Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Missing watch listers

To start off, time just quickly to point you in the direction of this video from NFL network. Basically this covers the Patriots vs Jets game from their "Playbook" show. What intrigues me is that the "pick" play is shown and yet there are no comments about the fact it's illegal.... only for the crew to go on and show two more plays later which are described as "picks". One of these is erronous; the play at 2:58 is simply a screen pass and is perfectly valid (on review, nope. That's actually pass interference as well as I understand it). The play shown at 3:47 however would constitute a clear pick and is labelled as such. But what concerns me is that at no point does anybody stand up and say "oh by the way, pick plays are illegal in the NFL and are covered under the rules for offensive pass interference. Technically speaking, it's cheating,". Now I'm not ragging specifically on the Patriots. A lot of teams run these sort of plays. But it just bugs the hell out me. It's illegal for a reason; because it is almost impossible for the defense to stop. Someone from the mainstream needs to make it a bigger issue. I'm always seeing flags being thrown because some defender put an arm out on a receiver and touched him beyond five yards, or because a pass rusher had the audacity to lay a finger on a quarterbacks helmet. So now I'd like to see these illegal offensive plays cut out. I'd like to see offenses stop taking the easy, underhanded route out of tough spots like 3rd and 4th downs, or red zone conversions against tough defenses. For me it's a joke. I don't understand how you can choose to enforce some rules but not others. In his book, "Finding the Winning Edge", Bill Walsh makes the point that a team has to follow through with their entire scheme of fines and punishments for players who break the teams rules, regardless of who that player may be, otherwise the system as a whole becomes pointless and players wont respect it. This is precisely what is happening with the NFL. They're picking and choosing which rules to enforce and which ones to let go. Certain teams also, at least on the face of it, appear to be getting picked out for preferential treatment or harsher enforcement. Add on a fine system that doesn't make sense half the time and seems to wildly escalate from a players first offense to his second, and suddenly you have a ridiculous joke of a system that very few fans and players seem to respect. I'm just saying. Now moving on it's time for us to take a look back at the 2010 NFL draft and, using the magic of 20/20 hindsight, find which players probably should have made my rookie watch list. We're gonna start on our retrospective journey by scanning the lines of some of the articles I wrote in and around the time of the Indianapolis combine. I specifically (and quite sadly) arranged time off so I could sit back and watch as much of the combine workouts as humanly possible. Largely from this study, players like Kendrick Lewis, Kam Chancellor and Jeff Owens made the watch list. Which renders even more inexplicable the reason why some others who caught my eye did not. I'm toying with the idea of putting these players retroactively onto the watch list, but it does seem like a bit of a cop out (especially in the case of Jacoby Ford). Then again, is it fair to let these players slide just because I failed to go back and check my notes properly? We'll see. So, who are these mysterious players? Without going into detail of their seasons, (many have seen little action so far) I'll list their names along with a link to the article they originally appeared in. They are; From this article: RB Stafon Johnson, Titans. WR Carlton Mitchell, Browns. FB Rashawn Jackson, Panthers. SS Barry Church, Cowboys. RB Jahvid Best, Lions. CB Dominique Franks, Falcons. WR Kyle Williams, 49ers. You'll have to excuse some of the spelling and the grammar in the article. The only thing I can think of is that I was drunk (?) or tired, or maybe a combination of the two. I'd also like to point out the humorous bit where I describe LaGarrette Blount as being "just woeful". Thinking back now I remember being unusually disappointed with Blount's showing compared to most of the other running backs. What Blount did not display at the combine but does display on game day is the strength to bust through arm tackles and bowl defenders over. This should serve as a warning I guess to take the combine for what it is; one piece of a larger puzzle. Next up is Devin McCourty, the corner back who went in the first round to the Patriots. Here is the article. Again, not sure why McCourty didn't make the watch list in the end, given the relatively effusive praise I handed out for him. Next, Jacoby Ford. Here's the piece. This one could be somewhat more debatable, given that all I said was I'd take him higher than Golden Tate, but the praise I think should have earned him a spot on the watch list. The article is also interesting, because thinking back now it was the rant at the beginning about the bench press that first drew my attention to Jeff Owens, which subsequently got him on the list. Two players in the next one; safety Myron Rolle who is now with the Titans and defensive end Derrick Morgan, who is also with the Titans. Article here. Rolle is now on the practice squad while Morgan, a first round pick, has 4 games under his belt (0 starts) with 1.5 sacks. Ok, moving on to Chris Chancellor who is now a corner with the Jaguars. Given that he appeared in the same article as Kam Chancellor and Kendrick Lewis, I have no idea why he didn't make the watch list. Completely inexplicable. Here's his article. So that's the people who genuinely should have made the watch list. Next we need to look at those who - after looking at their performances this year - should have made it on. Essentially this is the list of misses; people I completely failed to pick up on. The majority of these will be players who have obviously highlighted themselves through their numbers in their rookie year. But just briefly I want to highlight two players I think should have made the watch list who so far haven't played much. These are Brian Jackson, corner, of the New York Giants and Jonathan Crompton, QB, of the Patriots. In my meandering and perusing of college football clips and highlights I stumbled across additional material of these two, and having watched it a few times now feel that these two were missed. They haven't got the numbers yet to make good judgments about them, but I'm optimistic. They too will undergo consideration for a retroactive addition to the watch list. The following players won't however. Simply put, I missed them. For whatever reason I failed to see the potential even though it was right there in front of me and now that's tough luck on me. They've shown everyone their skills. To add them now would be to invoke an age old analogy between a horse bolting and a barn door. So why bother looking at them? The same reason anybody else would go back and harp on their own mistakes; to learn. By looking at these players and then trying to deduce the reasons they were missed, it should help me to avoid making the same mistakes again and allow me to go back and refresh my approach a little to studying players. I think such an approach is important as it's the only way we grow better and stronger at something. By identifying weaknesses we can all (hopefully) fix those problems and improve. In addition, it's a basic axiom of coaching and one I feel strongly about. Locating problems in technique and then finding ways to correct these errors is at the heart of teaching and future development. So let's find out where I went wrong. Top of the list is the number one overall pick, QB Sam Bradford, who was taken by the Rams. If I think back, my concern with Bradford was mainly that he had an easy ride through college. I remember thinking that on every clip I saw of Bradford, he was standing in a nice clean pocket, with plenty of time to throw and was throwing to receivers who were open. Obviously an important part of my brain went to sleep at this point. All I could see was the open receiver. At no point did the more logical aspect of my cerebrum say to me "maybe that's his skill? Maybe his skill is finding the open receiver?". Which would have course been the correct answer. In addition, it would have been helpful if I had also taken note of the ball placement. This is something that you see very clearly when you go back and watch Kurt Warner with the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams. You seem almost immaculate ball placement, putting it only where the receiver can make the play. If I'd paid a little more attention to Mr. Bradford, I would have seen this quality in him too and put him on the watch list. Next we have Ndamukong Suh, he of eight sacks and 49 tackles so far in his rookie year. Not only did I not put Suh on the watch list, but I also made the mistake of putting Suh behind Gerald McCoy in terms of who I would have picked given the number 2 spot. Looking back now, the error is easy to spot. My primary concern with Suh was that his strength played too much of a part in his game and that against bigger, stronger NFL offensive linemen this advantage would be negated. This turned out to be quite patently wrong. I was also judging McCoy as better because of his greater speed and use of the hands to defeat pass blocks. A simple refresher exercise in fundamental defensive tackle play would have solved this problem. It would have become quickly apparent that McCoy's skill set is more suited to a defensive end (albeit, a heavy one). The Buccaneers have even toyed with occasionally moving McCoy to that position, with some effect. But for a defensive tackle, Suh's qualities displayed on tape are precisely what you would be seeking. It seems pretty obvious now and I'm a little ashamed and a touch embarrassed that I didn't pick up on it sooner. Suh showed on game day the ability to stand up offensive linemen, hold the point of attack, and then shed blocks to make tackles/sacks. For a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme that is pretty much textbook technique. In short, I should have spotted what Suh was showing us. Right there, in front of my very eyes, was all the information I needed to put the stamp on Suh and say "this kid is going to rock the NFL and he's only going to get better with time being coached by Jim Schwartz". Never mind hindsight, that should have been foresight. On to... Rolando McClain, LB, Oakland Raiders. You don't here a lot about McClain really. He's one of those people who quietly does his work in the heart of the Raiders defense without making those huge plays that tend to get noticed. But McClain does do vital work, as you'd expect from a middle linebacker. So how did I miss McClain? Likely for the same reason as he hasn't drawn much attention in the NFL. McClain doesn't have a big back catalogue of footage that shows him making big plays. What you see is a lot of standard tackles and generally solid linebacking play. That's the catch. He doesn't stand out, but then players like him don't. Like the special teams captain or the Center on the offensive line, players like McClain make a big contribution that tends to get lost in the crowd. My mistake. Next is Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks. Mike Mayock on NFL Network had this guy rated as his number one safety in the draft. I still think Eric Berry is better and that the Chiefs got the right man, but Thomas has been a very good contributor for the Seahawks, including five interceptions. What put me off Thomas was that I didn't see enough contact from his college days. Not enough hitting. And that's where my own preferences and personal views obstructed the indicators that Thomas would be a good safety. I like "Ringers" (guys that will ring your bell!). I like defenders who love contact, which is why I'm high on Broncos CB Syd'Quan Thompson (can't wait for this guy to become a regular first team player). The point is though that not all players are hitters and not all players really need to be big hitters. That's where Thomas comes in. He's more of your center field type, play-the-pass safety. Thomas isn't going to come down hill and light up a running back or track a crossing receiver and try to detach his head from his shoulder pads, but he will make plays on the ball deep down the field. But because I prefer the "Ringer" type safeties (Polamalu) that's what caused me to overlook Thomas and under value his potential. Right. Roger Saffold, OT, St. Louis Rams. Easy one here. My concern with Saffold was his run blocking technique. To be honest, that's really not such a huge concern for a left tackle. Typically you're going to be holding up the back end of running plays and even when the Rams do run his way, Saffold has shown he can handle the load. While his technique isn't exactly textbook he's getting the job done and I think that's where I missed; Saffold may not be on the level of guys like Bryan Bulaga technique wise, but that doesn't stop him being effective. Coming in last place among the top 5 at you position still doesn't erase the fact that you're a top 5 offensive tackle. It does prove that occasionally I can be a right idiot (what do you mean only occasionally?) Next! Nate Allen, safety, Philadelphia Eagles. Basically just go back and read the bit on Earl Thomas. Last but not least (until I remember someone else or someone e-mails me with another name) Tony Moeaki, tight end, Kansas City Chiefs. Now I'm going to come right out and say it; I had no clue who Moeaki was. There. That's why he didn't make the watch list, because he wasn't even on my radar. Shame though, he's been an excellent addition to the Chiefs, filling the hole left by Tony Gonzalez. Solid hands, strong and reasonably quick, Moeaki is one of those guys who helps reaffirm the adage "a tight end is a (rookie) quarterbacks best friend". So what have we learned? That my prejudices towards certain types of players can blind me to others who don't fit the mould but are very good players none the less. That comparing two players who play with two very different styles is not as effective as comparing them to either a) a baseline requirement for their position or b) simply identifying where the players skills would be best used, e.g. free safety or strong safety. That we should never lose sight of fundamentals. And that occasionally I can just be an idiot. Now if you'll kindly excuse me, I've been back and forth to this computer all day, meaning that this article has taken the best part of 12 hours to type. Sympathy accepted, as are any comments, e-mails ( or exorbitant financial donations. Have a great day everyone.

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