Jimbo Fisher is fast developing a reputation as an NFL quarterback guru. Despite the massive bust that was Jamarcus Russell, Fisher's last three starting quarterbacks have all been picked in the first round of the draft, Russell, Christian Ponder and most recently EJ Manuel by the Buffalo Bills.
Manuel recently finished his first organized team activities up in Buffalo and met with the press afterwards. He had some interesting things to say about how he's learning the offense up there.
"I've done great. The learning curve for me is a lot shorter simply because of what I had at Florida State," Manuel told Sirius XM NFL Radio. "[FSU's offense is] more complex and a little bit harder to catch on and learn. This offense is very simple. I've done a great job with it."
Now is that more of an indictment on the Bills or could that actually be an issue at Florida State?
It could be that it's way too early for him to have any concept of just how complicated the Buffalo offense is or isn't. Regardless, I'm sure it can't make the Bills coaching staff feel all that great that their new quarterback, the man they hope will be the face of the franchise, basically just told the world they're being out-schemed by a college coach.
Manuel did clarify a little bit, "It's a true West Coast-type progression offense. That's really what I wanted when I was coming through the pre-draft process. I wanted something that I could just go in and say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, check it down and run it. That's it, it's that simple. I love it."
But aside from the fact that- at least according to Manuel- it's easier to be the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills than to run a Jimbo Fisher offense, that doesn't necessarily mean Buffalo's coaches are drawing up plays on construction paper with crayons and magic markers either. Simpler doesn't necessarily mean worse.
And that's where we pivot to Florida State.
First of all, when I first read that EJ Manuel said, "the funny thing is it's easier to learn [Buffalo's offense] than the offense I had at Florida State," my take was that he would have never made a comment like that at FSU.
Manuel has been noticeably looser in months following the end of his career at FSU. A big reason for that could be that Fisher runs a program a lot like he runs an offense. Much like Nick Saban (whom Fisher coached under at LSU), Fisher controls almost every aspect of the program at Florida State. From the seating arrangements at team meals to the required garnet polo at player interviews, no detail is beyond the notice of Fisher- especially the things players say to the media.
Florida State's offense being harder to learn than an NFL offense shouldn't really even be all that surprising. In fact, I doubt that's the only college offense like that. The question is whether that's actually a good thing.
It is in a lot of ways, it prepares players for the NFL better on both sides of the ball. Offensive players learn a complicated system that requires a lot of them physically and mentally on every play. More than that, they learn how to learn a complicated system, which is something they'll have to do again in the NFL (except maybe in Buffalo). Defensive players also benefit from practicing regularly against an offense that is highly nuanced and complex.
But at the same time, a complicated system is a tool for (most) players on an NFL trajectory. But not every player is on that path. Not every player is capable of that. And certainly not every team that wins a championship consists of just those kinds of NFL-made players.
Even in the NFL, not every player is capable of functioning in a complicated system. Ever seen a player that just couldn't make it work on one team sign somewhere else and absolutely explode? It happens most often with wide receivers and the biggest reason is that they got into a system that either fit them better or- more often- one that was less complicated and just let them go make plays.
In college, unless a guy can transfer the way that typically manifests itself is that a highly-touted recruit comes in and does nothing. There are countless stories of athletic guys with all the measurables that make lots of plays in practice and then can't make it happen on Saturday.
In a lot of those cases the common denominator is that the scheme is just too complicated.
You can coach them up, scheme yourself to death and try to do everything in your power to win the game on paper. But once the stadium fills up and the ball gets kicked off, it's about who makes plays. And if some of your best athletes can't make it on to the field because they can't get the system, you're going to have some issues.
I'm not saying that's the case at Florida State.
But comments like Manuel made last weekend lend themselves to the perception that it may be. And for every smart, talented kid that is attracted by that, there's going to be others that are turned off.
More than a few NFL scouts commented during the draft process that at FSU, for all his talent, EJ Manuel looked constrained at times. That there were moment where it looked like Jimbo Fisher had really gotten inside Manuel's head.
EJ Manuel is one of the brightest young men you'll ever talk to. He graduated FSU with his masters, he'll succeed off the field if he doesn't succeed on it. But it's possible he never flourished at FSU- at least in the way many people hoped he might when he came to campus a highly-touted recruit out of Virginia Beach five years ago- because FSU's offense is just too complicated.
If Manuel has a lot of success in Buffalo that question could be worth re-examining.
Of course Jameis Winston could also show everyone that the problem was entirely Manuel's by then too.
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