With lefty Ragone, Quakers manage alright
Penn quarterbacks coach dispels myths about southpaw QB
September 27, 2011, 11:59 pm · Updated September 29, 2011, 2:25 pm·
Rachel Bleustein | DP
At face value, Penn quarterback Billy Ragone might not have much in common with Barack Obama or Jimi Hendrix — but all three are among the 10 percent of left-handed Americans.
It’s debatable as to whether left-handedness offers an advantage in the realm of politics or electric guitar, but for Ragone and the rest of the Penn offense, the minor adjustments to a righty’s game of football have become a nonfactor.
“Definitely over the years [I] got used to flipping stuff in my head, seeing guys going through different plays, different actions,” Ragone said. “Kinda putting myself in their shoes, running through like all left-handed guys should.”
While Ragone has adjusted throughout his career, the biggest challenge for southpaw quarterbacks comes from a coaching perspective.
Larry Woods, who is in his 17th season as the Quakers’ quarterbacks coach, is no stranger to adjusting to lefties. Woods worked with lefty Kyle Olson back in 2009, so when Ragone earned the starting job, he was one step ahead.
But other than Olson and Ragone, “Virtually every quarterback I have coached in recent time, and certainly through my time here at Penn, was a right-hander,” he said.
One thing Woods — a righty — has had to alter is his long-standing, seven-on-seven “skelly” drill, in which the ball is usually placed on the left hashmark, forcing the quarterback to sprint out to his right side. Because offenses are typically designed around a quarterback’s ability to sprint toward his throwing side, Woods had to adjust to Ragone’s strengths.
“For years, my scripts are already made. They have the drills start on the left hashmark,” he said. “Well, all of a sudden Billy is the first quarterback, and I have the sprint outs coming off of the left hash for a left quarterback and that’s not what we want to do.”
With his experience, Woods could dispel some of the myths regarding left-handed quarterbacks. Woods said the mechanics of both throws and drop backs are no different.
“It’s really not that big of a deal, other than that it looks funny,” he said. “All lefty throwing motions are a little bit odd. They’re a little bit more sidearm than the right- handers that come over the top. Mechnically, they’re the same.”
Some people claim the snap is also affected by a left-hander under center. Typically a right-handed center snaps into a hold with the right hand on top. Woods says it’s not an issue, though he adds that a left-handed center would be more cause for confusion.
Additionally, the ball spirals in the opposite direction when released from a left-handed throw.
“That’s probably a little bit overstated, unless it’s a long ball,” he said. “But if you ask the receivers, they wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
Ragone’s offensive tackles also have to take note of the quarterback’s orientation. Although Ragone and second-string quarterback Ryan Becker, a righty, have taken their fair share of snaps in the past, the coaching staff has opted not to shuffle the tackles depending on who is under center.
Regardless, left tackle Greg Van Roten is always aware of who is under center.
“[With the] pass game it’s a little bit different because I don’t have as much pressure on me because now Billy can see if I get beat,” the senior captain said, “which is very rare.”
But when Becker is in, Van Roten is responsible for protecting his blind side and must take extra caution.
“I really need to make sure I do my job extra well, just in case I do get beat and Becker doesn’t know,” he said. “You don’t want the ball on the ground, turnovers and stuff like that. You think a little bit more about that stuff.”
The adjustments may be small for the Quakers, but the offensive scheme becomes slightly left of center with Ragone at the helm.
“There’s not a whole lot else outside of screwing my drills up sometimes,” Woods joked. “My drills have been right-handed so long.”