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Syracuse football film room: How Garrett Shrader improved as a passer

Shrader’s improvement in the pocket was a key reason the Orange won on Saturday night. What changed from 2021 to 2022?

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange defeated the Louisville Cardinals 31-7 in a home opener that announced to the world that this version of the Orange was different than last year’s team that often seemed lethargic and predictable on offense. A big reason for those characteristics was that quarterback Garrett Shrader had obvious issues pushing the ball downfield with any consistency, and the Orange leaned on Sean Tucker’s legs to move the offense.

After Shrader’s Week 1 performance, we can safely say that this year will be different because of his improvement in the passing attack. The senior QB threw for 237 yards on just 25 attempts with 2 touchdowns in a performance that rated better than any Power 5 QB in the country.

It’s easy to say that the new offensive scheme did most of the work to open up the offense, but let’s not ignore the very obvious changes Shrader has made to throwing ability. I wanted to dive into these changes, but with the caveat that I’m not a football coach; I am a 99th percentile baseball fan who played long enough to understand throwing mechanics, thus a lot of the terminology I use to describe what’s happening may not be commonly used in football circles, so I will define them as we break down Shrader’s throws from this year compared to last year.

Medium Throw, Left Sideline

Let’s start with the first throw Shrader attempted, which was completed for a first down and had everyone in the NunesMagician Slack typing “Ok, this is new.” Look below at how Shrader sets for throw, as compared to the second image which is from the Orange’s game against Boston College last year when Shrader attempted a similar throw and was picked off.

Shrader’s biggest issue last season was inconsistency with throw location, as he could target the same route three times with three different ball locations. We see in last year’s footage that while he’s set, he’s got a wide stance leaning on his back foot, while this year, he’s narrowed the stance just a hair, and is stepping into the throw keeping his weight centered. Look how that plays out as he continues his motion through the release point (where the ball leaves his hand).

Shrader is upright throughout the motion, really moving through his plant leg (his left leg where he has planted it in the ground to throw off of) during the motion. Compare that to his motion last year below:

You can see that he’s using far more of his upper body by how much straighter his plant leg is in the throw, and it leads to what I think is the biggest improvement for Shrader: his balance. I don’t think this was a situation where Shrader needed his motion overhauled, he just needed tweaks to retain balance and create consistency in his throws. Let’s stay with the BC game for a comparison that I think illustrates this well.

Deep Ball, Right Side

Last season, Shrader showed flashes of his arm strength and overall ability with a handful of deep touchdowns in big situations. Below you can see his release of a beautiful ball throw to the right corner of the field that scored a touchdown against Wake Forest.

Now compare that to his completion made Friday night made in a similar situation.

Apologies for the blur, the cameraman was anticipating the throw a bit early so it’s not as clear as the last, but what’s important is Shrader’s body: Last year, you can actually see him lean to the left on a beautiful throw that was completed, but that kind of shift in weight will lead to inconsistencies over time. This year, Shrader’s balance seems far more consistent in how he’s throwing all types of passes, including the Syracuse favorite that will be our last example.

Medium, Right Sideline

This was the most stark contrast in throws that led to this article’s creation, as in the tweet, you can see how Shrader stays upright and throws through the plant leg, while last year he’s leaning forward and using his upper body to add velocity to the throw. In a system that loves to throw to the sidelines, the quarterback has to be able to deliver the ball to spaces that only the intended target can reach, and last season we saw many paces spiked a yard or two in front of the receiver on these routes. Friday night, Shrader was placing passes perfectly, and all game long, I only counted two passes that were incompletions because Shrader put the ball in a poor location, and both times the receiver was still able to make a play for the ball.

I’m sure that if someone is able to spend extended time with Shrader or quarterbacks coach or Jason Beck, they’d be able to explain the changes in Shrader’s game in greater detail. Until then, we can at least enjoy what is the first very tangible impact this coaching staff has had, and appreciate Shrader’s ability to improve in meaningful ways at the quarterback position.