Of the many eyeballs aimed at televisions for Josh Allen's NFL starting debut, the pair belonging to Jordan Palmer will be watching for both business and pleasure.
Sitting on his couch in Dana Point, Calif., Palmer won't just be looking at one of the quarterbacks he coached in preparation for last April's draft. He'll also be keeping tabs on a friend.
"The biggest thing that I loved about Josh before I got to give him anything was when I realized how he grew up (in tiny Firebaugh, Calif.), with his brother and his sisters and his parents," Palmer said. "They're literally like one of my all-time favorite families ever. They're so tight, they're so honest. When I saw that stuff, I said, 'If that's the foundation, there's a lot to work with. There's nothing to really undo.'"
Palmer's coaching helped polish the rough-edged former Wyoming star well enough to convince the Buffalo Bills to make him the seventh overall pick. On Sunday, in only the second game of his pro career, Allen gets his first start against the Los Angeles Chargers.
This week's edition of "One-on-One Coverage" spends some quality time with Palmer, a former NFL backup quarterback with Cincinnati and three other teams, and renowned QB guru. His other clients include Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in April, who had an impressive starting debut for the New York Jets in Detroit on Monday night, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans and Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Among the topics Palmer covered were his relationship with Allen, his philosophy for training quarterbacks, the four days he spent with the Bills during the 2014 preseason and what he does when he isn't tutoring QBs.
Buffalo News: You've obviously been in touch with Josh this week, right?
Jordon Palmer: Yeah, we've been talking. He's fired up. He's been ready for this. He's excited about the opportunity, and he's a very confident guy. For rookies to play well, you have to be able to move around and create, because you just don't have enough reps yet. You don't know all the nuances of how to create completions, so you've got to move around and create, which physically is a no-brainer for him.
And then you have to be resilient. You have to be able to mitigate risks and then bounce back either when you're making mistakes or the offense is sputtering or other people are turning it over, you have to be able to move on really quickly from those. And the way he grew up and his mental makeup, I just think he's just well-suited to do that, and I think he's going to have a strong debut.
BN: What's the back story to how you ended up working with him?
JP: I got to know Josh two offseasons ago, so going into his last year of college, right when he was making a decision to leave or stay. I hadn't really seen him play or anything yet. I had heard a lot of stuff about how talented he was and how big he was and all that, so I was just talking to him on the phone. I had heard all these amazing things about him and I just remember talking on the phone and going, 'This kid is really polite, really respectful and, man, he just seems like he's a ways away.' So he stayed another year.
I got to know him and his family a little bit and watched just how quickly he would take something and then apply it. I'm a big believer that, when it comes to somebody's ability to be coached, a lot of that has to do with your athleticism as well. It's not just like saying, "Yes, sir," and tucking your shirt in. You have to be athletic enough to do that thing and change muscle memory. So when I started working with him a little bit, I noticed that he was exceptional at that.
From that point to the last few months of watching how he's grown, watching him be interviewed, watching him face adversity, watching him learn, I'm just really proud at how quickly he's accelerated this process of being a pro, which is the role that I play in helping him with that along with everybody else who's in their lives. I think all these rookies, they have a rough road ahead of them. It is not all going to be pretty, they're not going to go undefeated. But I know how he's going to handle it, and I think that's what I'm really proud of.
BN: When you're talking with a prospective client for the first time, what are you looking to hear?
JP: A lot of how everyone judges quarterbacks is how smart they are, but I think there's two sides to that. One is how intelligent somebody is, but the other side is what they've been exposed to. ... It bothers me that all everybody talks about (regarding) where Josh is from is it's like he's from poverty and a third-world country. No, he's just from a tiny town. He just hasn't been exposed to big buildings and fancy cars and sophisticated business people on a regular basis. My brother (Carson) just moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, after a 15-year career (as an NFL QB) to go and get what Josh grew up in – to get a tight-knit community in rural America. I think it's awesome.
But he hadn't been exposed to a lot of the things that it helps to be exposed to in going through this transition. Part of what we do over those three months (before the draft) is getting them exposed to all kinds of things. I want them doing a lot of interviews. I want them to meet a couple of famous people. Not because it's cool, but because I want them to be able to pull those people aside and evaluate or read them and ask them questions. You need a lot of exposure with what they're about to be. I mean, look at Sam Darnold. He played at USC, but he's a small-town guy, too, and he is like the face of New York right now. Look how fast that happened.
BN: What are the keys to helping a quarterback prepare for the next level?
JP: I really pour into the mental, the physical and the emotional side of the game. With Josh, for example, he had a lot of different reasons why he was inaccurate in college. It was arm angle and he would lean forward, he would lean backward, he would lean to the side. My eye allowed me to see that everything was tied to his feet and it was the only thing that we worked on for about a month. And his feet solved the rest of it, because he's not a sidearm thrower. He does sidearm when he overstrides. A lot of people were trying to fix his overstride, but it wasn't about getting him to stop overstriding. It was getting him to start with a wider base and with his cleats in the ground. Without getting too far into it, his feet were together and he was up on his toes.
And his (receivers) had no timing, so he'd throw it late. He has a hose for an arm, so he'd throw it really hard and it was really hard for them to catch. The first three days, I was like, "We're going to throw very few balls today. What we're going to do is a bunch of exercises what your feet." And he just totally bought in and it brings a lot of permanent changes, not changes that are just going to look really good on Pro Day.
On the emotional side, it's a lot of sports psychology, it's a lot of positive versus negative self-talk, it's a lot of pressing a reset button when all breaks loose like it did on the first play of the game for Sam the other night (when he threw a pick-six). That was an awesome example that I will use forever of pressing the reset button and going, "This is what just happened and we're going to remain present." Remaining present is not thinking about the future. It's also not being worried about the past.
BN: What do you remember of your very brief time with the Bills?
JP: It was a miserable situation for me. I got released from Chicago, flew home, landed, didn't leave the airport and flew to Buffalo. I showed up on Tuesday and I did a walk-through and then I did a half-speed walk-through Wednesday. I was going to be the No. 2 behind EJ Manuel; Kyle Orton wasn't there yet. Didn't know anybody's name, didn't know anything. I was supposed to play in the fourth quarter (of the final preseason game against Detroit), and ended up going in the third series and playing the (rest) of the game. Doug Marrone said, "Throw him in there, he's ready." I was like, "Uh, OK, I know five run plays and eight pass plays."
I had a game that is really valuable for me now, because I can really help guys through any situation. When I talk about being unprepared, I have a reference point. I can TOTALLY help a guy play unprepared because I had the worst stat line you've ever seen (completing nine of 22 passes for 73 yards with three interceptions and a passer rating of 10.4 on the way to a 23-0 loss). I had no idea what I was doing. I had a miserable performance and it wasn't anybody's fault but my own.
BN: Besides the coaching you do with middle school, high school and college quarterbacks, you also still have your hand in the marketing business, which you got into when you were in the NFL. That seems like a lot to juggle.
JP: When I was playing in the NFL, I always had a side a job because every year that I played I didn't know if I was going to make the team that next year. I'm very purpose-driven. I broke my ankle surfing after I got cut from Cincy (in 2010), and thought I was done playing. A life coach challenged me to clearly articulate my purpose in 25 words or less. It took me awhile, but I figured out my purpose in life is to use my experiences, on and off the field, to help entrepreneurs maximize their opportunities on and off the field. Those are the only quarterbacks I work with – guys who identify themselves as entrepreneurs, who are actually looking at this as a business. If you're a rich kid and you don't want it as bad as your dad, I'm unavailable. For a $1,000 one-hour workout, I'm unavailable.
I started a digital marketing agency, Common Thread Collective, and we've got 65 employees now. Five years ago, I started a company called QALO, which sells men's silicone wedding rings. That's got like a hundred employees now. And we just launched an incubator, where we build and launch our own brands from scratch, a new one every six months. That's a 12-person team.
BN: Why not pursue a full-time coaching career?
JP: I just don't want to get into the coaching lifestyle. I get an opportunity to coach players from middle school to the NFL, and I have not lost a game and I'm not getting fired. I get to pour into these guys who are the leaders of their teams. I can be a resource for them. It's bigger than just the mechanics of how to throw.