Tennessee Titans QB Cole McDonald’s preparation for a transition to the NFL began four years ago when he was just 18 years old, his college position coach said.
“He would say, ‘hey, coach me hard,’ from the moment he came in as a freshman,” said Craig Stuzmann, McDonald’s QB coach at Hawaii. “‘You can coach me hard, I promise. Just get me better, get me to be the best because I want to play in the NFL one day.’
“We went through four years together, and I coached him hard every day, demanded what he needed, and he never once complained.”
The seventh-round draft pick from Hawaii will face some obstacles as he adapts to playing at the next level, but his preparation in college should make them a lot easier to overcome. Stuzmann explained why in an interview with A to Z Sports.
Knowing Both Sides of the Ball
The preseason just got a lot more fun. Cole McDonald is 6-4, 235, and he ran a 4.58 at the combine. 8,000 combined passing yards his final two seasons at Hawaii.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) April 25, 2020
Hawaii’s offense during McDonald’s college career featured a “run and shoot” scheme with run-pass options and designed quarterback runs added in. The scheme required McDonald to develop an understanding of defensive coverages.
“I think what it does is it helps the quarterback truly understand coverages at a very deep level, a deeper level than a lot of offenses require of the quarterbacks to know,” said Stuzmann, who’s currently the QB coach and co-offensive coordinator at Washington State.
“Not just how to identify coverages, but how to manipulate them. How to use your eyes and shoulders, and how our concepts can affect defenses.”
At the line of scrimmage, McDonald didn’t have a coach in his ear telling him exactly what to do. It was all up to the 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound signal-caller.
“We did a lot of checking at the line of scrimmage, more than a lot of people would understand, and we put a lot on Cole,” Stutzmann said.
“We had some plays where we had dual play calls within the play and, gosh, he would grade out every game at least at 90% in terms of getting us into the right play or killing a certain call and going with the second one.”
The Mariota Connection
Cole McDonald on comfort level in the #Titans play-action style:
I’m very comfortable. Its all about being an athlete and adapting. Looking to master the craft and get after it.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) April 25, 2020
Another part of McDonald’s background gives him an edge as he transitions to the NFL is his connection to former Titans starting QB Marcus Mariota.
Stuzmann, who taught and coached Mariota in middle school, leaned on the Heisman-winner as he worked with McDonald.
“Last year, Marcus came up to our film room at Hawaii,” Stuzmann said.
“I asked if Cole could sit in on one or two of those meetings to just kind of get a feel for what it’s like playing in the pros—how to take notes, how to see things.
“Marcus was very open to it. They were able to sit down, and we would watch film. Cole was just like a fly on the wall. He would sit down and just listen, take notes, and soak in really invaluable information.”
Mariota also helped out by giving Stuzmann tips on various drills and exercises that assisted in his development as a passer.
“There are similar physical attributes between Marcus and Cole, so being able to get in contact with Marcus and say, ‘hey, I know, going through college and high school, there were issues that you dealt with in terms of physical things. I’ve got a guy like that over here in Hawaii who needs to work on similar things,'” Stuzmann said.
“Marcus, being Marcus, was very open about it. He would say, ‘you could work on this, you could do this.'”
Embracing the Culture
Off the field and outside of the meeting rooms, McDonald figures to adapt well to the NFL and the Titans, in particular, because of his personality. He fits the mold of the Titans’ team-first, work-hard culture.
When he arrived in Hawaii, McDonald showed his humility by not only adapting to Hawaiian culture but fully embracing it.
“I think it was prior to last season, he got the Hawaiian islands tattooed on the outside of his forearm,” Stuzmann said.
“Hawaiian people are very open and honest with you, and we like to bring people into our culture as long as they have an open mind about it and are humble about it. I think he went around doing it the right way.”
“People who got to know Cole fell in love with him.”
McDonald faces an uphill battle to earn the Titans’ backup QB job in Training Camp, but it’s certainly possible.
He may have some technique issues that NFL scouts have picked apart for months, but his experiences at Hawaii give him a sizeable head start in acclimating to the NFL.
“He’s like a kid, he’s like a second son to me,” Stuzmann said. “He’s part of my family. I can’t wait to see him do some good things with the Tennessee Titans.”
Cover image: Brian Losness / USA Today