Breaking down Cole McDonald’s much improved throwing motion from Titans training camp

Cole McDonald was one of the most interesting quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft class. He has the size, arm talent, and athleticism that scouts drool over and some eye-popping stats to back up the physical traits. However, there were two primary reasons that he was available at pick 224 in the 7th round:

  1. He had turnover issues at Hawaii, tossing 24 interceptions over the past two seasons.
  2. His throwing motion was, well… unconventional.

The turnover problem can be explained, at least in part, by the aggressive nature of the offense that he played in. Hawaii’s famed run-and-shoot attack features a built-in touchdown-to-checkdown mentality that asks it’s signal-callers to be extremely aggressive throwing downfield. That’s a trait that can be addressed at the NFL level, and many coaches would tell you that they’d rather have to reel a quarterback back in than encourage him to be more aggressive.

The throwing motion, on the other hand, is something that is less easily fixed. Some coaches, including Kyle Shanahan, believe that by the time a quarterback reaches the NFL level, their motion is a part of the package, too ingrained to be re-trained.

Others believe that change is possible. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo are two examples of passers who made relatively large modifications to their throwing motion at the pro level.

We got our first real peek at Cole McDonald’s new motion today, courtesy of WKRN’s Emily Proud.

Originally tweeted by Emily Proud (@emily_proud) on August 14, 2020.

So let’s take a look back at what McDonald’s motion looked like in college and compare it to what we just saw here.

McDonald’s motion featured a big loop. He starts from a good position with the ball at chest level, two hands on it, centered between his spine and throwing shoulder. However, the first issue comes up immediately as he begins his windup and drops the ball down to his waist.

Dropping the ball down is a no-no for several reasons. First, it’s wasted motion, but just as critically, it’s putting the ball in a spot where it’s easy to swipe for edge rushers creeping around behind the quarterback.

The ball then goes away from the body as he starts to bring it back up, another no-no for the same reasons, and then finally it gets released. The entire process takes too long and puts the ball in harm’s way.

Here is an example of what you’d like a throwing motion to look like, courtesy of QB1 Ryan Tannehill. Notice how much tighter the delivery is.

Now, let’s step ahead to McDonald’s work to rebuild his motion this summer. The former Hawaii QB spent time with QB gurus Jordan Palmer and Steve Calhoun working on re-training the muscle memory. You can see the intentional focus on bringing the ball straight back and then forward as he works in this clip from his Instagram this summer.

Now, let’s come back to Emily’s video from training camp and slow it down. Just keep your eye on the ball and you can see the difference. Instead of dropping down, pushing away from the body, and then finally coming forward like he did at Hawaii, McDonald brings the ball straight back and then forward with very little wasted motion.

The disclaimer here is obviously that they are working against air and it’s much easier to focus on your fundamentals when you’re in this kind of setting. When there are hordes of 300-pound pass rushers bearing down on you and a defense to read, that’s when we will know if this change has truly stuck for McDonald, but this is a good first sign.

Author: Mike HerndonAfter over 20 years of annoying his family and friends with constant commentary about the Titans, Mike started writing down his thoughts in 2017 for Music City Miracles. He loves to dive into the All-22 tape and highlight the nuanced details that win and lose football games. You can now find his tape breakdowns and Anthony Firkser love letters at Broadway Sports. Mike also spends time laughing at Lebowski and yelling at Zach on the Football and Other F Words Podcast.


  1. “When there are hordes of 300-pound pass rushers bearing down on you and a defense to read, that’s when we will know if this change has truly stuck for McDonald, but this is a good first sign.“

    Unfortunately he may not get this opportunity in live action for some time.

  2. Nice article, Mike. I’ve missed these breakdowns during the offseason. Do you get real media credentials this year at all to be able go watch practice?

  3. Another reason all that wasted motion is bad is that it takes so darn long that DBs can jump routes. It’s part of why Leftwich was never as good as his cannon indicated that he should be. It made a guy who had a massive arm look like he had adequate but not great arm talent. Romo was so good in part because he just flicked it and it was out fast so that there wasn’t a count or two of warning for DBs to drive on it.

    Nice breakdown, just wanted to add another reason it needs to be worked out. It may have also contributed to his interception woes although I don’t have proof of that.

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