September 17, 2007

Scouting Garrett Gilbert

Austin (Texas) Lake Travis quarterback Garrett Gilbert is one of the nation's top quarterback prospects in the 2009 recruiting class and he might just end up being the mostly highly coveted football prospect to ever come out of the Austin-area. At 6-3, 185-pounds, Gilbert is the classic drop-back style passer and managing editor/publisher Geoff Ketchum recently watched Gilbert take on state power Austin Westlake. Here's a look at the book on Gilbert at this stage of his career.

Overview: After falling behind quickly 14-0 in the first quarter, Gilbert and Co. railed to score 21 unanswered points to take a 21-14 lead at halftime. However, the Cavs missed a chance to take control of the game early in the third quarter, allowing the Chaps to come back and take a 28-21 lead into the fourth quarter. A late-minute drive by Lake Travis stalled inside the red-zone when Gilbert's fourth and goal pass was intercepted in the final minute. Gilbert finished the night by going 13 of 28 for 159 yards and two touchdowns, along with three interceptions.

Passing: There's no question that Gilbert is one of the most refined young quarterbacks to come through the state of Texas in recent years, which is actually saying something considerable during this current golden age of quarterback talent in the Lone Star State. The thing that really separates Gilbert is his accuracy. Whether he's rolling to his left or his right, or simply standing tall in the pocket, Gilbert's is uncanny with his ability to put the ball exactly where he wants to. His current crop of wide receivers is not comprised of elite athleticism and their inability to create much separation in their routes against forced Gilbert to place the ball in a very small window, which he was able to do time and time again.

Lake Travis probably puts Gilbert on the move and tries to get him outside of the pocket on at least 50% of their pass plays and he does a great job of throwing the ball on the move. While some young quarterbacks really struggle with their footwork when trying to set up on the roll, Gilbert throws the ball effortlessly and with zip when rolling to his left or right. For a right-handed quarterback Gilbert probably throws the ball while moving to his left as well as any young quarterback I've ever seen. When it comes to throwing the short- and intermediate passing game, Gilbert is as good as it gets.

If there's one area that you'd like to see improvement from Gilbert it's in the deep passing game. The Cavs didn't run many vertical routes in this game, but when they did Gilbert did not throw the ball well down the field. For a kid that throws such a high velocity ball, it was surprising to see him struggle with the deep throws on this night, but there's not much to be had in this area of the passing game for his team because he doesn't have a single deep threat to pick from among his receivers. Overall, Lake Travis lives and dies as an offense with Gilbert's ability to pick defenses apart in the short passing game.

Athleticism: Gilbert is never going to be confused with any elite dual-threat quarterbacks, but he's not void of athleticism. While he doesn't have fluid hips and above-average lateral movement, he is mobile enough to pick up yards with his feet and he runs much stronger than his frame might suggest. On numerous occasions against Westlake, Gilbert was unable to find anything open and the pass rush forced him to turn up the field as a runner, which he had surprising success with. Gilbert finished as Lake Travis' leading rusher on the night with 95 yards rushing. That's a number that I'm willing to wager that Gilbert doesn't approach again any time soon, but it does show that Gilbert can make plays with his feet when the moment calls for it. The thing was impressive is that Gilbert seems to understand the limits of his athleticism and he certainly picked his spots when choosing to run. When it wasn't there, he didn't press the issue, but when he could sense that Westlake's defense had left an opening, he gashed them time and time again by charging up the field and taking as much as he could before the defense was able to close on him.

One area that he will need to improve on as he progresses is his footwork in the pocket. While he moves on the roll so effortlessly, he will need to continue to improve in that area in the pocket. Like most young quarterbacks with big-time arms, Gilbert often relies on his arm strength a little too much and doesn't effectively set his feet in the pocket. That being said, Gilbert has already improved in this area since last season and he knows that this is an area that needs improvement.

Highlight of the night: With the scored tied at 14-14 late in the second quarter, Gilbert got the ball with a little more than 2:00 minutes left in the half and he marched Lake Travis the length of the field for a huge touchdown with a combination of laser throws and key runs. The drive was caped off when he rolled to his left and threw a frozen rope to his receiver in the corner of the end zone. How good was the throw? The Lake Travis receiver that caught the ball wasn't even out of his break when Gilbert released the ball and when he did make his cut, he had almost zero separation from the Westlake defender - not that it mattered. Gilbert's pass had almost no margin for error, but he was able to hit his receiver right in the numbers, despite nearly perfect coverage.

Intangibles: This is the area where good quarterbacks and great quarterbacks separate themselves. If there's one thing that I love about Gilbert, it is his ability to thrive in a leadership role despite the fact that he's just a junior. Even as a sophomore last season, Gilbert was able to be an on-field leader and motivator for his team. If there's one thing that I worry about with Gilbert it's that he probably feels too much pressure to make all of the plays for his team and he will try to do too much at times. When you're clearly the best player on the field and your play will likely determine your team's fate each week, it can be tough to manage that fine line that has to be walked. Right now Gilbert does a good job of shouldering the pressure, but you can see him force the issue at times and he'll just have to learn from the mistakes that occur when he does.

Overall Gilbert is certainly not a ready-made college prospect, but there are some things that he has that you can't teach. His accuracy in the short and intermediate passing game and his ability to throw the ball on the move is as good as it gets. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen a player at his age throw the ball better in those areas. His deep ball needs work, but that might take some time because of the limitations this year in the Lake Travis passing attack. At the end of the day, this kid is going to be a dream come true for the college coordinator that he eventually works with because his tool box is fuller than most. Even with a stat sheet that was far from pretty Gilbert showed a lot of little things in the game against Westlake that can't be taught. As he continues to mature and grow as a layer, the sky is the limit.

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