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Behind the scenes: Pitt's Peterman goes 1-on-1 with Gruden at ESPN QB Camp

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, April 8, 2017, 5:36 p.m.
Jon Gruden watches Nathan Peterman during the 2017 class at Gruden QB Camp.
Heather Harvey | ESPN Images
Jon Gruden watches Nathan Peterman during the 2017 class at Gruden QB Camp.
Bay Lake, FL - April 4, 2017 - Wide World of Sports: The 2017 class at Gruden Camp
(Photo by Heather Harvey / ESPN Images)
Heather Harvey / ESPN Images
Bay Lake, FL - April 4, 2017 - Wide World of Sports: The 2017 class at Gruden Camp (Photo by Heather Harvey / ESPN Images)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The football left the quarterback's hand and hit its target with violent precision.

From its perch atop a tackling dummy, a Chuckie doll flew into the air and onto the grass where it laid there, lifeless.

Watching nearby, the living, breathing Chuckie smiled. Or, was it a knowing smirk? With Jon Gruden, you can't be sure.

What was clear is he expected nothing less than a kill shot from Nathan Peterman.

The NFL education of Pitt's former quarterback continued last Tuesday at Jon Gruden QB Camp on the grounds of ESPN Wide World of Sports.

Peterman was the last of seven top quarterback prospects invited to sit with the Super Bowl-winning coach, now an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," to discuss football strategy, answer Gruden's rapid-fire questions, review and critique past seasons and diagram plays on a white board — all of it unrehearsed.

Jon Gruden talks with Nathan Peterman for at Gruden's QB Camp. Photo by Heather Harvey for ESPN Images.

Peterman: 'NFL-ready'

This is the eighth season for ESPN's "Gruden QB Camp," and the network said 57 quarterbacks — including 15 current NFL starters — went through five hours of film study and on-field drills with Gruden.

To say he was impressed with Peterman's quarterback acumen — and his ability to carry it into the NFL — would be a massive understatement.

"You're about as NFL-ready as any quarterback we've had come through here," Gruden said. "Your ability in the pocket, I hate to say it, but it's professional. Somebody is making a mistake not drafting you. You're good enough to be in the league today."

Humbled, but not shy, Peterman answered, "I believe so."

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay agree, both placing Peterman in the second round in their latest mocks.

Photo by Heather Harvey for ESPN Images.

'Servant leader'

Peterman's leadership skills surfaced and evolved through two years as a starter at Pitt and a positive Senior Bowl experience. But he doesn't say follow me or else.

"I'm a servant leader," said Peterman, whose father Chuck and brother Aaron are pastors. "People know I care about them. I care about us winning the game more than anything."

All of this praise for Peterman doesn't mean he's ready to become a star this season or next, or even get on the field regularly as a rookie. He admits he has much to learn.

Gruden did point out one negative moment from last season when Peterman failed to score from the 1 on a quarterback sneak against Marshall. But even that was excusable.

"That's the only time I saw you fail," said Gruden, who spent more than a week watching 24 Peterman videos.

"He has to stay in the channel," Gruden said later. "That's why I love Peterman. I think he's going to be persistent, be consistent in what he does.

"He's just has to get his arm quicker, he has to get his mind quicker and he has to get his body quicker."

Before blasting the Chuckie doll, which was jammed inside a University of Dayton helmet (Gruden played quarterback there), Peterman came close, but missed, on four tries at throwing a football from 35 yards into a basket in the corner of the end zone.

The attempts were prompted by the trick shot video Peterman put together last summer.

"I've never seen a guy who can complete passes off bridges," Gruden said.

Some football talk

ESPN has designed its show to be a casual conversation between two football guys. Jay Rothman, ESPN vice president/production and "Monday Night Football producer," described it as having a "voyeuristic kind of reality show-type feel."

Peterman's appearance — five hours are edited down to 24 minutes — is scheduled to air 29 times, the first at 10 a.m. April 22 on ESPN2. Ten of those will run over the three days of the draft April 27-29.

Through four hours of film study — they stopped for a short break — Peterman took notes, continually addressed Gruden as "sir" and responded to repeated compliments with "I appreciate it."

Gruden kept the mood light, laughing when Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, clearly stressed, popped on the screen during Marshall's failed rally.

"Look at Narduzzi," Gruden said. "He's sweating."

Some revelations also surfaced such as the music Peterman listens to before games. He and Gruden share a fondness for the Australian worship band Hillsong United.

Also, Peterman, who got married and earned his MBA while attending Pitt the past two years, said he's never been to the "O," the famous hot dog shop on campus.

Hackett's assistant

Gruden, who was Pitt's $30,000-a-year wide receivers coach under Paul Hackett in 1991, talked of how far Pitt's workout facilities evolved in the past 26 years.

"When I coached at Pitt, (the weight room) was underground in a stadium, which is exploded, I think," he said, referring to Pitt Stadium.

That staff included three future NFL coaches (Gruden, Marvin Lewis and Mike McCarthy).

Gruden also said he was a big fan of the Pitt/Penn State rivalry.

"I used to sit there on Thanksgiving weekend and wait for that game," he said, "until some genius had the idea to cancel the series."

Gruden expressed amazement at Pitt's 2016 record-setting offense, its skill players and the unique play-calling of former coordinator Matt Canada.

"Who's that No. 10?" he said as Quadree Henderson took another jet sweep into the end zone.

"I have a lot of respect for what they've done in the past two years," he said, also giving credit to 2015 coordinator Jim Chaney.

"Look what you did to Clemson," Gruden told Peterman when another example of Pitt's pre-snap shifts appeared on the screen. "You really ticked them off."

Phone blows up

Gruden said he received 15 text messages after Pitt defeated eventual national champion Clemson.

"You needed Clemson as a proving ground to show the U.S., to show everybody that you can compete," Gruden told Peterman, who threw five touchdown passes in that game.

Having Gruden in his corner won't hurt Peterman's draft standing. Rothman said coaches and general managers habitually phone Gruden for quarterback intelligence. He said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked with Gruden for 30 minutes last year before drafting Dak Prescott in the fourth round.

Rothman said he dreamed up the show as a way of keeping Gruden busy in the off-season.

"We didn't want him going back to coaching," he said.

What started out as four quarterbacks — Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy — and a one-hour show that wasn't repeated turned into more than 140 hours of programming on seven ESPN networks.

In the beginning, Rothman needed to coax players' agents to allow their clients to do the show. "Now they come calling," he said. "It's like fish in a barrel for us."

When asked if he missed coaching, Gruden said, "This is coaching. My whole thing with this program is to help these guys 1 percent."

Said Rothman: "He's the Pied Piper of the league. He's Simon Cowell, and this is 'American Idol.' "

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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