It was his first day in the film room with quarterbacks coach David Lee. Previous quarterbacks under Lee’s tutelage have compared it to jumping into a bathtub full of razor blades.
“My exact words were, ‘Now look Fitz, you’re the starter here, but this could be rough,’" said Lee. "I had to be careful because you never want to shake your starting quarterback’s confidence and they finished 14th in offense last year so that means he was pretty good. We watched the whole reel, all the right and left throws, the deep throws. I cut them all up from the whole season.”
“In terms of all the plays we were watching, we were seeing a lot of bad plays and not a lot of good plays, but in order to get better you have to do that stuff,” said Fitzpatrick. “As a quarterback you’ve got to have thick skin.”
Lee didn’t just show interceptions. He showed throws that fell short, were overthrown or were off target. Lee took those examples and proceeded to point out what was wrong.
“If you can tell a pro why (they’re struggling) you’ve got them,” he said. “What I did with Ryan was point out where the fundamental flaws were. I would show him why the ball went behind the receiver because of where his positioning was with his feet. He either had to believe me and be convinced or not. He chose to and because of that he’ll get better.”
“He’s all about the lower half,” said Fitzpatrick. “The footwork, making sure you’re not getting your feet in the way of your hips when you’re throwing the ball. That’s something we’ve worked on a lot because I have an issue with balls I’m throwing to my left, just making sure everything is open so I’m not closing my hips off and can’t fire with balls dying. There are a lot of things that we have been looking at after he made a bunch of clips from last year of specific throws that I’ve struggled with.”
The key as Lee saw it was Fitzpatrick being open-minded to the finer points of throwing mechanics. After seeing improvements in spring workouts thus far he’s convinced that Buffalo’s starting quarterback has bought in even though Lee’s kind of instruction is new to him.
“I’ve never really had a technician as a coach,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’ve kind of always just gone out there and thrown. And I don’t know why I go out and throw like I do. I just go out and do it. To have a coach like him that’s able to sit there and say, ‘Hey you missed this throw six times last year and you missed it low every time. Here’s why…’ That makes a lot of sense for me. That’s something that I can process and now I understand why I’m doing it and can correct it.
“We’re attacking it right now. Every throw there’s dialogue. He’s just making sure that I’m heading in the right direction fundamentally and not going to slip into old habits.”
This is the time of year to develop sound throwing mechanics, because come the regular season when weekly game plans and film study are the priority, those finer points of passing often take a back seat.
“You hope what happens here is he’s had enough reps here on air that his footwork becomes subconscious and becomes muscle memory,” said Lee. “That way when he’s under duress it’s just muscle memory and he just does it.”
“When the live bullets start flying I know I’m probably going to slip back into some old habits,” Fitzpatrick said. “But to know that he’s there to say, ‘This is what you’re doing.’ That’s the stuff we’re working on to try to make it a good habit right now.”