The 2015 NFL season is only two games old, but already Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has become the most talked about player in the league. Thought to be competing for no higher than backup QB for the Bills, an afterthought behind E. J. Manuel and Matt Cassel, Taylor stormed through the pre-season and won the starting quarterback job outright.
What makes this even more amazing is that Taylor, who played quarterback at Virginia Tech from 2007 to 2010 and set all sorts of school records—including most career passing and rushing yards by a quarterback and most touchdown passes in a season—had already been in the NFL for four years, backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore, where he appeared in 14 games, but never got the opportunity to start.
Taylor’s moment is now. After leading the Bills to a surprising victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 (watch his touchdown pass to Percy Harvin above), the dual-threat quarterback almost brought Buffalo back against the mighty New England Patriots the following week. Taylor’s success may have taken casual NFL fans by surprise, but the training staff at EXOS, the facility where he worked out all off-season, knew he had every chance in the world to make it behind center.
STACK caught up with Brett Bartholomew, the EXOS strength and conditioning coach who worked with Taylor, to find out how the QB prepared his body for this opportunity.
STACK: What was your main focus with Tyrod this off-season?
Brett Bartholomew: The refinement of fundamentals and building a strong base. Due to the new CBA, NFL players do not get as much time with their team strength and conditioning coaches as they used to. That puts the ball in my court to ensure that these guys go into OTA’s and camp as ready as they can be to withstand the high-tempo rigors of life in the NFL, especially as the pre-season draws closer. We focused on movement quality and got him strong, powerful, mobile and in great condition.
What was Tyrod’s biggest strength coming in, and what was his biggest weakness you wanted to help him correct?
His mentality is without a doubt his biggest strength. If one could describe the majority of athletes as soldiers in how they attack the game, then you could describe Tyrod as special operations. He understands how the micro affects the macro and does not let emotions get the best of him. The biggest thing we wanted to work on was making him as well-rounded physically as possible. He is already naturally extremely fast, explosive and athletic. But relying on athleticism alone won’t keep you in the league; durability does that. Aside from strength and power training, we enhanced durability through exposing him to different drills, working on proper deceleration mechanics, cutting and also incorporating lots of reactive drills that relied heavily on decision making. For example, in one agility drill, the color “orange” meant he had to move left, while the color “blue” meant he had to move right. Nothing about the relationship between those colors and their corresponding actions is intuitive, so he has to pay attention to perform it correctly and make the best decision. By getting him to hone in on this level, it trains his brain in many of the same ways that it would with him having to pick up a blitz or recognize different coverages.
Did you change how you prepared Tyrod, knowing he might have the chance to compete for the starting job in Buffalo?
No. I treat every athlete as if they are preparing to play for the Super Bowl. They never know when their time will come. We cannot control that. What I can and do control is that when their time does come, they are mentally and physically ready to show the world what they are capable of. There will be ups and downs in performance throughout all of their careers. That is natural. But that shouldn’t be the case with their conditioning level and physical strength qualities.
How have you seen your work with Tyrod translate to his play in the first two games?
The fluidity of his movements inside and outside of the pocket. The angles he takes when cutting and changing direction are powerful and purposeful. I have no direct way of objectively measuring the current “real time” results of the decision making and reactive work we did in the off-season to decisions he makes now, but research clearly supports the enhancement of what we call “processing fluency”—of him being able to adapt accurately to various stimuli.