Deshaun Watson, Dwayne Haskins, Jalen Hurts' Trainer Has Kept His QBs Sharp with Chess

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By RADIO.COM

A chess pro glares into the eyes of his/her competitor and attempts to read the mindset of the opponent. A chess pro scans the board for any openings, searching for a point of vulnerability and plotting out a sequence of strategic moves to establish a position that will allow for the best chance at victory. A chess pro checks the blind side, foresees potential movements, and coordinates all the pieces in a cohesive system.

Now, replace "chess pro" with "NFL quarterback," "board" with "football field," "pieces" with "players," and you'll see that the above statements still ring true.

That's why quarterback trainer Quincy Avery utilizes his interesting approach, one which he labels as "three-pronged," covering the physical, mental and information processing aspects of being an NFL quarterback. He joined "The MMQB" podcast, available to listen to in full on RADIO.COM, to talk about his processes.

Avery acts as a private quarterback coach at QB Takeover and works with Deshaun Watson, Dwayne Haskins, Jalen Hurts, Josh Dobbs and others, and he was asked about what his clients are seeking from him throughout the hiatus.

"They want to know, 'what do I want to work on from an on-the-field aspect? What are the things I'm going to do there... How many throws do I need to do?' " Avery said. "They don't want to have to think about all those little details, they just want to go out and do work."

But beyond scheduling the drills and practices that will keep their players active, QB trainers need to hone the mental side of their clients' skill sets, which is where Avery brings in his interesting tactic to supplement hours spent in the film room, studying different coaches and defensive game plans.

"... I got each of my quarterbacks with a chess pro, Seth Makowsky," Avery said. Makowsky has also worked with olympians on strengthening their mental fortitude. "So I got them all playing chess to that we can start coming up with procedures that we can go through not only in chess, but at the line of scrimmage.

"So the same way we go to a chess board, I look left to right, identify my threats, where am I under attack, how can I attack them... those are the same sort of steps that I need to take when I approach the line of scrimmage."

Repetition and routine are key in sports. I've been exposed to that directly: my brother, a sports psychologist in the Philadelphia area, focused a lot of his studies on the positive effect of repetition, procedure and awareness at the free throw line. The same goes for serving a tennis ball, or setting up in the tee box or, evidently, going under center in a football game. But it's more than just routine, as chess allows for strategic dissection of what's laid out in front of the quarterback.

"What's the front, which way are the safeties rotating, who can bring me pressure, how do I protect myself from that pressure, how do I attack the defense," Avery said, drawing a parallel from the chess board to the gridiron. ""It's having a checklist of things that you ned to do every time you come to the line of scrimmage so you're not wasting mental energy trying to figure things out at the last minute, so you're not getting beat by blitzes because you just didn't check something that you should've checked and you would've if you had the same process every time you came to the line of scrimmage.

"... If I get my guys doing this and each one of them has really bought in... I think that it's going to pay real dividends and these guys are going to reap the benefits this upcoming season."

Of the quarterbacks in question, Avery says that it's Dobbs who comes closest to beating him, comparing him to a "rocket scientist." However, he commends Watson's progress this offseason, noting that he won't be able to rely on DeAndre Hopkins' presence as a safety blanket and so will have to really dissect defenses and give himself good positioning to make the necessary plays.

In terms of Haskins' 2019 performance, he commends the young gunslinger for showing great development down the stretch, and that they're working on generating the flashes of brilliance he showed with more consistency in 2020. Avery went so far as to call Haskins' football IQ on par with the smartest quarterbacks he's every been around. For Hurts, Avery wants to focus on his transition from a free-flowing, improvisational Oklahoma system to a more meticulous, structured system. However, his growth astonished Avery.

"I think -- no, I know -- I've never seen somebody improve as much as a passer as I saw Jalen do not only through his career but just in the time between January... and his pro day," Avery said. "The amount of growth that he took in those short three months was as big as I've ever seen anybody in that short period of time, and I think that people saw it. The Eagles were a team that were at his pro day and I think they came away truly impressed by how he looked throwing the football that day, so he has the physical talent.

"Now it's going to be (if he) can go from that open, free-flowing system at Oklahoma, bring it back to this new offense... be ready when your time is called so you can bring that value from a second-round pick... he's going to be one of the few second-round picks this season who really has the opportunity to swing games for his time. Like, change the playoff outlook for the Philadelphia Eagles when he goes in there and starts a few games this season, so prepare for him to be ready and show the value of who he is and all the dynamicness that he has (sic)."

Avery mentions that the same strategy that goes into evaluating a chess board and football goes into standard operating procedures of several facets of life. Running a successful business, as Avery has with QB Takeover, is no exception.

"I've started to use it in terms of how I operate a business, and then we started talking about how it works in terms of just creating operating procedures for everything in life," Avery said. "That's all quarterback is."

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