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The new breed of quarterbacks who make plays through the air and on the ground can thank Steve McNair for setting the bar so high.
Since his days at Alcorn State, Air McNair was the ultimate weapon at the quarterback position. McNair threw for an incredible 4,863 yards, and ran for 936 yards in his senior season. He was a man amongst boys when he played in the SWAC conference. He continued to flourish at the next level.
Unlike other scramblers like Randall Cunningham and Steve Young, McNair was a physical runner, more similar to John Elway. He looked to initiate contact — not avoid it. At 230-pounds, McNair had the strength to break through tackles and drag defenders in the open field. Within the pocket, heâ€™d shake off defenders who tried to tackle him up high.
In the beginning of his career, McNair was strictly a runner first, passer second. In time, McNair learned to stay patient in the pocket and go through his progressions. He developed an innate feel for where the rush was coming from, and he moved his feet accordingly to have a split second longer to deliver the throw. McNair consistently waited until right moment before the pocket completely collapsed to get rid of the ball.
He paid the price for holding the ball so long. McNair took vicious shot, after vicious shot, throughout his career. But despite all of the hits, the former Houston Oiler, Tennessee Titan and Baltimore Raven never became gun shy. He kept slinging the ball until his body finally gave out on him.
As a result of tweaking his footwork inside of the pocket bubble, McNair became a more refined passer. He improved his accuracy, timing and mechanics. He also brought the â€œairâ€ back in his game by improving his deep throws.
Practically due to necessity, McNair had to â€œairâ€ it out more. Following Tennesseeâ€™s Super Bowl run, the team transitioned from a power rushing, ball control offense led by tailback Eddie George, to a spread out attack.
In those years, George would carry the rock 30 times a game and McNair would throw the ball 15 to 20 times on a good day. Most of those tosses would be dinks and dunks to his outlets receivers. McNairâ€™s favorite target was tight end Frank Wycheck, who served as his safety valve.
As Georgeâ€™s tires started to deflate, McNair took more control of the offense. Under offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, McNairâ€™s pass attempts increase incrementally. Following the 2000 season, McNair attempted 400 passes or more in five of his final seven seasons.
He responded by putting together his best passing seasons in 2002 and 2003. In fact, during McNairâ€™s MVP run in â€˜03, he logged just 38 rush attempts.
Through hard work and resilience, McNair made the transformation from a runner to a passer. Near the end of his career, McNair scrambled when he needed to, but for the most part, he was comfortable operating from the pocket.
Now, other athletic quarterbacks like Donavan McNabb, Vince Young and the Baltimore Ravens own Troy Smith have a shining example of how to function as the consummate dual threat at the quarterback position.