An (Amateur) Look at the 2013 QB Competition

A video was recently posted by Rivals which showed various drills being done by Max Wittek, Cody Kessler, and Max Browne as they compete for the starting Quarterback job at USC.  I decided to take this video and see if any further information could be extracted.

I want to start out with a disclaimer that I am not an expert when it comes to fundamentals or mechanics.  This post is meant as a discussion starter and I welcome feedback from those who may have input and/or more knowledge than myself.  I do, however, try to stay within reasonable bounds which I believe to be testable and true.

The first thing I did was rearrange the video so that it was divided up by drill type.  This way, you can see each quarterback doing a particular drill before moving onto the next drill.  This allows for easier comparison.

This rearranged video can be found here. (The original video can be found here.)

Now that we have the video rearranged for breakdown, let us get down to the numbers and analysis.  The areas that I analyze are footwork, play action fakes, throw timing, throw power, and throw accuracy.


The footwork drills are the first two drills that we see in the video.  The first drill shows each quarterback moving around or over bags while the second drill shows each quarterback moving in figure eight patterns around cones.

First, let us look at the footwork drill using bags.  I measured the time it took for each quarterback to execute the various movements in the bag drill.  There were two movement types: moving around the bags and going over the bags.  The time was measured from the moment the player planted their foot to kick off the motion until both their feet set after the motion.  These times were then averaged out over the number of times the player executed the motion.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Footwork_Bags_TimeAs you can see here, each quarterback was fairly close to each other with the exception of Cody Kessler’s “around the bag” movement.  Kessler seemed to struggle comparatively in this one, being about 0.4 seconds slower than the others.  It is possible that Kessler got flustered after running into the first bag in his initial dropback.

Now let us look at the cone drill.  This drill starts at about 28 seconds into the video.  In this drill, there were four motion types: forward, backward, left, and right.  Again, I measured the time it took each quarterback to execute each motion.  Note that the video did not include the beginning of Max Wittek’s backward motion, so it is not included in the data.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Footwork_Cones_TimeThese times are much more normalized among the three quarterbacks.  Kessler was actually the fastest in the lateral motion drills in this round.

I want to point out that Cody Kessler holds the ball in the improper orientation when doing footwork drills.  As noted by this article on Smart Football, a QB should be holding the ball in a “cocked” position: 45 degrees outward, down, and off from the body.  Holding the football at this angle “reduces joint movement, presets wrist pronation, increases the ball’s spin rate when thrown, and increases ball control with the fingers.”  When Kessler is performing footwork drills, he holds the ball nearly vertical, but during throwing drills he holds the ball properly.  I included screen captures of the bag drill, cone drill, and a representative throwing drill below for comparison.  (I flipped the image horizontally for the throwing drill so that it matched the orientation of the other photos.  The arrow is a representation of the ball angle.)

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Kessler_Ball_Pos_CompiledGiven that this issue only pronounced itself during footwork drills, and wasn’t there during throwing drills, I am assuming that Kessler isn’t completely comfortable with his footwork yet.  The specific movements aren’t ingrained as second nature, which is causing him to focus on his feet rather than the rest of his body.

Kessler is also the only quarterback that I noticed to peek down during the cones footwork drill.  To me, this shows a lack of spacial awareness that he must reorient himself to the cones after certain movements.  This may also be an extension of the “overthinking” mentioned above.

Play Action Fake

The next thing I want to look at is a comparison of the play action fakes between each quarterback. The play action drills start at around 1:05 into the video.

I clocked the amount of time that each quarterback stays within their play action.  I timed this starting when the quarterback’s arm is completely stretched for the handoff until the point when both hands return onto the ball.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Play_Action_TimeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler both have very similar times for their play action fakes.  However, Max Browne is significantly shorter in his fake time.  Rewatch the play action drills and look at how quickly he pulls the ball back from his fake.  He pretty much brings it back immediately after extending.  In my opinion, this is a bad fake and Browne doesn’t “sell” the action.  This may stem from his lack of playing from under center in High School, causing his drop back handoffs and fakes to be unrefined.  Browne also does this really funny ball slap when he is doing play action rolling to his right (when he is handing the ball off from his non-throwing hand).  In my mind, this gives an additional sound cue for the defenders to know that this isn’t a running play.  It is possible the slap is supposed to simulate the ball hitting the pads of the runner, but the timing would probably seem off.

Time to Throw

There were a couple of drills which I thought the timing to make the throw was important.  Let us start with the 4th drill, where the quarterbacks starts with play action then pivot to throw the ball to a checkdown player at the sidelines.  This drill starts at around 2:28 in the video.

I clocked the time it took for each quarterback to perform that pivot-throw combination.  The faster the quarterback can reposition his body to make a throw to a different alignment, the less time the defenders will have to react to his movements.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_PivotToThrow_TimeAs you can see here, both Wittek and Kessler are pretty close in how quickly they can pivot and get the ball out of their hands.  Max Brown is notably slower at this motion.

The next drill we will look at is the final drill of the video.  It shows the quarterbacks facing backwards to start.  They then turn around and find their target to throw the ball.  This drill helps measure the reaction time and how quickly each quarterback can lock into a target and get the ball there.  This drill starts at around 3:44 in the video.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_BlindThrow_TimeAs can be seen here Wittek was the quickest followed by Kessler and then Browne.  It should be noted that one of Browne’s “blind throws” did not actually show him turning in the video, which gives an ambiguous start time.  However, I still included the total time that was shown since it was  the longest of his times at this drill and likely would have been longer had they shown his turn.

Throw Power

In order to judge throwing power, I clocked the airtime for each throw.  I separated the times from each drill, which should normalize the throwing distances.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Air_TimeAs you can see here, Wittek consistently had the shortest airtime while Kessler had consistently the longest.  This implies that Wittek throws the ball with the most power behind it.  Please note that power does not necessarily equal a good throw.  There are some throws the require arm strength, like a deep out.  There are other throws the require touch on the ball, and a powerful laser can be quite detrimental to the receiver’s ability to catch the ball.  Since these drills weren’t specifically testing either of these abilities, this just shows how much power each quarterback puts into each throw in an average case.

Throw Accuracy

Finally, I took a look at the accuracy of each quarterback.  I judged accuracy by where the ball was caught by the manager.  I considered the the area between the numbers on the receivers chest extending up to their eye level and about the width of the body as the ideal target area for the ball.  It a “good” throw if the manager did not have to move his body or extend his arms outside of this area.  Here are the percentages each quarterback had for “good” throws based on each drill.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Accuracy_DrillsAs can be seen here, Wittek had the best accuracy during the play action to the front drill, but the worst accuracy in the blind throw portion.  Kessler was middle of the pack on the Play Action forward drill, but tied for the lead in the remaining drills.  Finally, Browne didn’t do great on the play action forward drills, but also tied for the lead in the remaining drills.

Now let us look at the overall accuracy percentage numbers.

2013_USC_QB_Comp_Accuracy_TotalAs you can see here, Kessler had the best overall accuracy, followed by Browne and then Wittek.

For reference, here are the screen captures of each quarterback’s throw accuracy.
Max Wittek
Cody Kessler
Max Browne


We definitely have a quarterback competition on our hands.  Based on this video, Wittek has strong footwork and throw power.  Kessler seems to have a little trouble on his footwork and may have less throwing power, but has the strongest accuracy.  Browne has the slowest pivot and reaction times and may also struggle selling his play action, but he has strong footwork and good accuracy.

It is important to note that these are not hard numbers and should not be used as a be-all and end-all for this quarterback competition.  This is a very small sample size of the total work that these quarterbacks do even within a single practice.  However, without actually attending practice, this is what we have as fans.  As fans, it is enjoyable to discuss and predict what we believe to be true based on what we do know.

As for my personal opinion, I think Wittek still is the front runner based on his two games starting experience.  I am of the belief that you can’t replace game experience, even though he is 0-2 in that period.  I don’t think the wind affected Wittek as much as many people seem to think.  Wittek’s main problem is that he locks onto receivers, which is a typical mistake of a young quarterback.  I saw it at the ND game, which meant that GT saw it as well and used it to their full advantage in their prep.  Once he fixes that issue, he will improve vastly.  However, with Wittek out for a short while due to a sprained MCL, we will see if Kessler can close the gap.  I am not personally expecting Browne to get a jump on the more experienced Wittek or Kessler at this point, but we shall see.

What are your thoughts? Who are you “rooting” for to be USC’s 2013 starting quarterback?  What observations did you make from the video?


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