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Think tank


Terrelle Pryor is one of four Tom House students on the Bengals roster.

Tom House would like to know, too.

Here is a man who pitched eight anonymous seasons in the major-leagues whose claim to fame is a home run he caught instead of one he served up. And yet in the past few years he has become the NFL's leading quarterbacks consultant.

"When you find out, let me know," House says of how the incongruous path ended up here this week at Paul Brown Stadium in what amounted to an intriguing think tank session between NFL coaches and an independent guru.

House's growing influence went on display at PBS, where four of his students quarterbacked the Bengals during the first week of this spring's voluntary on-field sessions. House and his colleague, Adam Dedeaux, spent a day watching their guys work in the confines of an NFL routine stretching from the field to the classroom and meeting with coaches.

"They've had their homework from us. Now we come out and watch them in their environment," House says. "We'll combine what they learned from us and get feedback from them, so the whole process gets better. That speaks well to the Bengals organization the fact they're actually letting someone from the outside like us come in and do some evaluations. It was wide open. They let us talk to anybody and vice versa."

House won't discuss his students. Guru-client privilege. But this is a two-way street along Central Avenue.

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is also picking the brain of House, a former USC pitcher and coach whose base of operations is Southern California. Jackson, a former USC offensive coordinator, has never lost his ties to the school and has been aware of House's unique second career for several years.

Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, another West Coast guy, is also in tune with the mechanics House preaches and along with Jackson encouraged quarterback Andy Dalton to attend House's off-season camp at USC last year, where such elite passers as Tom Brady and Drew Brees go to school.

Dalton liked it so much he's been back twice this offseason and plans to go one more time before training camp. He also recommended it heartily to rookie AJ McCarron and McCarron is going back in July after attending in February. Josh Johnson, another backup Dalton candidate, is also a West Coast guy that found his way to House.

Cincinnati Bengals host OTA's at Paul Brown Stadium practice fields 05/27/2015

House's regimen stems from video spawned by split-second frames and based on the models of 54 elite quarterbacks when it comes to measurables like arm speed and quickness of drops, plus mechanics. A student spends a lot of his time tethered to measuring and photographic devices. There is also a nutritional and conditioning side to it, as well as a look at sleep patterns.    

"He'll tell you all the time he's not a quarterbacks guy, he's a throwing guy," corrects Terrelle Pryor, another Bengals backup candidate. "He looks for what you're doing as a thrower. I don't know if he could tell you what is a curl flat read. I don't think he could do any of that, but he knows the basics of taking a hitch and throwing and where your body should be positioned."

Jackson and head coach Marvin Lewis upped the ante and invited House this spring to watch during a routine day the hour-by-hour demands of not only the quarterbacks but the rest of the team. In a day of trading information, Jackson wanted to show House and Dedeaux the emotional and physical requirements of the game. House and Dedeaux wanted to see the factors they can't control and how their students adjust.

And they wanted to learn from each other.    

"He's one of the best at doing what he does. Why wouldn't you want to talk to the best to see if there is something you can learn?" Jackson asks. "We're always trying to stay on the cutting edge of things and I think what they do is cutting edge."

House has as many college degrees (four) as big-league complete games and it's not lost on Jackson that one of them is a doctorate based in psychology.

"I'll look at anything that might make our team better," Jackson says. "I don't care what it is. They have a profile of what the great quarterbacks are and how he conducts his business, how he plays the game, what the expectations are, how they perform. We're on the same wavelength, but while they're working with two or three different guys in their environment, we're working with 25 on offense and 25 on defense, or whatever the number is. We have a different charge than they do, but you can always learn from each other."

Or, as House says, "Somewhere in between what they do when they leave us and what they're going through here is where it's going to be."

You just don't find many guys like House, 68, in a football setting. It may be the first time the word "zeitgeist," has ever been uttered in PBS. Smart guys in baseball get tagged as "flakes,' and House earned his spurs during parts of three seasons in Boston during the rollicking '70s, when he was the best man for the game's counter-culture figure, Red Sox lefty Bill "Spaceman," Lee.


Josh Johnson, seen here in his first Bengals stint in 2013, has since made a House call.

House began a 41-year friendship with Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron after he caught Aaron's 715th homer in the Braves' bullpen and when the young Braves pitcher ran to home plate to present him the ball that marked the passage of Babe Ruth on the all-time home-run list, House swore Aaron thought he was a batboy when he said, "Thanks, kid."

"That shows you how good of a pitcher I was for the Braves," House says. "I think he had a better memory of me last year (at the 40th anniversary). It began a friendship. He's one of the good people in baseball."

He has been cutting edges for decades. When he was the pitching coach for Texas in the late '80s, Bengals running backs coach Kyle Caskey remembers going to Rangers games and wondering what all-time whiff King Nolan Ryan was doing throwing a football in the outfield.

House counts catching Aaron's 715th and working with Ryan as his two best baseball moments.  Guys like Ryan were born not made.

"Nolan started throwing newspapers out of the back of a pickup truck when he was 12 years old and throwing 275 newspapers every morning probably created the ultimate arm," House says.

House has stored data of body types and other attributes for generations of quarterbacks that stretch back to the '80s so that Brady can be sized up scientifically against, say, his idol, Joe Montana. House was able to see that Ryan's upper body bore a stark resemblance to Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. There is a lesson in there.

"They were interchangeable parts,' House says. "I think he could have been a Marino-type  quarterback. This is what we told the coaching staff. The guys who do their process and stick with their preparation are the ones that end up playing and that's Nolan Ryan." Now among the Bengals equipment these days are House's baseballs of different weights for arm speed as well as conditioning.

"We knew early on you can't throw a football wrong mechanically and make it spiral," House says. "So we knew if our pitchers could make it spiral…and the mechanics of throwing a football and throwing a baseball are pretty similar. Also a football is three times as heavy as a baseball, so there was some conditioning to it. How it went the other way around, I'm not quite sure."

House thinks the two concepts may have linked up when his neighbor in Del Mar, Calif., Brees, suffered a major shoulder injury at the end of the 2005 season. House, then in charge of the Rangers' rehab, helped Brees along with his mechanics and strength and he ended up leading the NFL in yards passing in 2006.

Pryor found House pretty much through the want-ads three years ago. It was after Jackson left the Raiders as head coach and Pryor, a Brady disciple, was at sea.

"I was trying to find out 'Where does Brady go?' because I was like, 'If I don't get fixed up, I won't be in the league very long. I can throw, but I'm not consistent,'" Pryor says.

Pryor did his research and the name "Tom House,' popped up in his browser. He called his office expecting to find a guy not much older than him and was stunned to be talking to a 25-year veteran of pitching and coaching in the majors.

"He's got a great eye,' says Pryor, who likes the kind of mechanical coaching he gets from Zampese and House.

There was a short, quick throw not too long ago where Pryor thought he had done a good job. But House gently reminded him of one of his cardinal rules. "Don't let your eyes fool you."

House told Pryor, "Tweak your head. It was pulled forward too far." Pryor kept his head back and the ball felt even better coming out of his hand.

"The dude is sharp," says Pryor, who also finds Zampese a breath of fresh air.

"This is the first time I really ran into a quarterbacks coach that fixes you. He always talks about feet and the little stuff that matters."

Pryor says, "Tom doesn't talk about anything football-wise,' and that's where coaches come in. While they have to deal with protections and game plans, they don't always have time for mechanics. Gurus don't have to worry about eight-man fronts, so they can help each other.

But the man with four degrees doesn't quite know how it all ended up like this.

"It was luck of the draw," House says. "If someone had tried to plan out what Adam and I are doing, I don't think it ever would have panned out. It's just one of those things.  Zeitgeist. An idea whose time has come."

It seems like the Bengals wanted to make sure they kept the appointment.

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