Write it, draw it, see it: How QB Daniel Jones is learning the playbook

Everyone knows the challenge for rookies, especially quarterbacks, is learning the playbook. You hear it all the time, but have you ever wondered how that process works? Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, joined the “Giants Huddle” podcast to explain his study methods, in addition to discussing a variety of other topics, from the progress he made this spring to appreciating the toughness of Eli Manning.

“You’re going to be thinking a lot in this position, but [the goal is] not having to think about too much that you can’t handle it and you can still process information and make decisions,” Jones said. “So I think I’m just trying to get more comfortable with that, and I think I have to some extent, but I’m looking forward to definitely getting more comfortable and kind of building off what we did this spring.”

After the euphoria of making it to the NFL wears off, rookies soon receive a binder full of what may as well be hieroglyphics. Wide receivers and tight ends try to make out what look like routes, offensive linemen decipher the protections, and running backs fill in the holes. Quarterbacks, meanwhile, not only have to know all of the above, but they have to understand the origin of the foreign words and how to use them in a sentence. 

While becoming fluent is a career-long process and one that Jones has just begun, he didn’t graduate from Duke with an economics degree because of his athleticism. The quarterback knows how to study.

“I’ve found that once you write it down a lot, you draw it, you see it, and then you can kind of take that into your head because on the field you don’t have a piece of paper,” Jones said. “So you’re going to have to visualize it in your head, and that just kind of helps you organize the play call and then see it on the field. That all takes place in the meeting room, and obviously watching film is a huge component of that and seeing it in a moving picture. But in the notebook, I’ve found that just writing it down and seeing it on the paper is a good way to kind of get a lot of reps and do it over and over and over again.”

Rote memorization can get a quarterback through rookie minicamp. It takes understanding concepts to be successful on game day. 

“You can kind of memorize as much as you can the first couple installs, but once they start stacking, once you start getting more information, that memorization stuff – it takes a guy a lot smarter than me to memorize all that stuff,” Jones said. “I think that’s where it’s crucial to understand concepts and kind of how things work together and what we want to do, how we’re going to build certain routes based off certain formations. So just having an understanding of that helps with that, and I think spring helped me there. But I have a lot to learn still and I’m looking forward to doing it.”

A lot of the concepts were the same at Duke, where Jones played under David Cutcliffe, who also has mentored Eli and Peyton Manning. The biggest difference between college and the NFL, aside from speed, is the depth of routes. Everything is run deeper in the pros, which affects the timing of when things open up.

To prepare, Jones spends much of his time studying the script of the upcoming practice. His first priority once he gets on the field is to get the call right in the huddle, which is something he did not do much with the Blue Devils. He then draws a quick picture of the play in his head, gets an idea of what the read should be at the line of scrimmage, adjusts his protections, and then it’s go time. After practice, the quarterbacks review the tape.

“Me being the young guy, it’s a huge opportunity for me to ask questions and to learn,” Jones said. “Those are big moments to learn – immediately after practice when you’re watching the tape and you can go over what just happened and it’s fresh in your mind.”

The tutelage from Manning has been well-documented, but there are two other people in the facility making a big impact on the rookie: backup quarterback Alex Tanney and offensive assistant Ryan Roeder.

“Coach Roeder and Alex have helped me a great deal already,” Jones said. “I think that whole room with Eli, Kyle [Lauletta], Alex, Coach Roeder, Coach [Mike] Shula, it’s been great for me to be with those guys and how much experience everyone has in the room and to learn from them. Alex is a guy who’s been in the league for a while and knows how it’s supposed to look, knows how you’re supposed to prepare. He’s helped me a lot within that preparation aspect for practice and taught me a few things in how he prepares and what kind of helps him get ready in reviewing the script. Coach Roeder has helped me a great deal, too, in just learning the offense and working with me to make sure I’m moving along and learning at the pace I need to.”

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is also helping Jones, albeit indirectly. His scheme provides many looks for Jones to dissect.

“It’s good for a young guy,” Jones said. “This is my first exposure to NFL defenses, and the fact that our defense can be so multiple and do a whole lot of different things is an opportunity for me to learn. It’s been an adjustment, like it all has, just trying to learn as quick as I can. But yeah, it’s good exposure early to have to learn that style of defense and as many different looks as he has.”

Jones attributes his quick-thinking partly to the fact that he was a late bloomer in high school. He played on varsity as a 5-foot-10, 150-pound sophomore.

“At that size, I could never throw the ball very hard or very far, so I had to work on different things in putting the ball where I wanted to put it,” Jones said. “Focus on making sure I was on time, because if I wasn’t, someone was going to over-run my arm and that kind of stuff. I remember I used to get hit pretty good playing against some guys a lot bigger than you, so you learn to get up and shake it off.”

Jones hit his growth spurt as a junior, eventually settling into the 6-foot-5, 221-pound frame he has today. But those hits he took when he was younger only made him tougher, a trademark of his scouting report.

The greatest demonstration of his toughness came last Sept. 8 when he broke his collarbone during a victory over Northwestern. He returned Sept. 29 and played a complete game against Virginia Tech. The year before, Jones played with a broken – not cracked – rib.

“I think that’s a critical part to being a good football player, particularly a good quarterback,” Jones said. “Obviously with someone like Eli who has played as long as he has, I think you can see pretty clearly where toughness can get you.”

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