In 13 seasons in the NFL, quarterback Trent Dilfer played in one Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl, but never distinguished himself as one of the game’s greats. It wasn’t until he retired and started working as a TV analyst for ESPN that his true genius for understanding the position came to light.
In the new book "The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks," written by FOX Sports college football expert Bruce Feldman, Dilfer explains this profound transformation, sharing what he’s learned as the chief talent scout and resident guru at the Elite 11 camp for America’s most promising high school prospects. Recent graduates include: Andrew Luck, Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston.
Dilfer admits he’s been known to geek out on evaluating signal callers. By studying every quarterback elected to the Hall of Fame since 1983, he discovered that slow feet and weak arms are not nearly as detrimental to play as coaches and GMs make them out to be. By contrast, 40 percent of the QBs anointed with first-round draft picks over the last two decades have turned out to be busts.
So what do Dilfer’s studs have in common? DQ, he says. Otherwise known as Dude Qualities.
They’re not simply smart or talented. They have “figure-it-outness,” the ability to reach deep and respond when things go wrong—even when they’re physically and emotionally drained.
To measure the dude quotient of his campers, Dilfer puts them in situations where they will fail. He makes thempullall-nighters to master the playbook. He hires Navy SEALs to run them through 4:45 a.m. workouts, using 300-pound logs, chilly ocean water, tons of push-ups and bear crawls through the sand. He whips up drills that will expose their frailties. And then he sits back and watches how they respond. “I teach 95 percent from my failures, not my successes,” he says.
He believes the edge of discomfort is where the real learning begins.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about this philosophy. College programs—not to mention the U.S. military—use similar training tactics all the time. The question is whether football’s faith in its traditional tests and measurements is a liability. They seem logical until you read that Aaron Rodgers graduated from high school without a single scholarship offer. And Johnny Manziel is the first sub-six-foot quarterback in 60 years to crash the first round of the draft. And, well, the vast majority of plumb draft picks get nowhere near a Pro Bowl, much less a Super Bowl.
When it comes to nature vs. nurture, Dilfer sides with the guy with the intangibles over the guy with the height and the cannon for an arm. “Johnny Manziel proved so much to me with what he did the three days I was with him,” Dilfer tells Feldman. “I don’t think he’s the most talented. I don’t think his size is ideal. But Johnny has the Dude Qualities for when the moment is big, when the pressure is on.”
Now if only we can find a way to measure that dudeness.
Photos by Photo: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images