This episode features former NFL quarterback (notably on the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts) Dan Orlovsky. Dan played 12 years in the NFL and currently serves as a football analyst for ESPN and NFL Network.
We talk to Dan about his 4 year career at UConn, NFL draft, playing with Peyton Manning, and how he was able to adapt and have a lengthy career in the NFL despite multiple coaching changes.
1:10: Choosing College being highly recruited
2:40: Putting Connecticut on the map
5:20: Realizing NFL was a possibility
6:20: NFL Draft Day Story
10:20: Mental Challenges when first entering the NFL
14:00: Transitioning From UConn to Detroit
16:30: 4 years, 4 coaches – How Dan Learned Playbooks Each Year
20:00 Physical Talent vs Mental Talent
23:10: Simple Play Call vs Complex Play call
27:50: Playing Against Hometown Team
29:00: Launching His Broadcast Career
32:30: The Gauntlet
CH:hello and welcome to the victory podcast my name is Chris Haddad alongside my co-host Steve McGrath and today’s episode we have former NFL quarterback and current football analyst Dan Orlovsky if you are unfamiliar with Dan let’s get you familiar born in Bridgeport Connecticut played college football at the University of Connecticut when he left UConn I’m just gonna rattle off some records he as he passed completions past attempts yards passing touchdown passes total plays total yards guy did it all after he left UConn he joined the NFL where he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2005 round five pick 145 team’s Dan played for Detroit Houston in the Tampa Bay where he landed back at the Troy Dan welcome to the show it’s good to be here as you say I went pretty fast on that hopefully Dan I want to dive headfirst right into this thing went to UConn you were highly toted as a recruit coming out of high school Big Ten ACC schools
why did you pick UConn and the success you had at UConn I want to talk a little bit about that a little bit later on but first I want to talk about why you actually went to UConn and what drew you to the school coming out of high school as a highly toted recruit?
DO:I started getting recruited by you kind of pretty early on in my high school days like sophomore year ish and when they started recruiting me and was I never really paid that much attention because I was getting recruited by bigger schools you come was still a smaller school so I had they didn’t really didn’t give him the time of day type thing and then to his credit coach Ed’s old Randy yet so who was my head coach then and he’s actually back you come down to state on me and stayed on me stayed on me and even though I was kind of spending most of my time thinking about the other schools like Purdue and Michigan State and UVA and all those bigger conference schools he stayed with me stay with me kept selling me on the dream or like the possibility of doing what everyone thought was crazy taking you call you come from like one double a 2 1 a and in-state and all that stuff so it really came down to me falling in love with what he was I guess and I tell people selling me in a way and I was probably one of the best decisions in my life for sure
CH: now did he did he get the hometown discount because you are from Bridgeport Connecticut did that play any factor? I know when you have Michigan State, Purdue and those types of schools on the line,I’m sure you said UConn was kind of in the back of your mind. The more he sold you, were you like well okay my family can come see me play close by, did that play a factor at all or is that something that it didn’t really pay much it didn’t play a factor ?
DO: I was from Connecticut and I wanted to be the guy to put the place on the map like that’s where played I wasn’t from New York and okay go do it at UConn- like I wanted to be the kid from Connecticut that, in turn put the state school on the map. Because when you’re from Connecticut, all we have UConn and like ESPN. So UConn is our baby in a way so that place certainly a factor in my mind. I remember as a teenager people telling me you know this is such an important decision for you because 20 years from now I would be able to go back to the state, and you know so many doors would be opened up for you. I didn’t even recognize what they were trying to tell me, like I was a guy I’m going for football and so the cool thing is been able to go back to the state now and people always reference the UConn days and what not. I just wanted to be the kid from the state that put the school on the map.
CH:Now they went from Division 1AA, they moved up the division 1 when you were there, did they play a factor as well when you were chooising who to play for?
DO: sure yeah they went from 1AA which is like the FCS, to FBS right now. They they moved up there two years before my freshman year so my first game is 2001 they moved up at 99. Absolutely a part of my decision. I would not have gone there if they were a 1AA school. I wouldn’t of stayed in 1AA school. We were joining the Big East – even if we weren’t going to join the Big East. I want to play big-time college football so for sure played a part of my decision because that and that was a big finical chance of coming into my locker room and saying hey we’re gonna go join one a football and by your sophomore year, you’re going to be playing 1A football schedule and by your junior you’d be part of the Big East. Back then the Big East was Miami Virginia Tech Pittsburgh Syracuse West Virginia so yeah that for sure that was probably the key turning point for me.
CH:So you finished your career UConn and senior year’s coming around when did you know that the NFL was that was a possibility? I mean I rattled off at the beginning to show all these stats and records that you have, so something had to tick where, okay I might be a mid round guy or early round…when did you know that the NFL was was in your future?
DO:I think I really started to truly believe that my sophomore year of college I had a pretty good sophomore year I thought okay I fit a lot of the the boxes that need to be checked off. So that’s when it started to become a dream or a reality and then my junior had a pretty successful junior year, and landed on Mel Kiper’s big board. So when all that started to happen and I think he was projecting me as like the 20th pick or whatever top 20 on his big board type thing. That’s when it was like, I started thinking myself as a potential first-round pick to be honest all of us do that when I thought I’m gonna play in the NFL
CH: so as mentioned round five pick 145 everywhere everyone has an draft day story I’m interested to hear about your draft day story because you know being a hometown kid from UConn, I assumed it was probably some big venue rented out or were you at home?
DO: yeah my draft there was a I tell people was the best in one of the worst days of my life So my junior year it’s really good I’m on Mel’s big board – going to my senior year I’m on his top 20 big board. I have a pretty good senior year so I stay relatively on the number level where he’s gotta be ranked, then from the end of my senior year I go to the Senior Bowl and I had a terrible performance. I stink. I just performed poorly Mel Kiper crushes me on national television saying I can’t play any NFL. Like really, I can’t play in the NFL?
I don’t really have a good combine either and so I continue to do this fall. I go from thinking I’m gonna be a first-round pick and slowly start going okay maybe it’s gonna be second. I think it’s gonna be a third round we get to right around the draft day and I’m talking with my agents, my agents aren’t they’re giving me like “yeah you could go second round the sixth round”.
I’m like what? That’s a long time, we don’t know I can get drafted. But as a kid I was thinking well, I probably closer to the second that I will the sixth. I’ve worked too hard to think otherwise, so first day of the draft early beginning of the draft comes and back then it was rounds one and two three together. Then the second day was four, five, six, seven. Saturday morning, round one starts Alex Smith is the first pick and as the draft goes a couple Aaron Rodgers is taking Jason Campbell is taken we get to the back end the third round I haven’t been drafted yet.
This is at I was just on campus in my apartment with my friends like 10 of us nothing nothing extravagant. I’m not of this big event person type thing, getting there the back into the third round I’m not getting drafted. I’m freaking out! I’ve actually got a buddy of mine, who’s a roommate from Norwood, Massachusetts, who just drafted ahead of me which was not the expectation – so I was happy for him but I was like dude what’s the deal?
Then the last pick in the third round I’m still not drafted. My guy named Maurice Clarett gets drafted the Ohio State to the Broncos and I remember taking my phone and smashed it against the wall. I was a little emotional Clarett had just come off the off season of not playing football and a lot of checkered background or whatnot. Rough first day.
The second day starts and I go down to Verizon and get a new phone call my agent like what’s the deal with like once Kyle Orton goes you’ll be the next pick. Orton goes like within the first five picks of the fourth round I’m like sweet probably gonna go two hours later. I finally get a call from the Lions which was an absolute, euphoric moment but a long six hours or so of my expectations being here and kind of falling somewhere down here. So yeah, and that kind of adds a little bit of a fire to the pot right. I mean, you know, it was it was an incredible phone call to get a dream come true a thousand percent it was everything that you think it could be when you get an actual phone call you get drafted. It’s all your dream but I was hot – I was absolutely ticked off that it went that way and I fell that far and every player the thinks they get drafted to low but yeah I know it certainly afforded a chip on my shoulder sure
SM:Well I considering twelve years later you know the career that you did have, I think that probably was benefiting you more than anything. Alright so you get drafted by the Lions, walk us through if you could, you know, you get your first NFL playbook what mentally are you being tasked with in terms of learning based on how everything was called and run at UConn to now getting geared up for the NFL size playbook?
DO: yeah I tell people is I was super fortunate to really start learning football from a X’s and O’s solid foundation and thinking, through football from my high school days. I had a really good coach. We ran actual plays rather than – so our plays had a rhyme and a reason there was words that had to be attached to stuff there was there was levels to our concepts. Rather than you know, I had to make reads, I had to understand the defensive line, the front’s, what they looked like and why I had to understand why they tied the coverages.
As a college kid as a college kid when I was at UConn, we were more often than not the less talented team and so our coaches did an incredible job of finding the tells of a defense that we would pressure. I was fortunate to be in those situations and being forced to learn defensive tendencies or where a shade on the center from a defensive tackle meant probably pressure coming from this side, or corners playing this, so I was fortunate so when I got to the NFL and started to have to learn things. I feel like I had a great advantage because of it that being said the learning curve was made it was like being born expected to being able to jump on a trampoline you know there’s like I just remember getting the book and expecting a big book and a lot of terminology, but getting the book and going wait – I have to erase everything that I know terminology wise and then relearn it at a exponential rate. I think that was the hardest thing is but also the the greatest thing because that’s what playing quarterback in the NFL is. It’s week-to-week, you have to erase your mind of all the previous game plan and relearn a new game plan. But yeah just everything from play call to how you’re gonna handle all your huddle’s, play call, to your your snap count, play call to your formation, play call to what route concepts are called. So there are so many different words attached to different situations yeah and that’s extremely interesting to you bring up what you learned in high school
CH: A lot of what we preach here at vIQtory we don’t want a kid ever to be I guess buried by the fact that he doesn’t have a coach that doesn’t have a high extent of knowledge. That’s why we’ve create the mobile app and we give out all this free content, so you can learn it. So just hearing that that is great because that gave you essentially the foundation to learn more football, and learn it easily as well.
So you gets the NFL tell me about like the hardest thing to adapt to in the NFL maybe mentally? Was it the playbook or was it that you played at UConn and then all of a sudden you’re playing in Detroit? Was it the atmosphere of being in Detroit? Larger crowds? What was the biggest thing mentally to adapt to?
DO: The one thing that stood out for me, and still does is you go from being – I went from being, I was 21 last year so I was 20 at the start of my senior and 21 during the season. You go from that season and I was there to play football. So I’d wake up I’d go to breakfast I’d sleep on a futon – I’d wake up a good breakfast I figure out what classes I had the day and them done. Then I’d go do football for the great majority day and then I’d go home and play video games. That’s not the case in the NFL. You go from zero to 100 when it comes to being an adult real fast. Real fast. You get given this money and you’re forced to move to this foreign city and go okay figure it out! You know and I was fortunate I had a decent head on my shoulders, but it’s still an incredible challenge to be that young and in that situation and just expect it to go and be the 30 year old veteran that so many guys in the NFL are. That was one of the biggest challenges to adapt to
Then it’s your job you know it’s not you’re not on scholarship anymore you know and so if you were dedicating 12 or 14 hours a day as a college kid – you dedicated 50% of that time to football. It’s a hundred percent of the time in the NFL, it’s your job and that’s a really difficult thing. At least it was for me. I think a lot of young kids to get their heads around, is like it is your job, it’s not a childhood dream anymore. You’re getting paid. I tell people you’re a stock and if you could make the owner money he’ll keep you, and if you can’t he will get rid of you. Once your mind can wrap your head around that the better suited your gonna be right
SM: so you know you talked a little bit about adapting to Detroit you know you had the opportunity to play with quite a few different franchises, which means quite a few different head coaches, quite a few different schemes and play books. What was it like you know going from erasing all the UConn terminology, but to go from you know the terminology that you were using in Detroit,to then get ready to what’s going on in Houston. I mean how many times did you have to hit the reset button and did it ever get more and more challenging yet the more you got into the week?
DO:yeah I mean hitting the reset button was something that became an art form you know I learned. It was an incredibly difficult thing to go through but also beneficial because you go from you cunning and I know football in this world okay I’m gonna call my formations double right you know and I know what double right is and then I know what pass 112 is, I know what the concept hang is okay cool let’s go.
Then I get to the NFL and double right is something different it’s it’s it’s different formation and then pass 112 is a totally different protection with rules. No longer if the safety blitz is off the weak side at you (at Uconn) might have been protected and now I’m not so that’s different. Then hang could be a totally different concept of routes than it wasn’t. So that process of erase and relearn and erase and relearn became, you know a frustrating experience, because I said why does it have to be like this, why can’t it just be like this. But you realize coaches have their way and coaches have their way of calling things and again it’s not it’s not his job to get me to understand it, it’s my job to understand it the way he wants me to and once we get to that point, that’s when creativity comes. But it’s my job to initially learn that stuff you know it was really cool because that went from Detroit, and Indy – I had four coaches my first four years and I had four different systems and four different coordinators. So as terrible of an experiences that was, and also was a blessing in disguise for me because the ability to quickly forget and then quickly learn, and quickly find different ways to study was a big deal. I thought I studied well and then I went to Houston under Gary Kubiak. Kubiak would force legit, Kubiak would force us as quarterbacks – so play Call Sheet is like that big sheet. Now he would go front to back with all his play calls a couple hundred plays we would have to memorize those every week. Saturday night before a game he would sit down with all of us, not just the starter, and go okay give us your reads on every play. We would have to go through all our place and go okay you know dragon-lion which was slant, drag, double slants we have to start there and go okay this is my read first. I’m gonna read in and out to down, to the back, and we can go through our plays. Then he called him stumpers and then our quarterback coach – he’d be like okay give me all the plays that have an animal in him. So of course I have to study and remember the plays.
I’d be in bed with my wife till 12:00 1:00 in the morning and she say what are you doing big? I’m studying. I had to you know and so it was annoying to go through, but you went into a game on Sunday going I know exactly what I’m doing with the football. That kind of really started my my studying growth and my ability to figure out different ways to learn you know. I you know analogies or grouping things together compartmentalizing became a big part of my studying you know,
SM: We recently had on John Potter who would kick in the NFL for a few seasons and he said that after college when you get to the pros it’s less about the physical differences between the individual athletes, it’s all about the mental aspect of the game. So from from everything you’re saying, you would agree with that sentiment?
DO: oh it’s not even close I mean yeah of course you need to have physical talent, I mean you’re the greatest of them greatest of the greatest no doub,t but I tell people like this – and it’s one of the things that I tried to stress this year with the draft and whatnot, we’re visual people people.Look how big he is and isn’t, how far you can throw the ball , how strong his arm is. I’m like give me the top ten guys the NFL let’s go Russell Wilson Drew Brees Tom Brady Matt Ryan Aaron Rodgers Roethlisberger, Staffrd, Cousins ,Phillip Rivers one of those guys are going to go man whose arm is ridiculously strong maybe to everyone else their arms are just good looking arms. That’s not their calling card and that’s not the greatest attribute – so yes it’s the physical part plays and certainly you need to have that as your starting point but it’s so much more. It’s not even intelligence, it’s functional intelligence. Can you take this stuff that you learn in a meeting room and then put it on piece of paper. Then take it from a paper put it on a board, and then take it from a board, and being able to do it while bodies are moving to a walk through, and then taking it from a walk through and do it doing it in practice, and then taking it from the ability to do a practice and doing it in a game. Then can you do it in a game and you’ve been hitting about 15 times the close right position that’s the ability to play. So yeah the mental thing and then the ability to do it in a brainwashed sense over and over and over and over and over and you know it’s that commitment to repetitiveness that is the absolute challenge.
CH:so dan do you think that’s why there’s a lot of turnover in the NFL? As far how many guys that an NFL team will bring in and then those guys are just gone in a matter of rookie camps or even before making the final cuts? Is it because they can get lost in that process you just mentioned or is it usually from day one early when they get handed a playbook, it’s like I can’t wrap my brain around this! Maybe because they haven’t grown in college at a rate, or because they were you know, they’re play calls were very simplistic and now they get the NFL and they can’t handle it.
DO: yeah absolutely and I think I think that’s certainly a part of is guys come in and are in a way incapable of making that transition I think a lot of guys think it’s going to be easier than it is. You know, a lot of guys players aren’t all that different than, everyday people and fans. Fans think this time, he’s going to be great. He gives you six foot four 240 pounds and a player thinks that too, and then they they get there and then it’s the reality of “oh it’s it’s much more about me being tall, big, and fast”. So yeah I think turnover a turnover of guys having don’t have the skill to transition mentally and that aren’t willing to maybe break down till you step back and see in a way mentally, I think that’s a big part. Also these guys just think “I’ll still overcome it” – well your athleticism allowed you to overcome your past when you’re in high school and college, when you’re the best guy on the field. Now you’re in the on the field with the best people out of seven billion in the world and so, no longer is your physical excuse going to work.
SM: so did I want to ask you one season that you had spent in Indianapolis it’s the year that Peyton Manning was there but was hurt, Peyton is gonna go down of course is one of the best to ever do it, so I just wanted to ask was there anything again he wasn’t playing, but just from being in the same facility as him, was there anything that you saw from him of how he approached the game or maybe how he interacted with you, that I you could draw a little bit of insight?
You know I it was one of those things where, I had this quote that was given to me as a college kid and it made sense to me certainly changed my life, but I got to see it practically for Peyton. So who’s my freshman year of college I was a bad student my coach called me into his office and said you know, you’ll never play for me again, this GPA ,and as I was leaving he hit me with “how you do anything is how you do everything” and that’s certainly stopped me in my tracks and made a lot of sense to me . My fifth year in the NFL or so was when I was in Indy sixth year in the NFL and Peyton we were out for a walkthrough and you know he’s like ” hey trippy right and we’re gonna run 55 left, can it with something” and I get to the line of scrimmage of the walkthrough – I be you know, very nonchalant walkthroughs, were very nonchalant and I remember Payton being out there and within three plays you know, not flipping out but certainly being very firm and not allowing walkthrough to be a walkthrough.
Mentally, he was like no no no no guys that’s not how we do it here and I was included. So he kind of took over it got guys in the huddle and right when he walked into the huddle, he was in New England for the AFC title game. I mean he was screaming loud he starts to sweat, he’d get he breaks the huddle has a little bit of tempo going to line of scrimmage he’s barking out his cadence, literally like he’s on the road in in New England and pointing out hots and this and that and then the snap and he shuts it down. He goes through walkthrough mode and he was like you have to treat every single play like you’re in the game. So from the get go, it meant literally he started sweating in one play from just the the emotional energy he was bringing and how it that was like one of those moments, I was like dang this dude! When it comes to this it’s gassed down all the time and that’s what afforded him to be great, you know and now certainly his brain was light-years away from most people. Certainly mine, but I think that little snippet of watching him operate in a walkthrough setting with such a dominant presence before the ball was snapped was really impactful to me.
SM:yeah that the way he just described it I would imagine! But you mentioned New England right now you had a chance to play against New England and I was trying to pull up the the stats real quick 353 yards and two touchdowns that season that you played in Indianapolis being from Connecticut does that have any special significance to you for the the hometown team?
DO:yeah I was not as soon as they lose a lot of fun that day. Obviously a bunch of people in the crowd and had a chance to play against one of the greats in Brady and whatnot – we forced them to you know in a onside kick situation we kicked it onside and didn’t get it. I was fully confident we would have gone down and scored again type situations, but yeah it was a really fun day to go back there and be a part of a pretty exciting game. Lots of points on the board and whatnot so I knew it was one of those moments for me that took back in time very nostalgic growing up in Connecticut and running around it – was a the probably late November early December game as well so the weather was relatively similar to what I had grown up playing with, so it was a lot fun that
CH:I want to transition to afterlife football you’re now hosting the American flag football league with which features likes of Michael Vick Chad Ochocinco playing flag football – talk to me a little bit about the football analyst life in the life after football I’m sure you still see the game the same way you’re still reading your check downs, defense blitzes and everything mentally – but how’s it been translating to the booth calling games?
DO: it’s been a lot of fun you know I think that as a backup quarterback it’s a very unique world because my job was never about being on the field my job is about having an impact off the field and because there’s 53 jobs. I had to find that providing value to my team other than on Sundays because I was more than likely not going to play. So really on my journey as a backup it was about watching stuff taking it in communicating, taking it in communicating breaking it down and getting this person to understand. To be in a backup position you got to get along with everybody on your team and it’s that’s part of it being a locker room, so your personality better be you can hang out with the 21 year old he wants to you know go out on town and 30 year old who’s got three kids so your personality needs to be able to do a lot of different things too. So going into the booth has been a lot of fun it’s there’s challenges. I didn’t ever understand and people never can until you actually do it so that’s a big part of it. Football is an absolutely joy of mine and so it’s the opportunity to get people to see football in a new way in a different way in the way that I kind of learned it from so many people in front of me and then communicated to them because the more people fall in love with it the more like it. I’m really excited for the future in the next couple years and doing it and whatnot. Also, just because you can’t be a part of the mountaintop doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the journey so I think that this league is gonna afford some people the opportunity – because if you look at the guys that are coming from like the non pros you know the guy, not the guys that played in the NFL, but just the guys that played flag football really this story is they’re not big enough. Which they weren’t bringing up to play in the NFL but they’re skilled and they’ve got talent or they might just be a little big they’re a little too slow to play in the NFL.
So again there’s all but they’re not they’re not ancient slow they’re not running six flat forty type guys but they’re not fast enough to play in the NFL so is there a place for them and I think this is a gonna afford a lot of guys the opportunity to go do that absolutely it’s it’s fun. It’s fun watching those guys run around in and non-contact way instead but and still be able to to get the enjoyment of football running catching and doing all the fun things that happen in focus yeah so what what Steve’s gonna walk you through now and I’ll let Steve explain and we do this every show it’s called the gauntlet yeah Steve I’ll let you explain it yeah so Dan before we get you out of here we have our segment called the gauntlet we’re just gonna go through a couple questions with you and they’re just gonna be a or b type of answer so just pick which one all right what’s more important the number one offense or the number one defense number one defense which would you rather defensive battle or shootout shoot third and medium we go and pass a run game spread offense or power office spread Stud receiver or stud running back starters either I your most physically gifted teammate from your entire career Calvin Johnson alright well it’s gonna ask best receiver but Calvin might take the cake there as well best receiver I’d go on rear Johnson uh alright best teammate to never become a household name sewing that just didn’t get the love give me a second on that one as teammate to never becoming a household name I’ll say guy Kevin Walter played receiver down in Houston with me played about eleven years in the NFL really good receiver but in that offense when Arian Foster was rolling receivers kind of doing some dirty work blocking on the edges was a big part of the offense and Kevin was that guy so his impact wasn’t just felt by catches is felt by everything that he did and he was a absolute key part of the success at that team and that offense had very cool commentating or being on a panel in a studio for a show I’m a year away from being able to answer that I’m gonna say I’m gonna say being on a panel in studio on a show right now got it and last one what’s more important players or scheme players that’s been the theme it’s been the theme yeah we always like that to close off the show with that question once again Dan Orlovsky we appreciate you coming on and this is uh this has been an awesome story and just an awesome background and I hope people can go through yourjourney and what you’ve been through the twelve seasons you’ve been through the NFL and we wish you the best in the the commentating world and yeah once again
thanks for coming on Dan vlog ski you can catch him NFL Network right I’ll be on ESPN during fall perfect perfect very cool yeah thanks again then and yeah until next