North/West Xtra: By watching old 'movies' Colonials QB Sinclair improves
Robert Morris University quarterback Jeff Sinclair, a Highlands High School graduate, talks to head coach Joe Walton during a recent practice.
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It is fun to watch old home movies or videotapes.
It's nice to see what we looked liked and acted when we were younger. When we didn't have the knowledge we now possess.
Jeff Sinclair knows all about that because this is the time of the year when he sees a lot of old movies of himself. Movies from two years ago when he was a freshman quarterback for the Robert Morris Colonials ... movies from last year when he was the team's starting signal caller.
A junior, Sinclair knows he is better at his job. In fact, he might just be the best quarterback in the Northeast Conference this season.
He understands coach Joe Walton's offense, knows all the plays and has worked hard to become a drop-back, stay-in-the-pocket passer.
Sinclair shakes his head and laughs when he talks about those old movies of himself that Walton has been showing recently.
"We just watched film today," he said Monday before an afternoon practice at Joe Walton Stadium in Moon. "I missed a receiver who was wide open. He hooked up at about 15 yards and I just didn't see him. I scrambled ... got 10 yards and I think I got the first down.
"Joe was like 'What the heck are you doing?' It might have been in a game from last year ... maybe my freshman year, I don't know."
The points is that Sinclair, who is 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds, can make plays with his arm and his legs. Walton would rather Sinclair make them with his arm.
That's because he doesn't want to see his starting quarterback cut in half by a linebacker or strong safety. Walton knows that a healthy Sinclair gives the Colonials the best chance to win the NEC title and return to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
For his part, Sinclair knows it is safer to stay in the pocket, make his reads and find that open receiver.
As a freshman out of Highlands High School he discovered that linebackers in the NEC are bigger and hit harder than those in the WPIAL's Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference.
"I took some shots I shouldn't have [my freshman year] when I should have stepped out of bounds," he said. "Instead, I lowered the shoulder ... the linebackers are a lot bigger than in high school."
At Highlands, Sinclair was as gifted a runner as he was a passer. His senior year he ran for 1,222 yards and passed for another 1,262. He was also a good defensive back who didn't shy away from contact. A number of college scouts thought he would be a better safety than a quarterback. Sinclair didn't agree.
That's one of the reasons he went to Robert Morris. He said he knew he would be happy playing for the Colonials regardless of position. Walton figured all along that Sinclair would be a quarterback.
Sinclair isn't shy about tucking the football and running if he can't find an open receiver. He would rather try and pick up yardage than throw the ball away. But he understands there is a big difference between scrambling if no receiver is open and executing Walton's offense.
Sinclair, who passed for 1,920 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, now drops back and goes through his progression in looking for an open target. He has learned to stay in the pocket and wait for a teammate to break free instead of running like a scared rabbit.
"It was tough to learn that. You can tell that from my freshman year if you saw my first game," he said. "I watch it now and it's like 'What was I thinking?' I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off."
Still, he threw for 828 yards and nine scores in seven games as a freshman. He also rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries. Last year, he ran just 70 times in 11 games for 180 yards and five scores. Although those numbers don't appear to be particularly impressive, when considering that they include yardage lost by sacks -- NFL stats don't include those lost yards in a quarterback's rushing totals -- they become much more respectable.
The biggest thing is that Sinclair knows the Colonials' offense inside and out. He said spring ball was a re-run of the system for him. Training camp will just be another brush-up cycle.
"I know every play like it's nothing," Sinclair said. "Now I'm not thinking about what the plays are."
He is also stronger. He remained on campus this summer and spent a lot of time in the weight room and threw passes to anybody who would run routes for him.
He realizes there are things he still needs to get better at doing. His completion percentage last season was just 49.8 (128 for 257 with 10 interception) and Walton would like his quarterbacks to connect on 60 percent of their throws.
But Sinclair is more confident, more of a team leader than he has been in the past.
"I feel like a quarterback now, staying in the pocket even when there is pressure instead of just running wild," he said. "I'm more confident. I feel I can say things now and people will listen to me."
Sinclair has a 13-5 won-loss record as the Colonials' starting quarterback. It will be interesting to see what his record is the next two seasons now that he has learned Walton's offense and has figured out that running less is more of the way to play.
First Published August 18, 2011 12:00 am