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Kliff Kingsbury's roadmap for developing young quarterbacks


Kliff Kingsbury is getting another shot in the NFL.

After spending last season as a senior offensive analyst for USC, Kingsbury is returning to the professional ranks, this time as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders. He just got done going through the exhaustive, comprehensive effort of filling out his staff alongside head coach Dan Quinn, bringing in coaches with diverse backgrounds to help him turn around an offense that has been middling at best for the better part of a decade. 

Most of Kingsbury's success, however, will hinge upon who his quarterback will be.

The Commanders are obviously keeping quiet about what they plan to do with the No. 2 overall pick in April, but there's going to be some serious temptations to take one of the top quarterbacks available. Whether it's North Carolina's Drake Maye, LSU's Jayden Daniels or one of the other players in what is considered a strong class, many draft analysts believe Washington will try to find their next signal-caller for the foreseeable future.

If that is the direction Washington takes, it will pair that quarterback with a coach in Kingsbury who has a long track record of elevating players at the position.

"First off, you got to have talented players to work with. There's no doubt," Kingsbury said. "I've been very fortunate to be around some really good players, good people, but I just try to figure out what makes them tick. Everybody's different."

When it comes to finding talented quarterbacks to work with, Kingsbury has that requirement locked down. Over his 16-year coaching career, which spanned college and the NFL, he's spent time with Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray. Keenum, Manziel and Mahomes were some of the best quarterbacks in college football -- Keenum and Mahomes broke several program and national records under Kingsbury, while Manziel was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy -- and Murray was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 for completing 64.4% of his passes for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"Everybody learns differently," Kingsbury said, so the first things he tries to do with any quarterback is understand who they are as people and how they process the game. 

With Mahomes, for example, the three-time Super Bowl MVP's competitive nature shines whenever he's on the field. That much was clear when Kingsbury was recruiting Mahomes out of high school. "It was like he knew he was going to find a way to win," Kingsbury said, "and it didn't look traditional and he'd shuffle back and kind of just move around and make plays. But he was the best player."

"I kind of stayed out of his way a little bit in college. I didn't want to take that away from him ever."

When asked about his thoughts on ideal characteristics for a quarterback, Kingsbury jokingly said, "The Chiefs quarterback," but there was some truth to his answer. Obviously, having the best quarterback of his generation would solve problems for several teams, but he does share traits with several other players around the league.

"You watch those guys, [San Francisco QB] Brock [Purdy] and him [Mahomes] at the end [of the Super Bowl], like when the money's on the table, you got to be able to make some plays, with your feet move around enough to escape a bad play," Kingsbury said. "And it doesn't mean you got to run like [Baltimore Ravens QB] Lamar or [Arizona Cardinals QB] Kyler Murray, but you better be able to move a little bit and buy yourself some time because the D Line, the rushes the defense these days are so good."

Mahomes has made a habit of creating magic on the field, often to the frustration of his opponents, but that's not what Kingsbury would say is his best quality. Mahomes' "superpower," Kingsbury said, is who he is as a person. He knows how to treat people and his teammates to get the most out of them.

Mahomes is also an incredibly hard worker, which is a trait that any aspiring quarterback needs to have if they hope to make it in the NFL.

"You want that player to be the hardest worker on your team," Kingsbury said. "You want them to lead those guys each and every day when he shows up in the building, you want them to lift the building up, and that's why those guys make the type of money they do."

Deciding what to do with the No. 2 overall picks, regardless of how they use it, will be one of the most important things Washington does all offseason, but it isn't the only item on the team's list of priorities. Kingsbury and the rest of his staff still need to evaluate the players on the current roster and address needs in free agency before determining if they want to draft a quarterback.

If that is the path they decide to take, the Commanders are confident Kingsbury can help guide their new quarterback.

"We're really pumped that he's going to be a part of it," Quinn said of Kingsbury. "Obviously, I know people talk about his acumen with quarterbacks and that's proven, but he's also an excellent coach."

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