BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The problem for Denton (Texas) Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard, to the extent that there is one for the consensus four-star prospect who has won a state championship, started since his sophomore season, and gained more than 7,000 total yards in those two years, is that while the ball usually gets where he wants it to go, it doesn't always have the tightest of rotations.
Well, scratch that. In the past, it didn't always have the tightest of rotations -- the Jerrod Heard on display at the Elite 11 Finals looked like a remarkably different quarterback then the one who showed up to the Dallas Elite 11 camp in early April.
Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer was quick to point out Heard's improvement when asked about the quarterback's development during a Saturday evening media availability.
"He's worked on it. He's spinning it now," Dilfer said, wasting no time getting down to the overview of his pupil's advancement.
As Dilfer explained to SB Nation Recruiting back in April, the most crucial component to a quarterback's spiral is their wrist load. Ready for some technical discussion of quarterback mechanics? Dilfer, as always, is willing to oblige.
"Opposite equals is a position that every great passer gets," Dilfer said. "So when the hands separate, you have elbow-wrist association -- your elbow and wrist are going to be somewhat level. That's going to create a natural load in the wrist. But the opposite part of that is the left arm at the back point, what we call opposite equals, is going to be very equal to your right arm and opposite relationship. That happens on foot strike. That's what starts the sequencing."
Dilfer then launched into a discussion of the areas in which Heard needed to improve. The areas in which Heard has in fact improved through his hard work and dedication to the process.
"In Dallas, he did a bunch of things wrong. He lifted before foot strike and then tried to save it on foot strike and there was always compensation," Dilfer said. "I conceptualized it with him before he missed the next day because of a track meet and I talked to his coach about it and some other staff members helped him throughout this time. To his credit, he worked on it, because today we had some pictures and it was really close. So you take that body, which has a ton of juice in it, and get him in the right positions, and the ball finishes."
More than just improvement in mechanics, which are hardly insignificant, Heard impressed Dilfer in other ways.
"I was concerned. I'll be honest with you," Dilfer said of Heard entering the finals when asked about the biggest surprises during the first two days of work in Oregon.
"He was the one in the war room I had concerns about -- not as a player because he's one of the best players I've seen all year, but I didn't know how he would handle this environment. He just doesn't play in a traditional, passing game offense. And I'd put him in the top eight right now if you forced me to make a list."
Since Elite 11 is more than just about mechanics and rising to the challenge of a difficult environment, Heard had to answer other questions Dilfer had for all the quarterbacks regarding their ability to digest the large quantity of information contained in the Elite 11 playbook, which the quarterbacks had two weeks to study.
"I wanted to test how good our methods were," Dilfer said. "I wanted to take the high-level athlete who is maybe raw as a passer and see if in a short amount of time we can polish them. And what I've seen, it's coming to fruition. Now, to his credit, Heard spent a ton of time with the playbook."
"Whoever worked with him leading up to this, he got good, sound training," said the Elite 11 head coach. "He didn't want to take any snaps from shotgun, he wanted everything under center. His balance, his rhythm, his timing, his drop, it was like a guy who had been playing from under center forever."
However, Heard still isn't quite a finished product, despite the well-earned praise. On Saturday, he was a bit slow to check down to his running back and sometimes let his feet get a bit a heavy instead of keeping them alive as he moved his eyes. Dilfer isn't concerned, though, noting that it's a common problem for many of the quarterbacks at the finals and an easy skill to improve.
"Check downs are the hardest thing for everyone," Dilfer said Saturday evening. "Most high school quarterbacks don't throw check downs unless your running back is a freak and you design it. Every year, for the first couple of days, the check downs are sloppy. By the end, they get it -- it's just tying your eyes to your feet. He gets it. We've talked about it in here and they've seen it, so that's the least I'm worried about."
And given the on-field production that helped Heard emerge as the only real Texas quarterback target in the 2014 class and it's probably safe to say that the Longhorn offensive brain trust isn't any more concerned about Heard checking down than Dilfer.
After all, now that Heard is sequencing better because he's keeping his right and left arms level during his delivery to better load his wrist, the ball is coming out better and finishing better, with greater accuracy and velocity. It's scary news for Guyer opponents this fall and heartening news for Major Applewhite and company.