Examining grips with KU's Jake Heaps, Michael Cummings


In baseball, most pitchers throw fastballs in a similar way; two-seamers are thrown with the two fingers on the seams, while four-seamers are thrown with fingers going across the stitches.

That made me wonder: Are quarterbacks the same way? Is it "one size fits all" when it comes to gripping a football?

For help with those questions, I consulted the two people on Kansas University's campus that should know best: starting quarterback Jake Heaps and backup QB Michael Cummings.

I started with Cummings, who admitted he hadn't thought much previously about the way he gripped the football.

Cummings' grip.

Cummings' grip. by Jesse Newell

"It just feels comfortable, man," Cummings said. "I know when I was younger (around 5), I used to put my thumb over the laces, because my hand was kind of small."

Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB.

Cummings' grip as a 5-year-old QB. by Jesse Newell

Cummings said he believed the most important part of a grip was getting one that had a "natural feel." He also said a key was for the pointer finger to be the final body part to touch the ball and even admitted he had a callus on his first finger from throwing.

"That stuff hurts, too," he said.

KU quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus doesn't talk about grips with his players, Cummings said, instead focusing more on the mechanical work of passing like getting the proper footwork.

"Just try to throw with your body, not just your arm the whole time," Cummings said. "It lets you put more oomph on the ball than just throwing with all arm."

A few minutes later, I made my way over to Heaps, who said he'd had the same grip since the first time he'd picked up a football.

Heaps grip.

Heaps grip. by Jesse Newell

Heaps says it is important to have one's hand on top of the football, because the pointer finger — the last contact point with the ball — gives the ball its rotation.

Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger.

Heaps demonstrates how the ball releases off his pointer finger. by Jesse Newell

Heaps also believes having the pointer finger high on the ball helps give him more control. Some QBs in the past have even gone to the extreme with this, with Heaps giving the example that Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw put his pointer finger on the point of the football when he threw.

Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip.

Heaps demonstrates Terry Bradshaw's grip. by Jesse Newell

Mechanically, Heaps said it was important to avoid two pitfalls. One is "cupping" the ball, which means putting one's hand too far over the top, which makes it difficult to snap the ball for good rotation.

"Cupping" the ball.

"Cupping" the ball. by Jesse Newell

The other potential mistake is getting one's hand too far underneath the ball, which again can be a sign of poor mechanics.

Underneath the ball.

Underneath the ball. by Jesse Newell

Heaps said it was important to maintain a "nice U-shape" with your hand, which allows a QB to get the proper release and rotation.

A "nice U-shape."

A "nice U-shape." by Jesse Newell

After talking with both QBs, I was interested to compare their grips.

It turned out there were quite a few differences.

As you can see from this comparison, the two view comfort in different ways. While Heaps' hands remains tight toward the top of the football, Cummings' hand has an extreme spread. Notice also the different placements of the players' middle and pinky fingers.

Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips.

Comparing Heaps' and Cummings' grips. by Jesse Newell

So who has the correct grip? Heaps says there's no right answer.

"If you’re going to a (quarterback specialist) that’s trying to get you to grip the ball differently, then you probably should go to someone different," he said. "Everyone grips the ball differently. It’s not how you grip it ... it’s whatever you’re comfortable with."


Ralster Jayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

Good article, for non-football folks. I remember experimenting with different football grips and throwing motions with my NFL "Tagliabue-era" football in the early 90's, and watched closely how NFL greats were holding the ball and releasing it. Boomer Esiason also had the index finger almost to the tip of the ball, while Joe Montana held it just like Jake Heaps is showing. Randall Cunningham held it alot like Cummings is showing. Cool thing is you can see that Heaps is well-aware of the grips and the mechanics. Exactly what I wanted to see/hear. Shoot holes in the competition, Jake! Then drop BOMBS on 'em!

actorman 8 years, 10 months ago

It's interesting that everyone has their individual grips and that the coaches don't mess with that part of throwing. It reminds me a little of the variety of putting styles.

texashawk10 8 years, 10 months ago

Cummings hands look kinda small in that picture. If they actually are smaller than normal and that's not just the camera angle, that's a good reason why his throws tend wobble a bit and not be the tightest of spirals. I'm also happy to read that Powlus and Weis don't give a flip how the ball is held because it really doesn't matter much how you hold a football. I I remember the QB coach when I played would always get on our QB for not using the right grip, but our QB was awful when he tried using the suggested grip and threw a lot of wounded ducks, but almost always had a nice tight spiral when using his natural grip. Our QB coach was an idiot though and once he left, my HS has turned out two D1 QB's in the past few years including one that started as a true freshmen at his college.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 10 months ago

I kinda thought like you. Cummings' hand looks larger than Heaps' to me

Savion Havon 8 years, 10 months ago

Cummings grip is identical to another HCCW product the great Tom Brady

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 10 months ago

Brady has his pinky and ring finger on the threads. Cummings has his middle and ring finger on the threads. Heaps' grip is more like Brady's, only with maybe a little bit less spread.

Chris Baker 8 years, 10 months ago

Looking at this photo, I disagree. I can clearly see three and a half spaces in the football stitching beneath his pinky finger on Brady's ball. Beneath Cumming's ball I see 2 and on Heaps' I see four and a half. So I'd say Brady's grip is right between the both of them based on hand spread.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 10 months ago

"It's not a matter of how he grips it! It's a simple matter of weight ratios, a four ounce bird cannot carry a 1 pound coconut."

LAJayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

Listen, in order to maintain airspeed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings 43 times every second, right?

Ken Schmidt 8 years, 10 months ago

Yes, an African swallow, maybe, but definitely not a European swallow. But of course African swallows are not migratory.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 10 months ago

"grip it and rip it"

One thing to note is that especially for a QB who plays a lot of shotgun formations and quick passes is that it shouldn't matter too much whether his fingers are on the laces. It comes down to getting your hands around the cone of the ball the same way whether the laces are in or out so that you can fire decent spiral no matter whether you have the ball turned just so.

Savion Havon 8 years, 10 months ago

But a three gram ant can carry a 30 gram twig

KGphoto 8 years, 10 months ago

I have no idea how Cummings can throw the ball like that. It looks unnatural to me. WAY to spread out to get any control over the spin. That’s just my gut feeling from looking at it. Obviously he can somehow still sling it.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 10 months ago

"the completion % will speak for itself"

In that case, is a sub 50% comp % screaming, "Please change!"

KGphoto 8 years, 10 months ago

To this day I think Cunningham had one of the prettiest releases ever. He looked effortless throwing the ball, but he didn’t grip it like Cummings. He had big hands and they were spread out a bit, but he kept them near the back of the ball, and his fingers were spread pretty even. His grip was much closer to Heaps.

Cummings’ fingers are spread unevenly. His pinky almost looks broken, and his index finger is all alone at the tip of the ball. I’m not saying he should change it. I agree, if it feels right do it. It’s’ just odd looking.

Randy Bombardier 8 years, 10 months ago

My take, too, KG. I grip it exactly like Heaps, third finger on the first grip.

Brian Skelly 8 years, 10 months ago

Good article Mr. Newell. Good and interesting information.

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