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QB: Cerebral, tested Kevin Hogan could be the best fit for the Bills

Kevin Hogan repeats the play call aloud, one of many Quarterbacking 601 tongue-twisters he’d shout in the Stanford huddle.

“Green Right, 95 weak, Kill 96 Force, Alert Hound 2, Double Stutter."

The call has three layers. First, Hogan can go with an inside-zone run to the weak side of the line. If there’s a defensive lineman in a 3-technique there, he rolls with an outside-zone run to the other side. And if Hogan spots a safety creeping into the box? He licks his chops, checks to “double stutter,” and hits a receiver in one-on-one coverage downfield off play action.

Get all that?

Hogan can speak to NFL coaches and scouts on a level almost all other quarterbacks in this draft cannot. Most were robots in spread offenses mechanically taking plays from the sideline, racing to the line at warp speed and making one read during a play with speed, speed, SPEED the emphasis. The brain, for many, is not.

So in this year's draft, Hogan is the cerebral alternative. For teams stuck in this quarterback crisis, he's the throwback to simpler times.

“It’s easy for me,” said Hogan, one day after visiting with the San Diego Chargers. “It’s fun. It’s a breath of fresh air for them for me to be able to speak the same language as them. … It was like you’re a blast from the past for these guys.”

And he may make the most sense for the Buffalo Bills, too.

[Top 10 QBs gallery: Tyler Dunne breaks them down]

If it’s the mind they covet — rather than Cardale Jones’ boomerang arm, Dak Prescott’s dual-threat intrigue or Christian Hackenberg’s prototypical size, arm — then Hogan is the choice. General Manager Doug Whaley has called him the most pro ready in the draft. A meeting with Hogan is different than any other.

The Bills have only drafted four quarterbacks since Jim Kelly retired. With Tyrod Taylor entering a contract year, they must choose wisely.

Hogan, for many reasons, could be the pick in the middle rounds. Here's why.

The Bills know Hogan; Hogan knows the Bills. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder spent a substantial amount of time with Buffalo’s coaches at the Senior Bowl, the NFL scouting combine and then performed a handful of requested throws for the team at his pro day.

Hogan had an “easy conversation” with offensive coordinator Greg Roman — this is, after all, the same offense he ran. Run-first. A lot of dissecting the front seven (in addition to the back four). A lot of play-action. Audibles. A huddle. Rollouts. Hogan never played for Roman at Stanford, but the coach originally recruited him out of McLean, Va. He knows what the coach wants out of a quarterback.

A fit in Buffalo? Absolutely. He doesn't hesitate.

“It’s the same one we ran at Stanford,” Hogan said. “You’re going to have three plays called and you’ll have to go up to the line of scrimmage with 12 seconds left on the play clock and read the defense pre-snap and see what the best play is to get into. A lot of the game is handled before the ball is even snapped. Coach Roman is going to have a lot of play action, a lot of turning your back to the defense, a lot of turning around and seeing what’s happened.

“What adjustments have been made? And that’s what I’ve been doing at Stanford. So I feel very confident in my abilities, what I’ve learned here and I feel it will transfer very well.”

He overcame life’s greatest loss: his dad. Hogan's father died from colon cancer after a five-year battle and the experience was brutal for son, for his family. The two watched all sports together, from golf to football — his fondest memories were simply “hearing his stories” and “sitting and talking” for hours.

But the quarterback who once took over for No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck quit sweating the small stuff. Dad's death inherently changed him on and off the field.

“It allowed me to catch my breath, gather my rhythm and just play the game,” Hogan said. “I think that really helped me. At times, I was pressing too hard and not really letting the game come to me.

“You realize it’s just a game that you’re playing. A game I’ve played my whole life. You don’t need to force it. Let the game come to you. Take what the defense gives you and have fun. That’s what I did this past season — I just had fun.”

As a senior, Hogan completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,867 yards, 27 touchdowns and only eight picks, in addition to 336 rushing yards and six scores.

He’s battle-tested on the field. Hogan won three Pac-12 titles, appeared in three Rose Bowls and went 16-6 against Top 25 teams in his 46-start career. Big games under bright lights were the norm — he insists that no situation ever fazes him. Never has since he slayed No. 2-ranked Oregon, on the road, in his second career start as a redshirt freshman.

“After that," Hogan said, "there was no situation I couldn’t handle."

Fixing the fundamentals. This is No. 1 red flag with Hogan, one reason to pass. His awkward, wind-up delivery from head to toe in college was not a thing of beauty.

So for two months, he went into the lab with former NFL quarterbacks coach, John Ramsdell.

As the QB coach in San Diego 2006- ‘12, Ramsdell was the one who reworked Philip Rivers and his funky release. Before that, he coached two other Pro Bowlers in Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger with St. Louis. The key with Hogan? His lower body. Hogan says that Ramsdell changed his "entire perspective" on the quarterback position.

Suddenly, it was all about his legs. Speed up his lower body on drops, on the release and the upper body will naturally speed up, too.

“A lot of people make a big deal about throwing motions and mechanics but that’s not really what it’s about,” Hogan said. “What Coach Ramsdell and I did was really work on my lower half, my base and tightening it up — having a good, compact base, a powerful base with knee flexion so I could just torque my body and get the ball out. At times in my career, I would over-stride like a pitcher and it would cause me to elongate my throwing process and take a while because you can’t make a throw until your feet are in the ground.

“When your hips go, your upper body’s going to follow. It really allowed me to compact everything. I feel much more comfortable in the pocket.”

Just as Rivers never needed to completely change his easy-to-mock sidearm delivery, Hogan didn't need to re-do his release. By his pro day, his body movements were more snappy and decisive. Hours of poring through Rivers' film and doing drills with Ramsdell paid off.

Ramsdell assures that Hogan, like all rookies, will be a work in progress. Whether the changes stick for good or Hogan reverts back to his pitcher-like motion remains to be seen. Remember, Tim Tebow was never able to make permanent changes. Ramsdell? He's convinced Hogan is a different passer now... and will only progress.

“He was taking a real long throwing motion," Ramsdell said. "The higher level you go up, it’s an indicator of where you’re going with the ball. It telegraphs what you’re doing and helps the defense. It gives them a head start to react. So you want to be quick with your throwing motion — quick as possible — so that’s what we did.

“I think his best days are ahead of him. I can see him improving greatly. He’s very tenacious. He wants to do it. He’ll play in the NFL.”

Willing to wait. Hogan agrees with Ramsdell. Waiting, learning, watching on a sideline in Year 1 would be the best-case scenario.

Whoever the Bills draft next week, that’d be the plan. Taylor is the clear-cut starter in 2016. Beyond 2016, there are no guarantees.

With biting conviction, Hogan makes his case clear. He started for “one of the most pure offenses that has ever existed.” He managed a huddle. He called audibles at the line. His voice is laced with a swagger and not-so-subtle dig at other prospects.

“It’s not about getting up to the line and looking to the sidelines to see what your coach says,” Hogan said. “It’s about handling it under center — that’s what the quarterback position is all about.”

The Bills, he’s convinced, would be a perfect landing spot. Next week, Whaley, Roman and co. are on the clock.

“I really admired what they did last season and I think there’s good things coming,” Hogan said. “I know Coach Roman’s offense. I know that I would be able to pick that up very easily. I know some things would be different and I’d have to adjust to the speed and schemes on the defensive side.

“But, yes, I feel very comfortable with that system.”

 

This week's "Dunne with Graham" podcast takes a closer look at Buffalo's quarterback situation.

 

Here are the top 10 quarterbacks in the draft ... (see a PHOTO GALLERY here)

1. Jared Goff, Cal (6 foot 4, 215 pounds): Proven to make all necessary NFL throws, Goff throws with the best velocity in the draft and can maneuver in the pocket; First-team All Pac-12 last year in throwing for 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns.

2. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State (6-5, 237): Best build in the draft, can make plays with his feet and operated in a pro-style offense. He also only started seven games as a senior and faced inferior competition. The Bills have studied Wentz as much as any team.

3. Paxton Lynch, Memphis (6-7, 244): Tall, athletic, brimming with confidence, Lynch only threw four interceptions in 443 attempts last season. Can run the zone read and is accurate deep (45 percent on passes of 21-plus yards), but can he process NFL defenses and operate Read 1 to Read 2 to Read 3? A major unknown.

4. Connor Cook, Michigan State (6-4, 217): Like Hogan, Cook started and excelled on the big stage his whole career (3,131 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015) but how was he not even voted a team captain by his peers as a senior? His coach weighed in two months ago.

5. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (6-4, 223): After a banner freshman year, Hackenberg regressed behind a sieve of an offensive line. Tough, took a beating, athletic but drop-off in productive is a concern. No question, Bills owner Terry Pegula knows plenty about this fellow Penn State product.

6. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (6-3, 218): Competitive, takes command of a huddle, accurate. Knows how to get an offense out of bad plays and into good plays at the line. The question: Just how much did his footwork improve with John Ramsdell?

7. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (6-2, 226): Does damage with his arm (3,793 yards, 29 touchdowns, five picks) and legs (588 yards, 10 scores) but he's never operated under center, all the way back to high school. Lacks the pocket presence of others in draft.

8. Jacoby Brissett, NC State (6-4, 231): A strong leader who extends plays and can sling it as well anyone, Brissett resembled Jameis Winston at times but downfield accuracy was hot and cold. Did excel vs. Florida State defense full of NFL talent in 2014 for 359 yards, three touchdowns.

9. Cardale Jones, Ohio State (6-5, 253): Huge arm, a bull in the open field as a runner, incredible touch on his deep ball but Jones was also benched last season. With a full off-season to prepare, defensive coordinators figured out Jones. Bills are doing their homework.

10. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (6-1, 217): Completed 66 percent of throws for 3,340 yards and 30 touchdowns with only eight interceptions last season. Nifty in the pocket, progressed big time as a senior but lacks ideal size.

Safety: Deiondre' Hall and the hunt for playmakers is on for Bills, all NFL teams

Linebacker: Oklahoma's take-charge Eric Striker is the Most Interesting Linebacker in the draft

Edge rusher: Why Boise State's Kamalei Correa makes sense for the Bills, Rex's defense

Offensive line: Baylor G Spencer Drango overcame dyslexia on road to NFL Draft

Tight end: ECU's Bryce Williams at center of the search for the complete tight end

Running back: Alabama's Kenyan Drake is a highlight waiting to happen

Wide receiver: Syracuse-native Wendall Williams and the road to 4.19

Draft Spotlight: Could Cal's Daniel Lasco be the steal of the draft at RB?

Draft Spotlight: Is WR Daniel Braverman the next Julian Edelman?

Draft Spotlight: DE Jonathan Woodard overcame loss of close friend

Draft Spotlight: Clemson coach lauds Shaq Lawson's 'edge' and Kevin Dodd's 'first step'

Draft Spotlight: Edge rusher Victor Ochi says nobody can handle him for four quarters

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