Concern Over Colt McCoy in Cleveland’s Climate; It’s All in the Wrist

August 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

With much to learn, Colt watches the first team. Photo courtesy of Kat Ladrach Photography

Since the drafting off Colt McCoy there has been a lot of speculation by fans, journalists, and broadcasters alike; they are wondering how his “weak” arm will fair in the climate of Cleveland. The way the wind can whip off of Lake Erie, which is right next to Cleveland Browns Stadium, combined with the rain, sleet, and snow bring problems. While there is cause for some concern, it can easily be dispelled without much ado. As for Colt McCoy, there are many things that can go wrong for any young QB, but throwing in the wind will not be one of them. It’s all in the wrist, for Colt McCoy; because you do not need to have the canon in the wind, you need a rifle.

            A rifle used to be called a rifled gun, and the word rifling refers to the helical groove or grooves in a barrel wall of the gun. Once the gun is fired, the shell (or bullet) travels through the barrel these grooves on the interior, being helix shaped, cut into the shell and sends it rotating as it goes through the barrel. Upon the exit, the inertia of rotation from the helix-type grooves continues. This rotation was a monumental shift in shooting, allowing for much greater accuracy. This accuracy by rotation is the applicable to a football, and the key to throwing in windy conditions.

            The issue presented is essentially the opposite of the theory behind throwing a knuckleball in baseball, where the design of throwing a knuckleball is to eliminate spin and allowing the ball to be subject to the air drag which pushes it erratically. The slightest spin and it ceases to be a knuckleball, and becomes a really slow-moving, easy-to-hit pitch. Throwing a football is a completely inverse concept with the spin aiding in guiding the ball to the target. This gets a little muddled as the football’s shape does not allow the ball to fly straight with such minimal spin, and the oblong shape makes it more susceptible to erratic movement by air drag and wind. Then it gets muddled further as the trajectory is different; instead of being a relatively straight line, a football travels on a semi parabolic arc (a flattened arch where the decline is steeper than the incline).

            First things first, the footballs center of gravity is, as one would expect, pretty much in the center of the ball. Then a properly thrown ball, a tight spiral, exherts inertia in the form of rotating the ball on an axis. That rotation on the axis is the key to aligning the tips with the center of gravity over the course of the balls trajectory. So long as the forward tip, center of gravity, and back tip of the ball are all in line along the football’s course, a football is pretty aerodynamic. This biggest form of resistance for the ball, the air drag, comes directly at the nose of the football if thrown with a tight spiral.

            This is the reason that when the kids in the neighborhood throwing a football around, they look like Peyton Manning while the ball is going up, but then it begins to wobble and shift, even in calm weather, on the way down. They do not generate enough spin on the ball, so when the trajectory shifts from ascending to descending, the forward nose of the football lifts higher than the ball’s center of gravity exposing more surface of the ball to the air’s resistance, as opposed to a properly thrown ball where the nose should be pointed downward and into the air drag resistance. This has dual fold repercussions, first the heightened resistance under the ball makes the ball flutter and alters it’s course, if only marginally, but it also slows down the ball considerably and exposes more area on the sides of the ball, so the wind can shift it significantly off-course, in a side to side motion as well.

            In the end, the aerodynamics that was mentioned was just the grounds that I am not just making this up. Basically, the power behind the travel of a football is not the issue; it is the rotation of the ball, the spiral, which limits the effects of wind. Moreover, Colt McCoy has the required wrist action to generate the rotation to stabilize the football, aligning both tips with the center of gravity, while in its flight path. This is not to state that the ball will not be effect at all by weather, but it minimizes the effects in all reasonable weather conditions. Hopefully some fears have been put to rest; otherwise it might be a long time coming before getting to see him in action in bad weather.


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