IOWA CITY, Iowa — His high school coach thinks of one person when watching Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras play — a Hall of Fame quarterback.
“John Elway was maybe a little bit faster than Spencer was, but he has that freaking cannon,” Marin Catholic (Calif.) football coach Mazi Moayed said. “That ball just jumps out of his hand. He’s pretty doggone impressive with the big, tall frame.”
Petras is elusive enough to buy himself time in the pocket, but Moayed knows Elway was more athletic and faster than his former signal caller.
But when each throws the football, their skill sets are similar. Land of 10 lets Moayad explain why he thinks Elway is the perfect comparison for Petras.
Both look like the prototypical quarterback. Elway played at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds with the Denver Broncos. Petras arrived at Iowa in January standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 225 pounds.
“It’s the first thing anyone notices about a quarterback,” said Moayed, who also serves as the Marin Catholic quarterbacks coach.
Looking beyond size, the first trait that jumps out about both is arm strength. Elway’s arm was so strong the Denver Post was writing stories about it years after he retired.
The ball makes a distinctive whoosh sound coming out of Petras’ hand few quarterbacks can replicate. There is a reason why Moayed calls it the strongest arm he’s ever coached, even stronger than NFL quarterback Jared Goff’s.
“When he is out there playing or warming up the ball just explodes out of his hand,” Moayed told Land of 10 in December. “There is a wow factor to it absolutely.”
In Moayed’s mind, arm strength that not only brings Petras and Elway together, but separates them from other quarterbacks and makes them so dangerous.
Elway used his right arm to lead the Broncos to two Super Bowls and throw for 51,475 career yards. Petras used his to throw for 4,157 yards, 50 touchdowns and 2 interceptions this past season.
“They makes every area on the field and every player on the field relevant because of their arm,” Moayed said.
The confidence factor
Moayed always thought Elway carried himself with a certain swagger. Tell him to do anything, even the outrageous, and he would expect to do it.
Petras is the same way.
“You challenge him with something and he believes he can hit that bullseye 80 yards away,” Moayed said. “It’s almost his immediate response without even thinking about it.”
Combining the arm and confidence
Elway was always a threat to make a play with the football in his hand. The fact he consistently did so is why he’s considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
“You can have really good receivers,” Moayed said. “You can have really good tight ends. They can run the greatest routes in the world, but if you don’t have a quarterback who can throw the comeback or the deep post or the verticals, then those guys skill sets are irrelevant.”
It’s with the vertical pass that Petras showed how he combines his arm strength and confidence. His senior year Hudl highlight tape is one long series of downfield tosses.
The third clip in the sequence stands out. Shot from an end zone camera, Petras works his way through at least three options before settling on a receiver running a vertical route.
It’s not an easy toss into a small window. The receiver is heading to the back of the end zone with a defender right on his hip. A safety is coming in support as well. The pass sails right over the defensive back and hits his receiver without breaking stride for a touchdown.
“You got to have the ability,” Moayed told Land of 10 in December, “but you have to have the knack for that too, the desire to fit the ball in there. He has that.”
Petras likes his arm and he likes taking shots down field. In fact, he’s looking to do it every chance he gets.
“For me if a vertical is there you have to take it,” Petras told Land of 10 in December. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities to make a big play and when they come up it’s important to execute.”
Combine Petras’ arm strength, his faith in his downfield throw and the previous comment and it’s easy to see him with the skill set of another Hall of Fame player — Brett Favre.
Petras sounds a lot like Favre, and trusts his arm in the same way the old Green Bay gunslinger does, but Moayed thinks the comparison is a little off base.
“Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks all-time in the NFL,” Moayed said, “but he was careless sometimes. I think he drove his coaches crazy at times. Spencer will take risks, but he takes care of the ball as well. He doesn’t really turn the ball over a whole lot. That is something he prides himself in.”
Moayed thinks the closest modern-day comparison for Petras is Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. Like with Elway, it’s tied into their arm strength.
But for Moayed, Elway is the true comparison. The arm strength and swagger is there. Time will tell if Petras, still an unfinished product, grows closer into being an Elway clone in the years to come.
“He still has a little bit of a baby-face and the upside of that obviously is he has some continued maturing to do physically,” Moayed said. “So as scary as he is right now he is going to be even scarier as time moves forward.”