Jordan Palmer had no preconceptions about Josh Allen's development as an NFL quarterback.
When Palmer, a former NFL quarterback who became a QB tutor, began working with Allen in preparation for the 2018 NFL Draft, he knew his student had physical qualities that could make him a successful pro.
But there was so much Palmer didn't know after Allen's career at the University of Wyoming, where accuracy problems and other underwhelming aspects of his resume raised questions about just how well he would perform at the next level.
"How good at playing quarterback is he? At winning the game? The simple things like, score more points than the other team, don't turn it over, and win?" Palmer said by phone from Southern California. "The well-documented stuff is his arm talent, his size and his speed, that's the stuff that was undeniable. But in college, he never really took games over and won them."
That didn't stop the Buffalo Bills from trading up to make Allen the seventh overall pick. It also hasn't stopped Allen from showing Palmer, who continues to serve as Allen's personal quarterback coach, and others in and around the Bills a great deal of progress through his first two pro seasons.
After completing 52.8 percent of his passes as a rookie, Allen improved to 58.8 last season, giving him a career percentage of 56.3. He also threw for 20 touchdowns in 16 regular-season games, doubling his total in 11 starts as a rookie, and had nine interceptions, three fewer than his first year.
Palmer isn't the least bit discouraged by Allen's struggles during the Bills' 22-19 wild-card playoff loss against the Houston Texans in overtime on Jan. 4. Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane cited Allen's tendency to "want to do too much" as a primary cause for miscues the quarterback had in that game, which he finished with a completion percentage of 52.2.
Palmer said he has a plan to address that when he and Allen begin working together next month in Southern California, and he fully expects Allen and the Bills' offense to show major strides in 2020.
"Early on, seventh pick of the draft, I was like, 'I think this guy's going to be unbelievable, but I can't say how long it's going take, because it's not that he had a prolific college career,' " Palmer said. "So I think, for me, a part of it was waiting to see how long things were going to take. I've spent a lot of time with him and I'm even surprised at how quickly he's growing and how much better he's getting and how fast that's happening. He's seeing things really quickly, he's making quick decisions, he's moving past mistakes really quickly. And every time there's something he needs to work on, it gets better.
"I think the big gap from his first to second year was anticipation, throwing with more anticipation, which is where I think he grew a ton. I think the theme for this year will be the deep ball, because it was well-documented (that he struggled in that area), controlling that. So based off what I've seen the last few years, I would just assume that he's going to come back and be one of the best deep ball throwers in the league next year because I see the way that he addresses issues and moves on."
In the latest edition of One-on-One Coverage, The Buffalo News spoke with Palmer about deep-ball accuracy and other mechanical and mental aspects of quarterbacking on which he will focus during the two months he will spend working with Allen, how valuable it is for Allen to have continuity with the Bills' offensive coaches, and how much Allen's confidence influenced the team's playoff season.
Buffalo News: How does Josh go about improving his deep-ball accuracy?
Jordan Palmer: Well, I think there's three components of it. The first is mechanics. The second is mindset, a mental component. And then the third is just timing with your guys in developing feel.
In terms of the mechanics, there are some specific things, like when you go to throw it deep, your front shoulder tilts up, so your spine axis tilts backwards, your center of gravity moves backwards a little bit. But then you still have to finish. You still have to rotate and finish through. So there are things that I do to help guys with with trajectory — trajectory and ascent, as I call it — so when the ball is going up, what angle is it going up at? There is a kind of a threshold where you want it to be higher. Now, it's also dependent on the defense, how much time the ball's going to be in the air.
There's some really simple ways I help guys with that. I have guys throw up a hill or up into the stands. So they have to throw the ball up, get it to turn over and come down, even though that person might be 15 or 20 yards above them. What it does is it exaggerates the shoulder tilt and your spine tilting back. And then we bring them down the stands. You do that over a period of a month or so and it's kind of like you develop both both sides of the spectrum, both extremes. Too high and not high enough.
The second piece is a mindset. When you throw a deep ball, let's say it's a deep post, you never throw a deep ball to a guy. I tell young quarterbacks and older guys as well, when I throw a deep ball, I'm not throwing it to a guy; I'm telling him where to go. It's like if you want to meet somebody to grab coffee, I'm going to drop a pin on Google Maps. Then you're just going to type it in and you're just going to follow that map. So when we throw deep balls, I tell guys, "You've really got to envision yourself dropping a pin on Google Maps, tell him where to run."
When I throw a curl route, I'm throwing it to him. When I throw a dig, I'm throwing it out in front of him. But when I throw a post or a fade or an over-route, or any of these balls that are down the field, I want to feel where he is, but I want to put this ball in a very specific spot and tell him where to run by where I throw this ball. It's much more of a mindset. It's more of an ongoing conversation.
There's drills I can build around it, but there are also trigger reminders. This will be something that somebody around him, (backup quarterback Matt) Barkley or (quarterbacks coach) Ken (Dorsey), is going to want to be continuing to say.
And then the third is just developing timing with your guys. The first two things can happen out here in February in March, and then the third one has to happen with his guys in conjunction with the other two things continually happening.
BN: And all of this is done with involvement from the Bills' coaches, who give you sort of a menu of what they want you to work on with Josh?
JP: Yeah, there'll be a communication. It's a collaborative effort, I think. The reality of the NFL is that these guys get to leave and go to warm places, if they want. I don't have my own agenda whatsoever. As the guys I work with get older, too, they know what they need to work on. The draft training, it's all me, right? They're kind of trusting that I'm going to have them work on the right things. And then last year, it was a combination; Josh knew more about what he wanted to do.
Josh has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do now. I'm just essentially facilitating it and collaboratively work with his coaches, and I'm just going to try to do what they want. He's got a great staff, obviously, with his quarterback coach, coordinator, from top to bottom. I'm just essentially trying to help Josh get better for the way that they want him in their offense.
BN: With that Houston game, how does Josh address trying to do too much?
JP: I work with players from 10 years old to some guys that are 10-year vets. One of the things that I've noticed in working with young players is, a lot of times they can have success if they just want it more, right? Because when you put a bunch of little kids on the field that are 10 years old, honestly, things like talent, athleticism aren't registering yet. So it's really just who wants it the most. And so at some point, you grow out of that and it becomes speed and technique and talent, whatever the sport is.
And so with Josh, I think he's still five years removed from junior college and, really, last year was his first year playing, like, real, legitimate football. I even think of Wyoming. It was just lower tier, the team wasn't that great, (not much) competition. So real football that prepares you for the NFL? I don't think he got a ton of it before. I think one of the things with young NFL players is they still have that drive and that want-to and as they transition into older veterans, it gets channeled differently. I know some older, great quarterbacks who kind of blew the game because they wanted it too bad and tried to do too much. I think that's why Brett Favre's career ended on an interception instead of a made field goal to go into the Super Bowl. Even some of the greatest don't grow out of that and emotions do get the best of them.
But I have as much confidence in Josh growing in this category as I do in any other category, because he actually approaches this side of the game the same way he would the weight room or the practice field. He understands the power of the mind. We're going to spend a lot of time this offseason talking about neutral thinking. Not positive or negative but neutral thinking. Josh spent time (before the 2018 draft) with a (Los Angeles-based mental conditioning coach) that I worked with for a long time, Trevor Moawad. And he's really coined this concept around neutral thinking, and it'll be something that we spend time on.
The guys that have been doing a great job of it lately are Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, down two different times in the playoffs and coming back. They're just kind of grounded in the fact of what's actually happening, here's what we need to do and move forward. That'll be something that I think Josh grows a lot in this offseason. But that's a good thing because if you have to have a problem, wanting it too bad is a good one. Now it's just about channeling it.
(Moawad) spends time every year with my draft guys. I adopt a lot of his principles. Neutral thinking is detaching from everything except for facts of what's happening. "OK, we're down 10. Here's what we need to do." Or, "It's raining. Here's what I need to do." Too many people get into negative thinking. "Oh, man, we're down 10 again." Or people get down 10 and they go, "We've got them right where we want them. No, we're all good. It'll be it'll be fine. What needs to happen? We're down 10, we need to get a stop on defense, we need to drive down the field, everyone needs to execute and go."
BN: How big of a breakthrough was his performance against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day?
JP: The breakthrough was just that he got a chance to show everybody what he and his teammates believed to 25 million people watching that game, significantly up from any other game he's ever played in. I knew he had this core belief about his team. I remember in the beginning of the year him laughing and going, "Dude, people keep talking about how bad my O-line is. What is everybody talking about? I think I have one of the best O-lines in the league." But, again, that started with a core belief. Then he said, "Everybody's talking about these free-agent receivers. Dude, does anybody know how good Cole Beasley is and John Brown is? I keep hearing these things, but it's just not true. Like, we're really good."
So this whole 10-win season thing, I really do think it started in the offseason. I would say that, at some point in the offseason, that was a pivotal point, because you have to believe it. You can't just say it. Someone can look at him and say, "Young guy, he hasn't played very long, he doesn't know what it's really like." But when you're a leader like him and people gravitate towards him, and then you have a common belief, that starts to mean something.
I think there's been a couple throws in the early part of the season where he threw somebody open. I think he had one in the Jets game, to John Brown, that I just thought was not only a really well-thrown ball, but it was also maybe a throw that might not have been attempted last year. I would just say I saw early in the season him throwing with more anticipation and making a concerted effort to. And even when he missed, he came back and did it again. If he tried to throw somebody open, with anticipation, and he missed, he just reloaded and went again. He wasn't deterred by it. I think that was a real big piece.
BN: Brian Daboll was a candidate for the head-coaching opening in Cleveland, but he is returning for a third season as the Bills' offensive coordinator. Ken Dorsey is back for a second season as quarterbacks coach. How important is it that continuity for Josh?
JP: It's huge. Just the language, the messaging. It's not just the quarterback learning more about the offense. It's also the coordinator understanding more about what they're capable of doing and what he likes and what he doesn't like. So, across the board, there's just a ton of value in that continuity and building on it, particularly when you have a quarterback like Josh. He's a worker. He wants to get better. He wants to try to find edges and angles. Selfishly, I was glad to see that Brian's coming back, and I think they can build something really special there.
I think, with the defense that they have, there's unlimited potential. When you have a quarterback like Josh, it's much easier to put other pieces around it. And I think Brandon Beane has done an unbelievable job of putting great pieces together on both sides of the ball. I just think this is a really special group and I want to see groups like this stay together for as long as possible. I think they're going to explode on offense next year and we'll see what happens.