when teams blitz them because there are open holes in the defense and more advantageous matchups. Regardless, Grosel has struggled against the blitz. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s been blitzed on almost 46% of his dropbacks and committed five of his six turnover-worthy plays. Furthermore, his completion drops from 67.3% to 55.1% when he is blitzed, as opposed to when he is kept clean.

Take a look at this play, Grosel’s second interception from the Clemson game. You can tell pre-snap that Clemson is bringing pressure. To Grosel’s credit, it’s too late in the play clock to change the play or adjust the protection. Additionally, Clemson’s runs a very complex coverage rotation. But the Tigers bring six blitzers, and Grosel throws a pick.

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But if you look at this video, you can see how the broadcasters highlight Trae Barry running the underneath crossing route. It’s difficult to predict whether Grosel could have changed his body angle to complete this pass when he reaches the apex of his dropback. But based on the pre-snap defensive alignment indicating blitz, he probably should have looked to his tight end first for an easy completion to set up a manageable third down. Maybe Barry even picks up the first down after the catch. In short, Cignetti needs to find ways for Grosel to easily check the ball down if the defense brings a heavy exotic blitz.

Decision-Making

This issue is tied with the previous one, but we’ll discuss it independent of pressure. Consider Grosel’s first pass against Missouri. For some reason, he decided to chuck it up into triple coverage. Simply put, you can’t do that; try to get outside the pocket and scramble for a few yards. Not every play needs to be a home run.

Take this play, for example. Now, this is an incredibly accurate throw, and Jaden Williams almost came down with it. But forcing this ball into double coverage is not advisable. I commend Grosel for trying to pick up the first down with a throw beyond the sticks. But it’s another situation where a shorter throw could be more productive.

On this play, we see Grosel take a big sack in the red zone because he doesn’t feel the pressure. This ball needs to come out quicker; alternatively, Grosel could step up or find some other way to escape the pocket. In general, it seems that too often, Grosel is looking to get a big chunk play when simply keeping the offense on schedule would do. Part of the blame falls on Cignetti for not giving him the proper tools to work within the offense. But we’ll move along to where Grosel is succeeding.

The Good: Attacking the Flanks and Pro-Style Concepts

Grosel is excellent at throwing to the outside for a quarterback without a prototypically strong arm, specifically in the short and intermediate areas. With an excellent, diversely talented receiving corps like the Eagles have, the passing offense should remain effective.

Grosel faces a key third down in the play above, backed up against his own goal line. BC puts a bunch to the field side. They then execute a Divide Pivot concept. Flowers runs an out route, Barry runs a Dig (intermediate in-breaking) route, and Lewis runs a Pivot route, where he fakes inside then cuts back out. The line picks up the defenders, giving Grosel time to find Flowers. He delivers an excellent ball to Flowers’ near shoulder, causing him to cut back inside and allows him more room to run after the catch. 

Accuracy and ball placement go beyond putting the ball between the receiver’s numbers. It also includes protecting the receivers from defenders and giving them the best opportunity to maximize yards after the catch.

Here’s another excellent throw from Grosel. This time, it’s a simple, quick slant to Jaelen Gill. Clemson loads the box, and with only one deep safety, it’s pretty clear Clemson is running Cover 1. Grosel gets the snap and quickly finds Gill open on the slant/ He delivers a perfect ball, allowing Gill to catch it in stride and get upfield for a big gain. These are all great short to medium passing concepts that Grosel can quickly execute, whether facing Man or Zone coverage.

This is another excellent medium passing concept with lots of options. It combines a Drive concept by the tight ends and a Smash concept by the wide receivers. Both concepts create high-low reads for the quarterback. With Drive, one tight end runs a Dig route while the other runs a Drag going the same way underneath it. In Smash, the outside receiver runs a quick Hitch route, while the Slot receiver runs a corner or fade route. Cignetti adds a little wrinkle by having the running back run a Wheel route up the seam. Grosel quickly finds Barry on this concept, who turns it upfield for a first down. 

This play is a perfect example of what BC needs to do more of moving forward: give Grosel options and allow the receivers to do the work after the catch. It can’t just be deep shots. Unless Grosel starts completing them at a very consistent rate, they will lead to incompletions, sacks, and turnovers, along with preventing the offense from staying in rhythm.