We recently had the chance to talk with Josh Graham, who is the publisher of InsideECUSports.com and also a senior columnist at The East Carolinian, about Chicago Bears' undrafted free agent quarterback Shane Carden.
Windy City Gridiron - I know it's hard to quantify a player's ability in the clutch, but was Carden able to come through with the big play when East Carolina needed it?
Josh Graham - Certainly. There's no better example than when ECU saw its three-touchdown lead at No. 17 Virginia Tech evaporate in the final minute of the game and Carden marched his team 65 yards on three plays. The last of which was his one-yard quarterback keeper that put the Pirates ahead for good with 17 seconds remaining, clinching the school's first road win against a ranked opponent since 1997. There were two other late-game situations where Carden executed effectively last year, but they were overlooked in defeat. First, despite sprinting in for a touchdown to erase an 18-point deficit and put ECU in the lead, 46-45, with 1:02 remaining, Cincinnati covered the length of the field to prevail at home. Then, on his Senior Night, Carden once again rallied for a late score to capture the lead, but — as most of the country has seen by now — UCF completed an improbable, game-winning Hail Mary to Breshad Perriman with no time remaining.
WCG - Carden, while highly productive and accurate, seems to have a really wonky delivery. When I watch his 2014 film, he's mostly all arm when throwing the ball. Is this just how's he's always been and is it something the coaches tried to break him of?
Josh Graham - When former ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is now at Oklahoma serving in the same capacity, worked with Carden during all three of his years as the Pirates' signal caller, he was satisfied enough with Carden's productivity to mess with his delivery. However, footwork has been Carden's primary area of emphasis since ECU's season ended in January. Carden has worked with two former Heisman trophy winners, Chris Weinke and Vinny Testaverde, with the IMG Passing Academy over the last few months. Testaverde said that once Carden corrects his footwork, which he seemed to make great strides on during his pro day in March, he expects everything else to follow suit. Testaverde and Weinke have also conditioned Carden to hold the ball higher during his drops and delivery.
WCG - Carden recently told the Chicago Sun Times that East Carolina's spread offense isn't like many of the others we're used to seeing, where the O is looking to the sideline before each play. He says he has a lot more responsibility at the line of scrimmage in comparison to other shotgun spread QBs making the transition to the NFL. How much freedom did he have with making checks at the line and in adjusting protection?
Josh Graham - Especially during his final season at East Carolina, Carden had plenty of freedom with play-calling and checks at the line of scrimmage. This is mostly due to Riley's quarterbacking background — he played the position as a walk-on at Texan Tech, before joining Mike Leach's staff — and how simplified verbiage for his quarterbacks. The major pluses with Carden are his football IQ and ability to check the Pirates into the correct play. At the pace ECU's high-octane, "Air Raid" offense was ran, these qualities should not overlooked, especially when you consider how much the NFL is trending towards quicker spread offenses.
WCG - This may seem like an odd question, but there's a part of the Chicago Bears' fan base that really wants a rah-rah, in your face kind of player at quarterback. Does this describe Carden at all or his is he more of a lead-by-example type player?
Josh Graham - He was the unquestioned leader of the offense. Since his favorite target, Falcons draft pick and the NCAA FBS' career receptions leader Justin Hardy, was more of a quiet, lead-by-example guy, Carden was relied on to motivate his teammates vocally. I can't recall a specific time where Carden was visibly animated and got into anybody's face, but he was known to say something when words were necessary. After all, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill didn't call him "Cap'n" for nothing.
WCG - OK, bottom line, do you think Carden has what it takes to make an NFL roster or practice squad?
Josh Graham - Yes, I do. He just brings too much to the table with his understanding of how to effectively run a spread offense and possesses a unique skill set that could potentially be useful for scout team purposes. The two multi-year starting quarterbacks that McNeill and Riley coached before Carden — Dominique Davis at ECU and Graham Harrell at Texas Tech — both landed on NFL rosters despite being undrafted. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that's a coincidence.
Thanks again to Josh for giving us the inside scoop on Shane Carden!