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Lee's keys to successful quarterbacking

Posted Feb 8, 2012

It’s rare that you get the opportunity to delve into what an assistant coach deems as the most important qualifications for a player at their respective position. Though a lot of NFL coaches believe that a lot of the same abilities and talent apply at the all-important quarterback position, Buffalo’s David Lee has a list of key quarterback traits including an omission or two that might surprise.

Lee, a former college quarterback himself at Vanderbilt, has been all about the details of quarterbacking from his playing days through his last 35-plus years of coaching.

“David brings a wealth of experience,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “He worked in Dallas with Tony Romo and Miami with the quarterbacks they had down there with (Chad) Henne and (Chad) Pennington and Tyler (Thigpen) as well. He’s a great technician. I think he’ll bring a great deal of help to Fitz and to Tyler and to all our quarterbacks. He knows the ins and outs of playing the quarterback position. We’re glad to have him.”

Lee was largely credited with developing Romo from an undrafted quarterback to Pro Bowl signal caller. He was also responsible for helping Pennington alter his throwing motion for the better after a series of shoulder surgeries compromised his abilities.

As much as Lee will help with the technical aspects of playing quarterbacks he also holds true to what he feels of the six keys to being a successful quarterback in the NFL.

“Number one is accuracy,” said Lee. “Accuracy is the number one critical factor. Two, I think is toughness.  Three, decision making.  Four, would be the ability for the quarterback to extend a play, we call this escape ability. Five, is leadership. Six, is he a pressure player?” 

When Lee was first hired to coach quarterbacks in Miami in 2008 he broke down tape to see how many times their quarterbacks brought their team back in the fourth quarter in college on the last drive to win a game.

“If he doesn’t have any that’s a bad indicator that he’s a pressure player,” said Lee. “Chad Henne at the time we did him, he had nine come back wins in the fourth quarter at Michigan.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick had a pair of fourth quarter comebacks in Weeks 2 and 3 against Oakland and New England last season.

“I really like his toughness, I like the command he’s got of the offense,” said Lee of Fitzpatrick. “He really knows what he’s doing in this offense the way he directs protection, the emphasis and the necessity of him to direct the protection and get everybody on the same page is outstanding.”

Lee also called Fitzpatrick “very accurate” even though the quarterback’s accuracy slipped a bit in the second half of the season. He was most impressed with Fitz’s accuracy when he did not have time to get his feet set. Lee actually practices what he calls “funny body” throws in practice knowing they come up in games.  More importantly Lee believes accuracy is a skill that can be taught.

“It’s like golf. If you have a fundamentally bad swing, if you don’t get help and somebody helps you fundamentally correct that you can go out and hit a million balls and just keep hitting them badly,” he said. “But if your fundamentals are good you have a chance to get better.”

While with the Dolphins Lee helped Pennington with his velocity knowing the veteran signal caller did not have the strongest arm.

“Chad Pennington said that at age 32 he never thought he would change a couple of things, but he did with me,” said Lee. “It was with his lower body, his left foot was blocking his right hip. Those things, if a quarterback at this level knows you can get him better and he buys in, once he buys in that you’re going to help he’s sold and you’ve got him. That’s something we want to work with Tyler (Thigpen), (Ryan) Fitzpatrick and Brad (Smith).”

Once the OTA practices begin in the spring Lee will set to get Fitzpatrick and the other QBs to a point where they can master the throws and master the fundamentals.

One omission from Lee’s six points of successful quarterbacking that might seem unusual is the absence of arm strength. The veteran assistant doesn’t see it as essential. 

“I don’t think it’s one of the six,” he said. “I really don’t. I had Chad Pennington who had maybe one of the weaker arms to ever play and he’s the all-time leading passer in the history of accuracy – 67.8%. I don’t think arm strength is in the top 10, I really don’t.”

To push his point further Lee believes if a quarterback can get his lower body and upper body in sync that a passer can improve his accuracy and his velocity.

“The two are tied together,” he said.

And Lee is almost guaranteed to be tied to Fitz throughout this offseason in the hopes of helping Buffalo’s quarterback take the next step from capable quarterback to consistent difference maker.

What’s so strange to Lee is how well Fitzpatrick plays when pressure is swirling around him and he’s one the move as opposed to some of the missed throws when the pocket holds up. He intends to make that a focus this spring.

“The thing I think we can work on is when things are clean and getting a systematic, fundamental base underneath him where he can get to making that muscle memory here in the offseason to where maybe we can carry it to the games because it’s interesting in looking at him,” said Lee.

With a year of being the starter under his belt, Fitzpatrick is more confident than ever that his play can reach a higher level. David Lee only enhances those odds.

“I feel like there are a lot of things that I’m to get better at and I guess that’s why I’m excited for next year and the prospects of going out and playing and getting some of our guys back in there,” said Fitzpatrick. “If it’s just dependent on me getting better and that’s going to make us better then I feel good about next year.”