INDIANAPOLIS – Frank Reich is a quarterback to his core.
He played the position at a high level at Maryland and during a 13-year NFL career. He’s coached the position, been an offensive coordinator and is in his third season as the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach. He’s been hands-on with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.
What better individual to ask a simple question.
Would you teach a young quarterback to fashion his throwing motion after Philip Rivers?
Reich was talking with the local media Wednesday on a Zoom conference call. He didn’t hesitate and he didn’t bother to hide a wry smile.
“No, I wouldn’t teach it to someone,’’ he said. “It’s unique, but it’s pure and it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing. I love seeing it.’’
Unique. Yeah, that’s what we’ll call it.
Short, compact, a ton of shoulder. Certainly not Manning-esque. Certainly not the prototypical throwing motion.
Again, Reich offered a respectful smile.
“To each his own, yes,’’ he said. “But if I had a son, I would not teach him to throw like that.
“If I had a son, I would hope he’d be as accurate as Philip is and as smart as he is and as competitive and a whole lot of other things.’’
Here’s where we remind you how Rivers has maximized that funky throwing motion during a 16-year career with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers that is Hall of Fame-worthy: 6th in NFL history with 397 touchdowns and 59,271 yards; 9th in completion percentage (64.7) and wins as a starter (123); 10th with a 95.1 passer rating and 11th in yards per attempt (7.8).
In a 2018 game against Arizona, Rivers completed 25 consecutive passes, tied for the longest streak in NFL history.
But that motion!
You’ve gotta see it to understand it. Seriously.
“At first I might say, ‘You have to see it. It’s going to be hard to describe to you,’’’ Rivers said. “I think it’s actually kind of evolved in the last 20 years. I don’t think I throw it exactly the same as I threw it in 2000, while there are definitely still some similarities.’’
And it’s still downright unorthodox.
“I’m more of a shoulder thrower, I guess,’’ he said. “I kind of push it, I don’t really flick it. It’s more of a push deal sometimes.’’
Along with the non-over-the-top motion is Rivers’ knack for throwing from whatever angle is necessary to get the football from his right hand to the intended target.
“There has been plenty of game plays and practice plays where if you pause it, you can argue that I was throwing it underhand almost,’’ he said. “I was just trying to get it around a guy here or there.’’
That was the case in Tuesday’s practice. A big body or two were between Rivers and T.Y. Hilton, so Rivers improvised.
“He had a sidearm one to T.Y. because there was rush and pressure,’’ Reich said. “There are other guys who can make that throw, but he made it look easy.
“That’s what great passers do. That’s what great players do. They make difficult things look easy. Philip has that ability.’’
The uniqueness of the motion can be traced to Rivers’ formative days as a 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-old bouncing around as his father, Steve, ran practices at Decatur (Ala.) H.S.
The only footballs were regulation-size.
“I couldn’t hold it, grip it, palm it,” Rivers said, “so I had to kind of lay it in my hand a little bit. You’re not strong enough to throw it (so) you push it.
“I think that’s where it all started.’’
His dad agreed.
“One of the reasons he has such an odd throwing motion, especially when he was younger, was he’d have to throw that big varsity football around,’’ Steve Rivers told Chargers.com in 2017. “He was throwing the regulation football that was too big for his hand for him to throw, so that’s why he would push it.
“They used to say it looked like he was throwing shotput.’’
There were occasional attempts to work the perceived kinks out of Rivers’ throwing motion, but that ended when he arrived at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack had just hired Norm Chou as offensive coordinator, and he did a double take when he saw Rivers throwing.
“I came in one day and he goes, ‘Hey, is your shoulder bothering you?’’’ Rivers shared. “And I said, ‘No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s just how I throw it, coach.’’’
Chou still wasn’t onboard. He sent clips of Rivers to Mike Holmgren, a noted QB guru and at the time the Seattle Seahawks’ head coach.
“Mike’s response was, ‘If the balls aren’t getting batted down and he’s accurate, then I would leave it alone,’’’ Rivers said. “That was the last time I ever heard of even considering changing it.’’
And brace yourself: there will be a River 2.0. Oldest son Gunner is taking after his father even though his development as a quarterback didn’t involve starting with regulation-size footballs.
“My son never did throw a big ball like I did at that age, and he throws it the exact same way,’’ Rivers said with an affectionate smile. “He throws it the same way, and anytime I try to tell him (to change), he says, ‘Dad, you throw it that way.’
“So I’ve left him alone also.’’
Consider it a prime example of substance over style. It might not be work for everyone, but as long as it works for you . . .
Reich compared Rivers’ style and success to that of golfing great Jim Furyk and his herky-jerky motion.
“I would liken it to Jim Furyk,’’ he said. “That it doesn’t look conventional, but when you look at it through the point of impact – not that I’m a golf expert of a swing expert – but when you see Furyk or when he was in his heyday and you see him through impact, you see how pure he is. I think that the things that make you a good passer, you see that in Philip even though the delivery style is a little bit unique.
“How he gets there, how he is through impact and then with his finish is as push as you can be. That’s what makes him elite accurate.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.