Injury to Matt Cassel Opens Door for UDFA QB Tyler Ferguson

Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Cassel (16) during the second half of an NFL Football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.The Jaguars won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 24, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Cassel (16) during the second half of an NFL Football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.The Jaguars won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Former WKU QB Tyler Ferguson has a chance to impress in OTAs.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey announced that backup quarterback Matt Cassel will miss the next six weeks of offseason action with an injury to his throwing hand that will require surgery. Because of this, and the fact that Marcus Mariota (leg) still has not been cleared for full participation in team drills, the Titans will be forced to heavily rely on their #3 and #4 quarterbacks for the remainder of Organized Team Activities.

For the last two seasons, the Titans’ third string quarterback duties have been given to Alex Tanney. Despite many signs that would seemingly indicate a strong belief in him by the Titans’ brass, Tanney has yet to make a start for the Titans despite multiple quarterback injuries during his time with the team. His only regular season action in the NFL came in a relief appearance in 2015 in which he attempted just fourteen passes.

Tanney has a good arm, and some in the media think that he could potentially move past Cassel on the depth chart with good performances in the preseason. However, Tanney will have more competition than just Cassel. He’ll also have to outperform Tyler Ferguson, a quarterback the Titans signed as an un-drafted free agent immediately after the draft.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to speak with Aaron Elliott, a longtime quarterback trainer and mentor who worked with Ferguson for several weeks during the pre-draft process. Based on our conversation, I see three legitimate factors that could lead to Ferguson beating out Tanney for the Titans’ #3 quarterback gig.

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1. He has a prototypical arm.

Like teammate Matt Cassel, Ferguson never made a start in college, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Ferguson, in addition to a junior college, appeared on the rosters of three different schools: Penn State, Louisville, and Western Kentucky. Cassel never made a start because he was always behind future NFL starters on the depth chart at USC (Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer), and the same is true for Ferguson.

At Penn State, Ferguson was beaten out by a five start recruit and eventual second round NFL draft pick, Christian Hackenberg. At Louisville, he was surpassed by last year’s Heisman Trophy Winner, Lamar Jackson. And, at Western Kentucky, he played behind Mike White, who some expect to be highly touted during next year’s pre-draft process.

These situations led to Ferguson never getting the opportunity to show off his natural arm talent, which Aaron Elliot compared to a former Titans quarterback, Zach Mettenberger.

"“Tyler has all of the intangibles that it takes to play in the NFL. He’s every bit of 6’3″, weighs over 230 pounds, and has the ability to drive the ball down the field with the best of them…The NFL scouts firmly believed that he had all of the checkmarks to play in the league. He is very similar to Zach Mettenberger…big, strong, physically very gifted, and has the ability to drive the ball.”"

2. He has experience in a Pro Style Offense.

Every single year, without exception, the NFL Draft’s top quarterback prospects are ridiculed for the simplicity of the offense they played in while in college, something they clearly cannot control. It is a somewhat legitimate concern, however. For every success story in transitioning from a spread offense such as Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill, there’s someone who couldn’t handle the transition.

Luckily for Tyler Ferguson, that’s something he won’t have to go through. At Penn State and Western Kentucky, Ferguson played under Bill O’Brien (who now coaches the Houston Texans) and Jeff Brohm, two coaches known for taking NFL style offenses to the college game. In fact, O’Brien’s offense managed to win an NFL playoff game with Brock Osweiler as its quarterback. Here’s what Elliot had to say about Ferguson’s knowledge of NFL play books:

"“At Penn State it was very much an NFL-ready type of offense, under Bill O’Brien who’s currently the head coach of the Texans. That’s what has allowed him to translate his game to now as he’s preparing for Sundays. Being under Bill O’Brien there were a lot of plays under center, a lot of 3, 5, and 7 step hitches; a lot of drive the ball down the field type of routes..At Western Kentucky, Jeff Brohm runs an NFL offense as well; he’s under center as well as in the gun, but under center predominately.”"

3. He can move around the pocket.

The ultimate downfall of Zach Mettenberger’s NFL career was his inability to evade a pass rush. His feet were like giant cinderblocks, which didn’t blend well with the Titans’ already poor offensive line. Because of this, he often panicked and tried to rely too heavily on his arm talent, resulting in many interceptions.

Though Ferguson’s size and arm strength are similar to Mettenberger’s, his athleticism separates him. He isn’t mobile to the level of Colin Kaepernick, or even to the level of Aaron Rodgers, but he does have the ability to move around the pocket and evade pass rushers. His vertical and broad jumps at his Pro Day, which resembled the numbers of Deshaun Watson, were measured at 31.5″ and 9’3″ respectively, indicative of competent lower body explosion for a quarterback.

According to Elliot, Ferguson’s athleticism is very sufficient:

"“Tyler is a very athletic quarterback…(The Titans) brought him in for a workout, and QB Coach Jason Michael firmly believed that Tyler was athletic enough to be able make the plays in the NFL that it takes to play. His arm strength is like Zach Mettenberger, and he studies the game like Russell Wilson.”"