Nearly two weeks ago, Texas Longhorns early enrollee quarterback Tyrone Swoopes shook off a difficult senior season on the gridiron to turn in the starring role in the Orange-White game, electrifying the crowd with completions on both pass attempts and several scrambles that included a handful of broken tackles.
A player who didn't spend a lot of time at camps and combines honing his passing skills as a prep, the best instruction that he received came during the Elite 11 process, especially during the week-long finals.
Elite 11 helped showcase what Swoopes did well at the time and provided a chance for him to receive high-level teaching on his mechanics from a coach in Trent Dilfer who believes that issues in that area will always keep quarterbacks from reaching their potential.
On Sunday, I had a chance to chat with the Super Bowl-winning quarterback following the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp and asked him about what he saw from Swoopes last year.
"The raw tools stood out, but on top of that we saw a guy that the brighter the lights, the better he performed," said Dilfer. "The more we cluttered his mind, the more he could quiet it -- no moment was too big. If you have that and you're coachable, we can do the rest."
It was more than just the intangibles that stood out with Swoopes, however.
"We saw his potential as a passer towards the end when we got to throwing lines. He was terrible in drills because he didn't get it and then we got him into the throwing lines and started to see the digs and the comebacks and the slants when he could put his foot in the ground and all of a sudden the ball is pinned to guy's chests. He's not doing it the way that he should be doing it, but the ball is getting there."
Dilfer said that he spends about 30 to 40 hours trying to decide how much to weigh a prospect's relative polish and how much to weigh the impact a week of instruction can have on a player's mechanics.
In the end, it was potential that won out for Swoopes, even though his performance at the Dallas Elite 11 camp was rather rough, with the exception of his work in the Pressure Cooker, the two-minute drill that ends the camp and is reserved for the top performers or other prospects under heavy consideration for an invite to the finals.
Swoopes did indeed earn the invite because of his potential to add a significant level of polish to his game. The week-long event revealed where Swoopes stood at the time, as he showed some mental toughness to get through another rough start, a definite trend for the Whitewright product at events like Elite 11 and The Opening.
"In the finals, Tyrone had a rough couple of days to start," said the ESPN analyst. "He's not a drill-setting type of guy. The more game-like it is, the better he gets with his ability to self-correct. He was in the Hit Squad with some of the top performers who were killing it early on and he didn't pout, he didn't put his head in the sand."
Swoopes elevating his play in game-like environments helped to explain why he did well in the Pressure Cooker at the end of the Dallas camp and why he was able to rise to the challenge against the first-team defense in the O-W game.
It also sheds some further light into why it was so valuable for Swoopes to be live in that game and go against defenders who were able to tackle him.
After that rough start in the finals, Swoopes didn't get discouraged and stop competing, instead once again demonstrating his ability to respond to adversity and improve on the fly.
"He came out the next day and dealt -- he didn't make the same mistake twice," said Dilfer. "There was huge development from Tyrone that week, even though he had never read a playbook and didn't know how to call a play, so think about how much his brain was moving."
Besides needing to learn some of the basics of his position, Swoopes also needed some work on the mechanical deficiencies in his delivery, though he wasn't a complete train wreck.
"He's a flat thrower -- he plays his position flat," said Dilfer. "His arm is flat. We didn't want to change his rotation, because his rotation is right, but that ability at the last second to get his arm to the right spot and get the right trajectory was a focus."
Dilfer then spent some time discussing the two major training methods for adjusting the delivery of a quarterback.
"It's not hard to see progress in what we call the block training environment, where we don't have random forces because you know what to look for and you know the queues," he said. "It gets hard in a random training environment because there's other stimulus coming at you and you need to adjust. So you kind of try to do both -- block train it and introduce random training. After the block training, you can see tiny improvements in the team drills and the other training drills."
While some coaches often worry about messing up a player's throwing motion by attempting to change their mechanics, Dilfer believes that if quarterbacks receive the right information and the proper training, those changes aren't something to worry about, believing as he does that flawed mechanics are the truly limiting factor for many talented players as they attempt to reach their potential.
"I want every kid to get the most out of what they have and they won't get the most out of what they have if they have a limiting factor in their game," Dilfer said. "I've seen a lot of guys who can't read a defense, but throw for 350 yards because they can beat the defense with the ball. We make a little bit too much out of that. I can show you Brady film, Manning film where they make the wrong decision, everything is wrong, but the ball is right -- there's no defense for a perfect throw."
"I tend to come from that school. I want the other stuff, but I also understand that if you can teach Tyrone Swoopes to make the perfect throw, holy smokes, how do you defend him? He does everything else well."
Swoopes may still be a ways from being able to make that perfect throw, but he's probably closer than he would be if he hadn't attended the Elite 11 finals, and that's good news for Texas fans who are once again enamored with the big quarterback's talent.