Above all else, if any one thing has defined Dennis Erickson’s coaching career at every level, it’s been a successful passing attack.
He’s seen one of his quarterbacks win a Heisman Trophy (Gino Torretta) and seen others become NFL starters (Craig Erickson and Timm Rosenbach).
To be coldly analytical, though, his quarterbacks have ridden the system to success more than reaching it on the strength of their own pure passing talents.
At Idaho, Ken Hobart was marvelously athletic, but was a hastily converted veer-option quarterback.
Rosenbach was gutty, strong-armed and brash, but he struggled so mightily with the position that, one year at Washington State, he suggested he’d be better suited to play linebacker.
Craig Erickson looks ready to become a fine NFL quarterback in Indianapolis, but nonetheless was a physical question mark coming out of Miami.
Torretta? Can you say “World League?”
Frank Costa? Seek alternate employment.
They’ve mostly been guys taken off the rack and altered into a fit that was workable. And national collegiate championships have been won because (or in spite) of it.
It’s different now, though.
With the Seattle Seahawks, Erickson appears to have a quarterback who has been tailored for this offense, cut from whole cloth and hand-stitched to exact specifications.
The qualities that made Rick Mirer the second player taken in the draft three years ago - intelligence, accuracy, decisiveness, toughness - make him the most complete quarterback to have a shot at running this offense.
The potential? Stick around and watch.
“So many plays give you better chances,” Mirer said of the short-pass, high-efficiency offense. “You have to remember that it doesn’t have to be a long pass to be a big play. We’ve got a lot better shot of completing those and moving the ball - making a 5-yard pass turn into a 20-yard gain - than of completing the 20-yard pass.”
In coach Tom Flores’ vertical-stretch offense, Mirer completed barely more than 50 percent of his passes last year. His seven-step retreats from center were frequently disrupted by pressure from the pass rush, and deep routes rarely paid off.
Erickson’s approach calls for Mirer to make quick reads, three-step drops and gun the ball to a receiver on the run. Get up to the line and do it again.
“I don’t know how many quarterbacks like to stand back there, patting the ball, looking around and waiting, waiting, waiting to get hit,” Mirer said. “I’d rather see a short pass completed than go for a long one and not get anything and have to come off the field.”
What fans will see this season is not unlike the approach taken by San Francisco with its so-called West Coast offense: Defenses are forced to cover from sideline to sideline and then make decisions on what to stop. The quarterback reads that and then exploits the point of least resistance.
“The decision-making is a lot quicker, we get back and get the ball out,” Mirer said. “They blitz, we have a counter for it, quick. They come at us, the ball is gone, boom, and they pay for it.
“The thing is, there’s no decoys out there - everybody on the field is a legitimate weapon on every play,” he said. “Nobody gets a play off; we may come to them at any time, and that’s what makes it so hard to stop.”
Which, Mirer believes, will make everybody on the offense better.
“We’re not asking the line to block guys for a long time; we’re not asking Chris (Warren) to carry us 25 carries a game; we’re not asking Brian (Blades) to catch every ball,” Mirer said. “It’s going to be a lot more of a fast-break offense with everybody contributing.
“It should all feed off each other and a lot of good things could happen.”
Beyond what has become the customary Erickson offense, the Seahawks staff has studied - and added - some of the plays that best utilize the talents of San Francisco’s Steve Young.
Those, too, should work for the nimble Mirer, so also look for more bootlegs, bootleg passes and sprint-outs.
“He’s an extremely accurate quarterback,” said Bob Bratkowski, the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator. “And we’re throwing shorter, highpercentage passes that will suit him.”
Mirer matched Kansas City’s Joe Montana for lowest interception percentage last year, but still has never exceeded 300 yards of passing in a game.
During Mirer’s first two years, Flores seemed eager to let the young quarterback mature at his own pace. In many ways, a wise approach.
But the third year, Bratkowski noted, is “about the time you can start really challenging a quarterback more. We’ve given him the whole package and put a lot more responsibilities on him, a lot more decisions he has to make at the line of scrimmage and during the play.
“We’ve thrown a lot at him,” Bratkowski said. “But he’s grasped it really well.”
Mirer, too, can sense the importance of maturity - aside from the benefits of the new scheme.
“In some ways, it feels like an age thing; I’m past the point of just going out and running the play,” he said. “Now, I’m thinking, ‘Let’s go out there and really make something happen.’ And for me, making big plays isn’t always going to be throwing a long pass, but just getting guys in a situation where they have an advantage and they can exploit it.”
Mirer’s personal style seems to be seeping out more this year, as well. He’s been showing up at practice driving a HumVee, and there’s the ever-present Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt under his practice jersey.
And when asked of his expectations this year, he tried to be cautious: “We’re deep and we’re better, so there should be higher expectations,” he said. “When you look at it, improvement would mean getting more than six wins.”
But images of greater things must be circling inside of Mirer’s head, as he grinned broadly.
“Sure, being better than 6-10 is a goal to have, but that’s not good enough,” he said. “The goal is to flip that over and win 10 and get into the playoffs.
“We’ve got too much talent to stand for anything less.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Mirer’s career stats Year Gms Comp Att Yards Pct. TD Int 1993 16 274 486 2833 56.4 12 17 1994 13 195 381 2151 51.2 11 7 Totals 29 469 867 4984 54.1 23 24 Height: 6-2. Weight: 211. College: Notre Dame.
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