Drew Brees is back in shotgun. He calls for the snap, takes three quick steps, and settles in to scan the field.
Brees does the same thing on the next snap and the next one and the next one, each time settling in eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. Each step is always the same. The distance never changes.
Sometimes Brees might be forced to move about, stepping this way or that to avoid the rush, but he always begins in the same place. He’s so consistent with his placement on the field that the offensive line operates as if Brees is always going to begin in that spot, eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“I know where he is with my back turned,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “And so, when you’re protecting someone that you can’t see, and you don’t know where they’re going to be, it’s very difficult. I use his consistency to my advantage. I know where he’s going to go.
“So I know at a certain place I don’t have to keep running. I know that I can stop. I know that I can make that guy come to me because I know where Drew’s going to be behind me.”
Strief and his cohorts appreciate Brees’ consistency, and it is something the quarterback says he
takes a great deal of pride in being consistent in the pocket. His ability to expertly navigate the pocket comes from preparation and that one thing spills into another, whether it be his work in the film room, the weight room, or what happens on the practice field.
“The minute game day rolls around you’ve played this game over in your mind a thousands, thought about this play that play, this defense that defense,” Brees said. “You feel like you’re prepared for anything and that’s when you go out there with ultimate confidence and you’re able to cut it loose.”
There are plenty of quarterbacks around the league who are consistent in their approach, but getting to the same spot on each snap is only part of the equation.
Few are able to navigate a pocket as consistently as Brees. Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady have rare awareness, though few would argue they possess the same ability to climb the pocket.
Because Brees is so good at sensing and sidestepping pressure, he is able to stand in the pocket longer than most other quarterbacks and still get a pass off -— even more so than his heralded counterparts in Denver and New England.
“Sixth sense. He feels and sees everything,” Former Saints fullback and current NFL Network analyst Heath Evans said. “Drew senses things coming his way that others don’t. And he’s never early in his ability to even shimmy up in the pocket or run away.
“The guy is spot on. Sean (Payton) won’t take credit for that, (Saints offensive coordinator) Pete Carmichael won’t take credit for that, the offensive — nobody will take credit for that because it’s just something God gave Drew that most people don’t have.”
One of the reasons Brees is able to aptly navigate the pocket is because his feet never stop moving once he gets to his spot.
As soon he arrives there, his feet move, bounce and shuffle, and his hips effortlessly flip in and out as he goes through his progressions.
But that’s only part of it. While is doing his shuffling or climbing the pocket, he’s always looking for a way to get a pass off. Payton says this is what makes Brees different from other quarterbacks.
“It’s one thing to climb the pocket and take off or flush and take off, but his subtle movements are always with the idea that the ball could come out at any time,” Payton said. “He’s very athletic so his lower-body strength is a huge asset to him.”
But that isn’t the only thing that separates Brees from his peers. He’s also a lot more athletic than some of his counterparts.
Watch Brady or Manning navigate the pocket and the contrast is stark. Brady moves with much heavier feet, and Manning is somewhere between the two quarterbacks in terms of his athleticism. Neither is as nimble or as spry as Brees.
“I think he’s extremely underrated as an athlete. I think people generally discuss athletes as being able to outrun a safety once he’s out in the open,” Strief said. “His ability to move his feet in the pocket, his explosiveness in climbing the pocket ... that type of explosiveness I think is rare. I don’t think there are a lot of guys who do it as well as he does.”
Watching Brees play, it’s easy to notice that he moves about the pocket and has a level of awareness that most other quarterbacks do not possess. Evans believes that it is all instincts — that something in Brees’ brain goes off when danger is closing in.
And perhaps it is, but Strief believes it comes from somewhere else.
“Of course some of it with him in instincts,” Strief said. “There’s a lot of about him that is instinctual. But I think it comes from his studying, his knowledge of the game, and what we’re trying to do that creates the instinct.”
Whatever it is or wherever it generates from, Brees has few peers when it comes to his approach in the pocket, maybe none.