Upon Further Review: Cam Ward

Upon Further Review: Cam Ward

Lance Roffers
Life as a retiree has its perks. I am able to relax and watch the games without worrying about how I am going to write this one up this week. But every once in a while there is something that will draw me out and make me want to post an Upon Further Review. Getting one of the best QB’s out of the portal (if not THE best QB) is one of those occasions.

I’m going to look at the matchup with Washington. As most of you know, Washington is the rival to the team Ward played for (Washington State) and the game was played in Husky Stadium. This should give us a good visual of Ward and what he can do against the best team on their schedule, in a rivalry game on the road. Buckle up, Cam, as Hurricanes’ fans will tell you, going into that place is tough. To make matters worse, he had to do it with a backup LT as the starter was hurt.

First series you see WSU is going to have a hard time blocking Washington up front. Ward gets way from this sack and does complete it to his checkdown, but short of a 1st.
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Next series, 3 x 1, Ace, Gun setup with Washington showing pressure up-front. You’ll hear this called zero-blitz with sim pressure up front, with the zero meaning there is no safety deep. Sometimes you’ll hear all-out blitz as well, but generally not all defenders will be coming. The goal is to dictate a line adjustment by the OL to guess where pressure is actually coming from and then force the QB to account for any free rushers and adjust where he goes with the football. I say and highlight all of this to point out that the Washington defense, with the benefit of having WSU backed up deep with that crowd noise, presents a true problem for an offense. Ward knows exactly where his hot read will be against that quarters look with the CB off, but is inaccurate on the throw.
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WSU has gone 3-and-out on the first two drives and Washington has jumped out to a 7-0 lead quickly. Ward has moved around in the pocket a little bit, but has faced pressure on every pass he’s thrown thus far and now trails. Pass dropped on 1st, the never-hope-to-see run on 2nd-and-10 brings up the inevitable 3rd-and-9. Ward gets it out quickly when he sees quarters-off again and it’s a bullet.
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In baseball, when a pitcher can effortlessly bring fastballs we call that “easy cheese” and Cam Ward definitely has easy cheese on the gridiron. A quick, compact release that brings fastballs. I was surprised at not only how good his arm is, but how fast he gets the ball out with that much velocity. He looks like an ideal fit for an Air-Raid offense thus far.

On this play, Ward recognizes how much room there is to the field side, with the single-high S cheating to the 3 side of the 3x1 look. WSU runs their trips to the boundary hoping to get room to take a shot deep and they get it. Ball is a bit underthrown, but WR comes back to get it and has a pass interference flag as well. It’s the recognition that you’re highlighting here and illustrating how he isn’t just a quick passer.

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Next play, Ward has a 2x2 look with a switch route to the boundary. Because Ward is focused on that side you can see the S is looking to that side and not getting depth. WR nearest sideline to the field is going to run a corner-post, which beats the CB (the very good CB from Washington that just entered the portal) and Wards hits him on the has mark for a TD (I thought the throw was a little flat and into the hash more than it needed, but it’s completed for a score either way. This was a huge drive to pick up a 3rd-and-9 then get it into the end zone to tie the game up.

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Ward is an excellent thrower of the slant pass. His combination of quick release, excellent arm, and accuracy make him a great fit for this route.

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Ward has a nice ability to get out of the grasp of first contact and avoid sacks. It’s going to add an element to the Miami offense that they haven’t had in years (Jacurri is quite mobile, but doesn’t get out of the grasp and extend plays to this point).

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But what I’d really like to see him do more of is avoid turning his back to the defense after that contact and spin around etc. This is the third time he has done this in this game already and the 1st quarter isn’t over. If he gets out of that initial grasp and wants to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling, that would be beneficial. There was a clear escape lane on this play that he didn’t take and spun around like a top, causing his OL to hold.

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But this is just an NFL throw on 3rd-and-17 that when you gotta have it, he’s got it in his bag. A dude getting ready to drill him and he throws a laser into the free zone. Inches short of the 1st, they try to run a tush-push and get stuffed. Turnover on downs, but what a throw.

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For some weird reason, WSU brings in their backup QB to run Wildcat plays once in a while. Probably to try and keep him out of the portal? With Ward back in, if you try and run quarters against Ward, he will slant you to death. Looks at the shallow cross first, comes back to the slant on the other side and throws a dart.

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This was going to be a hold regardless, but this is a consistent theme for Ward, who simply holds the ball too long at times. When he’s getting it out quick, on-time, and in-rhythm he’s an elite QB. When he’s trying to extend things and won’t let a play go he’s almost always going to take a sack or cause a hold by being in places his OL doesn’t expect. That will be one of the biggest areas to watch in his development this season. Throw this away now. You’re 11 yards behind the LOS and nowhere to go.

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That play above leads directly to this play, where he’s trying to do too much again. It’s as though for Ward there is never a good time to surrender a play and he will force it every time. I’d rather have a QB that is too aggressive than one that I need to talk into taking chances, but Ward is dialed up to an 11 on aggression.

Washington runs an X stunt with DE/DT and it fools the WSU OL and TE. TE is supposed to help outside shoulder of LT here and releases when he sees edge dip inside rather than stay outside. #4 comes in clean and causes Ward to release it early and outside. Easy interception.

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Even though he’s throwing this super early, he has to anticipate this better and throw it to the hash more where only his guy could get it. Tough throw, no time to think, it’s partly on that TE for releasing as though getting into a flat route on 3rd-and-17 was more important than staying in to protect.

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Runs the RPO game to perfection here as his release is just lethal in these sorts of patterns. He has to be quick to get this out before his OL is too far downfield and he does it perfectly. Waits for the edge to take himself out of the window with subtle movement up the line and then throws a dart behind him.

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Lucky to get this one out. Another criticism of Ward is how much ground he gives up in the pocket when pressured because of the belief he has in his arm. Needs to be more decisive in the pocket and not bail on throws to where sacks are going to be 14-yards losses etc.

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Your RG gets back-to-back false starts after a 3rd-and-3 turns into a 3rd-and-13 and it’s a punt. (Not pictured)

Next drive. You’re down a TD again and Washington gets the ball after halftime. This is one of the biggest drives of the game and Ward responds with a big-time performance. 1:05 before half, one timeout. He throws three slants in a row (we’ve already discussed how he’s elite on this route) to get the drive going. Then Ward does a great job of looking off the field S and knowing he’s got his best WR on boundary S in the seam backside.

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Ward takes another sack when he should be thinking get rid of it on 1st down, so they burn their final timeout. (Not pictured)

2nd down and holy moly is this a throw. You can’t make a better throw, if we’re being honest.

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Catch the ball, my man.

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I said on the last play you can’t make a better throw, but on the very next play he sure tried. This is magnificent. When the nickel drops down to take the flats he knows he has it because that two-high S is way too far inside to get out there. They wanted to make it look like something else, is my guess, on why both safeties are inside the hash marks here, but it ends up being a big mistake. Once the nickel goes to slow WR in the flat, Ward knows the CB is singled up without a S on the sideline. Awesome stutter-start and then inside to back outside release by the WR as well. You can see he got the CB back on his heels here and that gave him the room to get by him. I’m sure Washington’s DC was distraught that they allowed this to happen by outsmarting themselves and not just playing a shell to hold them to a FG.

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This is a two-part article, so hold comments until after second, please.
 

Comments (47)

This is the game management side of things that Ward has to learn. No one open and this is him after backing up (red circle shows a chance at a shot play, deep safety is there so it would need to be on a line). This play, right here, is over three seconds old (snap at 12:12). Throw it away or take a shot, but don’t take a sack here.

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Seven seconds after the snap he takes a sack. You can’t do that. It’s not on your OL, it’s on you. You had a beautiful pocket after three full seconds and still took a sack. Bad play. It’s that lack of anticipation that has held him back at times. If you’re looking to develop him, it’s repping the heck out of anticipation throws and knowing where to go with the ball if you’re first reads aren’t open.

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Takes another sack on the next play. Washington has gone away from the early zone defense and switched to man, where they are just playing man-under every play now. The RG for WSU is pretty awful in this game. Here he is just standing there not finding work and the RT gets beaten quickly. If they block this up there is a deep over who is going to pop open in the window after #10 here.
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Next drive Ward scrambles on 1st for two. Then on second Washington fooled Ward with a robber. This was going to be picked off but the DL tips it and knocks it down. Variance shines on you sometimes.
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WSU OC did a nice job in this game adjusting when Washington would adjust to them. They’ve been playing man-under defense, then threw a robber on last play. So WSU runs a man beater with a switch on outside to get a rub on CB and release inside for a slant. But watch #24 in the middle who is also trying to create a rub on the Mike who will want to get out there to help on slant. He picks up the 1st here.
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Ward has the deep-in cut if his LG doesn’t power slam the DL into his legs. He’s waiting for him to clear the LB and get into that middle window. It’s a hold on the LG, anyway.
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WSU can’t recover from the hold and then misses a FG. WSU had chances in this one. (Not pictured)

This is a tough one. You’ve got a guy in your face so you can’t really step into it and you’ve gotta layer it over a LB. It hits the receivers hands and pops up into the air for an interception.

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Tough catch, but we need you.

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His anticipation on short routes is so much better than intermediate depth or over-the-middle. This is another of the same switch route/rub combinations we’ve seen on 3rd down. Double slants to the top was in a classic triangle coverage, so he definitely saw it correctly here. 1st down.

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Let’s help my guy out a little bit here, please. This is a dart, in-stride, on 3rd down. He’s one guy from the band playing and…he drops it. You won’t find a better slant QB in college than Cam Ward. I feel ya, Cam.

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He responds with a touch pass to the FB coming across the formation on 4th down. (Not pictured)

You keep this QB clean and you will get darts. Washington is throwing everything they have at him and he’s responding in this environment. Impressive.

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Washington tries to leap over the line on the FG try and gives WSU a 1st down. Yikes. (Not pictured)

Neat little angle route with motion across formation fools Washington who has adjusted to that switch route WSU has been throwing at them by staying outside on the switch and leaving the inside receiver to the nickel. The motion here though gets the safety on the inside switch and Ward is on-time so much it allows the receiver to break the tackle and score. If you’re gonna watch a Cam Ward game, this one is a good one to choose.

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Ward gets them with the hard count and the “clap” which simulates the snap count in the silent. WSU switched it up, clearly, to go one beat after the clap, rather than on the clap and it gets Washington.

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WSU had four holding penalties in this game and they were all just crushing penalties. The starting LT, LG, and RG were out in this one and you saw it show up on 2nd-and-2 where WSU had a 1st down and they got called for another hold to bring it back. (Not pictured)

Ugh. Run it Cam!!! He tries to throw on the run and can’t get it, but if he takes off he’s got a real chance here.

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WSU doesn’t get it back and Washington wins at the end. What a game from our guy, Cam Ward. He basically carried his team on his back this entire game. No Rome Odunze or other elite receivers for WSU. They had a nice player in #5 Victor, but he’s an Xavier Restrepo type of possession kid, not a playmaker who can just go get the ball for you. No run game, no OL. Heck of a performance.

Here is a nice thread of Ward throws in other games if you’re so inclined.



By the Numbers:

Ward vs. Washington:

.362 EPA per pass, Washington defense averaged .144 EPA per pass play in their other games

Ward surpassed the average EPA allowed by Washington in all but one game (vs. UCLA he struggled).

Of returning P5 QB’s, Ward finished:

  • Sixth in Total Expected Points Added behind Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Ohio State, and Mizzou QB’s (only Mizzou is a team that isn’t out-talenting their opponents by a mile)
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  • 14th out of returning P5 QB’s in PFF passing grade
  • 3rd in Big Time Throws (Jalen Milroe, Taulia Tagovailoa, Cam Ward and TVD tied)
  • All of this on an offense that PFF graded as the 51st best out of 69 P5 teams
Where He Wins
  • Ward is elite in the short passing game, throwing darts on slants, in the RPO game, and quick passes outside of the numbers
  • His arm allows him to threaten a defense deep at any time
  • Ward is not afraid to stand in the pocket and throw the ball in the face of pressure. That toughness allows him to make plays other QB’s would never dream of attempting
  • His playmaking ability is right up there with any QB not named Caleb Williams
Where To Grow
  • There is clearly potential to improve his understanding of carrying the ball to protect it better. While some of the fumbles are due to smaller hands, much of it is simply due to the way he handles the ball in the pocket and while making plays
  • His tendency to bail backwards on pockets causes him several issues. One of the largest being that when is sacked, it is almost always in the -13 yards category of sacks, which all but end the drive
  • Knowing when to live to fight another down is a major area of growth for Ward. Several interceptions occurred when he would try to force a pass while making a play. Operating in structure on-time and on-schedule will let his natural tools play up, rather than being a net negative.
  • Simple game management is a skill that he can continue to grow. In high school, Ward played in a wing-T offense and he has had to continue to learn game management in a high-volume passing attack. Taking a checkdown on 1st down to stay ahead of the chains is better than always forcing the ball on any chance he gets. It’s different to force a ball on 3rd-and-long when you need to get past the sticks.
Overall

The truth of the matter is that I, like many of you, were told that Cam Ward was going to commit back in early December. Then the roller coaster ride occurred and I got Ward-fatigue. That bias was there when I went into an actual grading of his play and what he showed on film.

I expected to feel differently than I do. What I came out feeling is that Cam Ward has top of the top college potential. He is smarter than I thought he would be on the field. He sees adjustments from the defense and has a plan of where he’s going to go with the ball based on a pre-snap picture. He’s tougher than I thought he would be. A player with the number of sacks he takes and the number of fumbles he has had tend to be a bit softer with the ball and not want to take hits. That isn’t Cam Ward. All over his tape he is standing tall in a collapsing pocket and taking a hit to deliver a ball.

The WSU offense was pretty well-coached in the games I watched. Especially against Washington, in a game that I scrutinized every play, you could see Washington change the picture multiple times. They started out zone heavy and ignoring the run game to get depth with the LB’s. When that didn’t work because Ward was throwing darts into clean spaces, they switched to press-man. He recognized that picture and hit them with a killer before half. Washington then switched to man-under with a shell to keep things in front of them. The WSU staff exploited that with switch concepts and rub plays. Ward hit them all. Washington used a robber multiple times and the only time they caught Ward with it, the DL tipped the pass and saved an interception.

Ward is going to love Restrepo. He had a weapon just like him at WSU and he was the only guy who could reliably catch the ball. On those quick and timing passes, expect Restrepo to eat.

The release is elite. The arm is excellent, no doubt, but it’s the release that makes it play up.

I watched the Cal game from 2022 and while Ward played a good game, you could see real and tangible improvements in 2023. His footwork, stride, release had all improve visibly. Ward still has a tendency to cross his feet on his drop, which is something he will want to clean up this year, but if he makes the same jump from 2023 to 2024 that he made in 2022 to 2023, we could be looking at one of these transfer-to Heisman contending cases.

Struggles to anticipate over the middle. He has to “see it” at that depth. He still hits the windows against zone because of the arm and the release, but you can see him waiting to throw, rather than throwing to where the receiver will be next. Much better on short throws, where he will release the ball and let the receiver get to the window, rather than the other way around.

Holds the ball too long, bails out of pockets backwards, and loses his internal clock at times. If he ever learns to step up in the pocket he will take a massive jump in efficiency.

If you watched only this players top plays you’d swear he’s up there with Caleb and Maye. It’s the bonehead throws and deep sacks that hold him back.

My goodness does he make some curl your toes throws at times. I see why Mario planted his flag on this kid and never moved off of him. He’s really good, with the potential to be much more.
 

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    Ward 23.JPG
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This is the game management side of things that Ward has to learn. No one open and this is him after backing up (red circle shows a chance at a shot play, deep safety is there so it would need to be on a line). This play, right here, is over three seconds old (snap at 12:12). Throw it away or take a shot, but don’t take a sack here.

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Seven seconds after the snap he takes a sack. You can’t do that. It’s not on your OL, it’s on you. You had a beautiful pocket after three full seconds and still took a sack. Bad play. It’s that lack of anticipation that has held him back at times. If you’re looking to develop him, it’s repping the heck out of anticipation throws and knowing where to go with the ball if you’re first reads aren’t open.

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Takes another sack on the next play. Washington has gone away from the early zone defense and switched to man, where they are just playing man-under every play now. The RG for WSU is pretty awful in this game. Here he is just standing there not finding work and the RT gets beaten quickly. If they block this up there is a deep over who is going to pop open in the window after #10 here.
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Next drive Ward scrambles on 1st for two. Then on second Washington fooled Ward with a robber. This was going to be picked off but the DL tips it and knocks it down. Variance shines on you sometimes.
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WSU OC did a nice job in this game adjusting when Washington would adjust to them. They’ve been playing man-under defense, then threw a robber on last play. So WSU runs a man beater with a switch on outside to get a rub on CB and release inside for a slant. But watch #24 in the middle who is also trying to create a rub on the Mike who will want to get out there to help on slant. He picks up the 1st here.
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Ward has the deep-in cut if his LG doesn’t power slam the DL into his legs. He’s waiting for him to clear the LB and get into that middle window. It’s a hold on the LG, anyway.
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WSU can’t recover from the hold and then misses a FG. WSU had chances in this one. (Not pictured)

This is a tough one. You’ve got a guy in your face so you can’t really step into it and you’ve gotta layer it over a LB. It hits the receivers hands and pops up into the air for an interception.

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Tough catch, but we need you.

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His anticipation on short routes is so much better than intermediate depth or over-the-middle. This is another of the same switch route/rub combinations we’ve seen on 3rd down. Double slants to the top was in a classic triangle coverage, so he definitely saw it correctly here. 1st down.

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Let’s help my guy out a little bit here, please. This is a dart, in-stride, on 3rd down. He’s one guy from the band playing and…he drops it. You won’t find a better slant QB in college than Cam Ward. I feel ya, Cam.

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He responds with a touch pass to the FB coming across the formation on 4th down. (Not pictured)

You keep this QB clean and you will get darts. Washington is throwing everything they have at him and he’s responding in this environment. Impressive.

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Washington tries to leap over the line on the FG try and gives WSU a 1st down. Yikes. (Not pictured)

Neat little angle route with motion across formation fools Washington who has adjusted to that switch route WSU has been throwing at them by staying outside on the switch and leaving the inside receiver to the nickel. The motion here though gets the safety on the inside switch and Ward is on-time so much it allows the receiver to break the tackle and score. If you’re gonna watch a Cam Ward game, this one is a good one to choose.

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Ward gets them with the hard count and the “clap” which simulates the snap count in the silent. WSU switched it up, clearly, to go one beat after the clap, rather than on the clap and it gets Washington.

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WSU had four holding penalties in this game and they were all just crushing penalties. The starting LT, LG, and RG were out in this one and you saw it show up on 2nd-and-2 where WSU had a 1st down and they got called for another hold to bring it back. (Not pictured)

Ugh. Run it Cam!!! He tries to throw on the run and can’t get it, but if he takes off he’s got a real chance here.

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WSU doesn’t get it back and Washington wins at the end. What a game from our guy, Cam Ward. He basically carried his team on his back this entire game. No Rome Odunze or other elite receivers for WSU. They had a nice player in #5 Victor, but he’s an Xavier Restrepo type of possession kid, not a playmaker who can just go get the ball for you. No run game, no OL. Heck of a performance.

Here is a nice thread of Ward throws in other games if you’re so inclined.



By the Numbers:

Ward vs. Washington:

.362 EPA per pass, Washington defense averaged .144 EPA per pass play in their other games

Ward surpassed the average EPA allowed by Washington in all but one game (vs. UCLA he struggled).

Of returning P5 QB’s, Ward finished:

  • Sixth in Total Expected Points Added behind Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Ohio State, and Mizzou QB’s (only Mizzou is a team that isn’t out-talenting their opponents by a mile)
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  • 14th out of returning P5 QB’s in PFF passing grade
  • 3rd in Big Time Throws (Jalen Milroe, Taulia Tagovailoa, Cam Ward and TVD tied)
  • All of this on an offense that PFF graded as the 51st best out of 69 P5 teams
Where He Wins
  • Ward is elite in the short passing game, throwing darts on slants, in the RPO game, and quick passes outside of the numbers
  • His arm allows him to threaten a defense deep at any time
  • Ward is not afraid to stand in the pocket and throw the ball in the face of pressure. That toughness allows him to make plays other QB’s would never dream of attempting
  • His playmaking ability is right up there with any QB not named Caleb Williams
Where To Grow
  • There is clearly potential to improve his understanding of carrying the ball to protect it better. While some of the fumbles are due to smaller hands, much of it is simply due to the way he handles the ball in the pocket and while making plays
  • His tendency to bail backwards on pockets causes him several issues. One of the largest being that when is sacked, it is almost always in the -13 yards category of sacks, which all but end the drive
  • Knowing when to live to fight another down is a major area of growth for Ward. Several interceptions occurred when he would try to force a pass while making a play. Operating in structure on-time and on-schedule will let his natural tools play up, rather than being a net negative.
  • Simple game management is a skill that he can continue to grow. In high school, Ward played in a wing-T offense and he has had to continue to learn game management in a high-volume passing attack. Taking a checkdown on 1st down to stay ahead of the chains is better than always forcing the ball on any chance he gets. It’s different to force a ball on 3rd-and-long when you need to get past the sticks.
Overall

The truth of the matter is that I, like many of you, were told that Cam Ward was going to commit back in early December. Then the roller coaster ride occurred and I got Ward-fatigue. That bias was there when I went into an actual grading of his play and what he showed on film.

I expected to feel differently than I do. What I came out feeling is that Cam Ward has top of the top college potential. He is smarter than I thought he would be on the field. He sees adjustments from the defense and has a plan of where he’s going to go with the ball based on a pre-snap picture. He’s tougher than I thought he would be. A player with the number of sacks he takes and the number of fumbles he has had tend to be a bit softer with the ball and not want to take hits. That isn’t Cam Ward. All over his tape he is standing tall in a collapsing pocket and taking a hit to deliver a ball.

The WSU offense was pretty well-coached in the games I watched. Especially against Washington, in a game that I scrutinized every play, you could see Washington change the picture multiple times. They started out zone heavy and ignoring the run game to get depth with the LB’s. When that didn’t work because Ward was throwing darts into clean spaces, they switched to press-man. He recognized that picture and hit them with a killer before half. Washington then switched to man-under with a shell to keep things in front of them. The WSU staff exploited that with switch concepts and rub plays. Ward hit them all. Washington used a robber multiple times and the only time they caught Ward with it, the DL tipped the pass and saved an interception.

Ward is going to love Restrepo. He had a weapon just like him at WSU and he was the only guy who could reliably catch the ball. On those quick and timing passes, expect Restrepo to eat.

The release is elite. The arm is excellent, no doubt, but it’s the release that makes it play up.

I watched the Cal game from 2022 and while Ward played a good game, you could see real and tangible improvements in 2023. His footwork, stride, release had all improve visibly. Ward still has a tendency to cross his feet on his drop, which is something he will want to clean up this year, but if he makes the same jump from 2023 to 2024 that he made in 2022 to 2023, we could be looking at one of these transfer-to Heisman contending cases.

Struggles to anticipate over the middle. He has to “see it” at that depth. He still hits the windows against zone because of the arm and the release, but you can see him waiting to throw, rather than throwing to where the receiver will be next. Much better on short throws, where he will release the ball and let the receiver get to the window, rather than the other way around.

Holds the ball too long, bails out of pockets backwards, and loses his internal clock at times. If he ever learns to step up in the pocket he will take a massive jump in efficiency.

If you watched only this players top plays you’d swear he’s up there with Caleb and Maye. It’s the bonehead throws and deep sacks that hold him back.

My goodness does he make some curl your toes throws at times. I see why Mario planted his flag on this kid and never moved off of him. He’s really good, with the potential to be much more.

In Love Dancing GIF by NBC
 
Life as a retiree has its perks. I am able to relax and watch the games without worrying about how I am going to write this one up this week. But every once in a while there is something that will draw me out and make me want to post an Upon Further Review. Getting one of the best QB’s out of the portal (if not THE best QB) is one of those occasions.

I’m going to look at the matchup with Washington. As most of you know, Washington is the rival to the team Ward played for (Washington State) and the game was played in Husky Stadium. This should give us a good visual of Ward and what he can do against the best team on their schedule, in a rivalry game on the road. Buckle up, Cam, as Hurricanes’ fans will tell you, going into that place is tough. To make matters worse, he had to do it with a backup LT as the starter was hurt.

First series you see WSU is going to have a hard time blocking Washington up front. Ward gets way from this sack and does complete it to his checkdown, but short of a 1st.View attachment 279047

Next series, 3 x 1, Ace, Gun setup with Washington showing pressure up-front. You’ll hear this called zero-blitz with sim pressure up front, with the zero meaning there is no safety deep. Sometimes you’ll hear all-out blitz as well, but generally not all defenders will be coming. The goal is to dictate a line adjustment by the OL to guess where pressure is actually coming from and then force the QB to account for any free rushers and adjust where he goes with the football. I say and highlight all of this to point out that the Washington defense, with the benefit of having WSU backed up deep with that crowd noise, presents a true problem for an offense. Ward knows exactly where his hot read will be against that quarters look with the CB off, but is inaccurate on the throw.
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WSU has gone 3-and-out on the first two drives and Washington has jumped out to a 7-0 lead quickly. Ward has moved around in the pocket a little bit, but has faced pressure on every pass he’s thrown thus far and now trails. Pass dropped on 1st, the never-hope-to-see run on 2nd-and-10 brings up the inevitable 3rd-and-9. Ward gets it out quickly when he sees quarters-off again and it’s a bullet.
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In baseball, when a pitcher can effortlessly bring fastballs we call that “easy cheese” and Cam Ward definitely has easy cheese on the gridiron. A quick, compact release that brings fastballs. I was surprised at not only how good his arm is, but how fast he gets the ball out with that much velocity. He looks like an ideal fit for an Air-Raid offense thus far.

On this play, Ward recognizes how much room there is to the field side, with the single-high S cheating to the 3 side of the 3x1 look. WSU runs their trips to the boundary hoping to get room to take a shot deep and they get it. Ball is a bit underthrown, but WR comes back to get it and has a pass interference flag as well. It’s the recognition that you’re highlighting here and illustrating how he isn’t just a quick passer.

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Next play, Ward has a 2x2 look with a switch route to the boundary. Because Ward is focused on that side you can see the S is looking to that side and not getting depth. WR nearest sideline to the field is going to run a corner-post, which beats the CB (the very good CB from Washington that just entered the portal) and Wards hits him on the has mark for a TD (I thought the throw was a little flat and into the hash more than it needed, but it’s completed for a score either way. This was a huge drive to pick up a 3rd-and-9 then get it into the end zone to tie the game up.

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Ward is an excellent thrower of the slant pass. His combination of quick release, excellent arm, and accuracy make him a great fit for this route.

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Ward has a nice ability to get out of the grasp of first contact and avoid sacks. It’s going to add an element to the Miami offense that they haven’t had in years (Jacurri is quite mobile, but doesn’t get out of the grasp and extend plays to this point).

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But what I’d really like to see him do more of is avoid turning his back to the defense after that contact and spin around etc. This is the third time he has done this in this game already and the 1st quarter isn’t over. If he gets out of that initial grasp and wants to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling, that would be beneficial. There was a clear escape lane on this play that he didn’t take and spun around like a top, causing his OL to hold.

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But this is just an NFL throw on 3rd-and-17 that when you gotta have it, he’s got it in his bag. A dude getting ready to drill him and he throws a laser into the free zone. Inches short of the 1st, they try to run a tush-push and get stuffed. Turnover on downs, but what a throw.

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For some weird reason, WSU brings in their backup QB to run Wildcat plays once in a while. Probably to try and keep him out of the portal? With Ward back in, if you try and run quarters against Ward, he will slant you to death. Looks at the shallow cross first, comes back to the slant on the other side and throws a dart.

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This was going to be a hold regardless, but this is a consistent theme for Ward, who simply holds the ball too long at times. When he’s getting it out quick, on-time, and in-rhythm he’s an elite QB. When he’s trying to extend things and won’t let a play go he’s almost always going to take a sack or cause a hold by being in places his OL doesn’t expect. That will be one of the biggest areas to watch in his development this season. Throw this away now. You’re 11 yards behind the LOS and nowhere to go.

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That play above leads directly to this play, where he’s trying to do too much again. It’s as though for Ward there is never a good time to surrender a play and he will force it every time. I’d rather have a QB that is too aggressive than one that I need to talk into taking chances, but Ward is dialed up to an 11 on aggression.

Washington runs an X stunt with DE/DT and it fools the WSU OL and TE. TE is supposed to help outside shoulder of LT here and releases when he sees edge dip inside rather than stay outside. #4 comes in clean and causes Ward to release it early and outside. Easy interception.

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Even though he’s throwing this super early, he has to anticipate this better and throw it to the hash more where only his guy could get it. Tough throw, no time to think, it’s partly on that TE for releasing as though getting into a flat route on 3rd-and-17 was more important than staying in to protect.

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Runs the RPO game to perfection here as his release is just lethal in these sorts of patterns. He has to be quick to get this out before his OL is too far downfield and he does it perfectly. Waits for the edge to take himself out of the window with subtle movement up the line and then throws a dart behind him.

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Lucky to get this one out. Another criticism of Ward is how much ground he gives up in the pocket when pressured because of the belief he has in his arm. Needs to be more decisive in the pocket and not bail on throws to where sacks are going to be 14-yards losses etc.

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Your RG gets back-to-back false starts after a 3rd-and-3 turns into a 3rd-and-13 and it’s a punt. (Not pictured)

Next drive. You’re down a TD again and Washington gets the ball after halftime. This is one of the biggest drives of the game and Ward responds with a big-time performance. 1:05 before half, one timeout. He throws three slants in a row (we’ve already discussed how he’s elite on this route) to get the drive going. Then Ward does a great job of looking off the field S and knowing he’s got his best WR on boundary S in the seam backside.

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Ward takes another sack when he should be thinking get rid of it on 1st down, so they burn their final timeout. (Not pictured)

2nd down and holy moly is this a throw. You can’t make a better throw, if we’re being honest.

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Catch the ball, my man.

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I said on the last play you can’t make a better throw, but on the very next play he sure tried. This is magnificent. When the nickel drops down to take the flats he knows he has it because that two-high S is way too far inside to get out there. They wanted to make it look like something else, is my guess, on why both safeties are inside the hash marks here, but it ends up being a big mistake. Once the nickel goes to slow WR in the flat, Ward knows the CB is singled up without a S on the sideline. Awesome stutter-start and then inside to back outside release by the WR as well. You can see he got the CB back on his heels here and that gave him the room to get by him. I’m sure Washington’s DC was distraught that they allowed this to happen by outsmarting themselves and not just playing a shell to hold them to a FG.

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This is a two-part article, so hold comments until after second, please.

So if we aren’t throwing slants to WRs or TEs in the middle of the field this year, we are doing something wrong.
 
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This is the game management side of things that Ward has to learn. No one open and this is him after backing up (red circle shows a chance at a shot play, deep safety is there so it would need to be on a line). This play, right here, is over three seconds old (snap at 12:12). Throw it away or take a shot, but don’t take a sack here.

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Seven seconds after the snap he takes a sack. You can’t do that. It’s not on your OL, it’s on you. You had a beautiful pocket after three full seconds and still took a sack. Bad play. It’s that lack of anticipation that has held him back at times. If you’re looking to develop him, it’s repping the heck out of anticipation throws and knowing where to go with the ball if you’re first reads aren’t open.

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Takes another sack on the next play. Washington has gone away from the early zone defense and switched to man, where they are just playing man-under every play now. The RG for WSU is pretty awful in this game. Here he is just standing there not finding work and the RT gets beaten quickly. If they block this up there is a deep over who is going to pop open in the window after #10 here.
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Next drive Ward scrambles on 1st for two. Then on second Washington fooled Ward with a robber. This was going to be picked off but the DL tips it and knocks it down. Variance shines on you sometimes.
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WSU OC did a nice job in this game adjusting when Washington would adjust to them. They’ve been playing man-under defense, then threw a robber on last play. So WSU runs a man beater with a switch on outside to get a rub on CB and release inside for a slant. But watch #24 in the middle who is also trying to create a rub on the Mike who will want to get out there to help on slant. He picks up the 1st here.
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Ward has the deep-in cut if his LG doesn’t power slam the DL into his legs. He’s waiting for him to clear the LB and get into that middle window. It’s a hold on the LG, anyway.
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WSU can’t recover from the hold and then misses a FG. WSU had chances in this one. (Not pictured)

This is a tough one. You’ve got a guy in your face so you can’t really step into it and you’ve gotta layer it over a LB. It hits the receivers hands and pops up into the air for an interception.

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Tough catch, but we need you.

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His anticipation on short routes is so much better than intermediate depth or over-the-middle. This is another of the same switch route/rub combinations we’ve seen on 3rd down. Double slants to the top was in a classic triangle coverage, so he definitely saw it correctly here. 1st down.

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Let’s help my guy out a little bit here, please. This is a dart, in-stride, on 3rd down. He’s one guy from the band playing and…he drops it. You won’t find a better slant QB in college than Cam Ward. I feel ya, Cam.

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He responds with a touch pass to the FB coming across the formation on 4th down. (Not pictured)

You keep this QB clean and you will get darts. Washington is throwing everything they have at him and he’s responding in this environment. Impressive.

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Washington tries to leap over the line on the FG try and gives WSU a 1st down. Yikes. (Not pictured)

Neat little angle route with motion across formation fools Washington who has adjusted to that switch route WSU has been throwing at them by staying outside on the switch and leaving the inside receiver to the nickel. The motion here though gets the safety on the inside switch and Ward is on-time so much it allows the receiver to break the tackle and score. If you’re gonna watch a Cam Ward game, this one is a good one to choose.

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Ward gets them with the hard count and the “clap” which simulates the snap count in the silent. WSU switched it up, clearly, to go one beat after the clap, rather than on the clap and it gets Washington.

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WSU had four holding penalties in this game and they were all just crushing penalties. The starting LT, LG, and RG were out in this one and you saw it show up on 2nd-and-2 where WSU had a 1st down and they got called for another hold to bring it back. (Not pictured)

Ugh. Run it Cam!!! He tries to throw on the run and can’t get it, but if he takes off he’s got a real chance here.

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WSU doesn’t get it back and Washington wins at the end. What a game from our guy, Cam Ward. He basically carried his team on his back this entire game. No Rome Odunze or other elite receivers for WSU. They had a nice player in #5 Victor, but he’s an Xavier Restrepo type of possession kid, not a playmaker who can just go get the ball for you. No run game, no OL. Heck of a performance.

Here is a nice thread of Ward throws in other games if you’re so inclined.



By the Numbers:

Ward vs. Washington:

.362 EPA per pass, Washington defense averaged .144 EPA per pass play in their other games

Ward surpassed the average EPA allowed by Washington in all but one game (vs. UCLA he struggled).

Of returning P5 QB’s, Ward finished:

  • Sixth in Total Expected Points Added behind Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, Ohio State, and Mizzou QB’s (only Mizzou is a team that isn’t out-talenting their opponents by a mile)
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  • 14th out of returning P5 QB’s in PFF passing grade
  • 3rd in Big Time Throws (Jalen Milroe, Taulia Tagovailoa, Cam Ward and TVD tied)
  • All of this on an offense that PFF graded as the 51st best out of 69 P5 teams
Where He Wins
  • Ward is elite in the short passing game, throwing darts on slants, in the RPO game, and quick passes outside of the numbers
  • His arm allows him to threaten a defense deep at any time
  • Ward is not afraid to stand in the pocket and throw the ball in the face of pressure. That toughness allows him to make plays other QB’s would never dream of attempting
  • His playmaking ability is right up there with any QB not named Caleb Williams
Where To Grow
  • There is clearly potential to improve his understanding of carrying the ball to protect it better. While some of the fumbles are due to smaller hands, much of it is simply due to the way he handles the ball in the pocket and while making plays
  • His tendency to bail backwards on pockets causes him several issues. One of the largest being that when is sacked, it is almost always in the -13 yards category of sacks, which all but end the drive
  • Knowing when to live to fight another down is a major area of growth for Ward. Several interceptions occurred when he would try to force a pass while making a play. Operating in structure on-time and on-schedule will let his natural tools play up, rather than being a net negative.
  • Simple game management is a skill that he can continue to grow. In high school, Ward played in a wing-T offense and he has had to continue to learn game management in a high-volume passing attack. Taking a checkdown on 1st down to stay ahead of the chains is better than always forcing the ball on any chance he gets. It’s different to force a ball on 3rd-and-long when you need to get past the sticks.
Overall

The truth of the matter is that I, like many of you, were told that Cam Ward was going to commit back in early December. Then the roller coaster ride occurred and I got Ward-fatigue. That bias was there when I went into an actual grading of his play and what he showed on film.

I expected to feel differently than I do. What I came out feeling is that Cam Ward has top of the top college potential. He is smarter than I thought he would be on the field. He sees adjustments from the defense and has a plan of where he’s going to go with the ball based on a pre-snap picture. He’s tougher than I thought he would be. A player with the number of sacks he takes and the number of fumbles he has had tend to be a bit softer with the ball and not want to take hits. That isn’t Cam Ward. All over his tape he is standing tall in a collapsing pocket and taking a hit to deliver a ball.

The WSU offense was pretty well-coached in the games I watched. Especially against Washington, in a game that I scrutinized every play, you could see Washington change the picture multiple times. They started out zone heavy and ignoring the run game to get depth with the LB’s. When that didn’t work because Ward was throwing darts into clean spaces, they switched to press-man. He recognized that picture and hit them with a killer before half. Washington then switched to man-under with a shell to keep things in front of them. The WSU staff exploited that with switch concepts and rub plays. Ward hit them all. Washington used a robber multiple times and the only time they caught Ward with it, the DL tipped the pass and saved an interception.

Ward is going to love Restrepo. He had a weapon just like him at WSU and he was the only guy who could reliably catch the ball. On those quick and timing passes, expect Restrepo to eat.

The release is elite. The arm is excellent, no doubt, but it’s the release that makes it play up.

I watched the Cal game from 2022 and while Ward played a good game, you could see real and tangible improvements in 2023. His footwork, stride, release had all improve visibly. Ward still has a tendency to cross his feet on his drop, which is something he will want to clean up this year, but if he makes the same jump from 2023 to 2024 that he made in 2022 to 2023, we could be looking at one of these transfer-to Heisman contending cases.

Struggles to anticipate over the middle. He has to “see it” at that depth. He still hits the windows against zone because of the arm and the release, but you can see him waiting to throw, rather than throwing to where the receiver will be next. Much better on short throws, where he will release the ball and let the receiver get to the window, rather than the other way around.

Holds the ball too long, bails out of pockets backwards, and loses his internal clock at times. If he ever learns to step up in the pocket he will take a massive jump in efficiency.

If you watched only this players top plays you’d swear he’s up there with Caleb and Maye. It’s the bonehead throws and deep sacks that hold him back.

My goodness does he make some curl your toes throws at times. I see why Mario planted his flag on this kid and never moved off of him. He’s really good, with the potential to be much more.

Kobe Bryant Applause GIF by WNBA

Full scope analysis with positives and negatives. This is how you do an evaluation.
 
2nd down and holy moly is this a throw. You can’t make a better throw, if we’re being honest.

Ward 18.JPG


Catch the ball, my man.

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Always love these. And not a lot of talk about this because the guy didn’t catch it but this was legitimately one of the better throws I’ve seen at the college level in a while. Retreating, off his back foot and threw a ******* laser in the perfect spot.

God**** I can’t believe he’s actually going to be a Cane lol
 
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Thanks as always.

Was he your number 1 portal QB? Who else were you intrigued by?
 
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