NFL

How important is speed for an NFL wide receiver?

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We hear all the time about a prospective NFL players 40 yard dash at the combine.  Did he run a sub 4.5? Wide receivers who don’t run a sub 4.6 almost never end up starting in the NFL. I think that’s a shame.

Obviously there is a point where slow is too slow for the game of pro football. But why is speed important? It’s not only important for break away long plays, it’s also critical because getting open is a fundamental aspect of playing receiver and speed can help a player to get open.  My own experience in football tells me that a player’s straight-line speed is not that critical.  More important is his quickness. I would define quickness as the measurement of a player’s ability to accelerate,  stop suddenly and change direction., in a say, a 10×10 yard box. Actually, there are several skills that are more important to a receiver than his 40 yard dash time, and yet it is his 40 time that always receives the most attention.  A player can have fantastic hands and great quickness but it is a invariably a blazing 40 time that will get the most talk.

In my own experience in sandlot ball, the fastest player was almost never the best receiver.  As QB for my Army office team, I’ve noticed the attributes that make a good receiver and can quickly identify the player that I was to throw the ball.

1) Good receivers are aggressive.  They want the ball, run to it, and fight to get it.  They do not let defensive backs make the first move to the ball, either vertically, or down the field.  With a good receiver, the QB must throw the ball to an area; with a poor receiver, the QB must throw the ball much more accurately. Poor receivers drift.  They may look up at the ball then back at the defensive back while the ball is in the air.  They cede the initiative of playing the ball to the defender.

2) Good receivers know how to get open and when they are open. They quickly identify weaknesses in the defenses’ setup and make small adjustments in their routes to maximize the distance between themselves and the defender.  Tactics employed include, head and body fakes and changes in acceleration and angles. They are quick in and out of their cuts Moreover, good receivers know when they have achieved a sufficient level of separation and they look back for the ball quickly. Bad pass catchers stare at defensive backs as they make their cuts and are late looking for the ball.  Bad receivers do not possess a large bag of tricks to fool defensive backs and often fail to properly analyze what the defense is doing to shut them down and they round their patters, providing time to defensive backs to break on the ball.

3) Good receivers catch the ball. Nothing will break a QB’s confidence more than a receiver who drops passes. A receiver’s job is first to catch the ball, then to run. Good receivers make receptions on balls thrown that should have been incomplete passes.  Poor receivers stop drives by dropping balls that should have been easy completions.

One reason for the stress placed on 40 time is because it is easily measurable. Just as in the world of military intelligence analysis, it is easier to present data than it is to interpret what that data means in the bigger picture.  It is easy and safe in the current football culture for a scout or general manager to wow owners and coaches with a number. And speed is difficult to improve; people are mostly born with it or without it, and many of the other football skills, it is thought, can be taught. And of course, speed can result in scores in quick, spectacular scores.

Receivers that do not possess incredible speed but produce good numbers in the NFL, are often referred to as “over-achievers” or “hard workers”. But it’s time to consider the vast range of skills great receivers possess, and realize that speed is only one of them–and probably not the most import one at that.

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Run and Shoot

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In a Democratic society, few things are more important than trust.  We have to trust our neighbors, our co-workers, and our government.  This is what makes a free and open society work.  But trust must be earned.  If trust is given to those whom are untrustworthy, systems fail just as rapidly, perhaps more rapidly, than if no trust is granted at all. Everything works better in a high trust society. 

Trust is why America works.  America doesn’t work because of Democracy. Democracy works because of trust.  Certain systems can engender trust in our fellow man, mostly because those systems enable individuals to fulfill their personal needs without ripping off other people.  When systems break down, people tend to circle the wagons, hoarding as much for themselves as possible.  But beyond systems, are the values and capabilities of the people that work in those systems.

Recently at my job, the office I worked in experienced some difficulties in one of the sections. The job was not getting done to my supervisor’s liking.  The historic way that my supervisor tried to fix problems was by changing systems; more Excel spreadsheets, more trackers, more redundant systems. But to me, the problem was the people.  No system can cover  every problem–there’s always a loophole. Success comes when you put the best people in the right positions.  So we made a personnel change.  It wasn’t easy explaining to the soldier why he was removed from the position, but I had to tell him that his attention to detail was lacking so that he could fix the problem in the future.

On Friday, my office usually plays touch football against another section.  I play quarterback. One thing I quickly identify is whom I can trust when I throw the ball to them. Who drops the ball? Who can’t get open? Who doesn’t know how to run patterns?  After a few dropped passes, I don’t want to throw the ball to certain receivers.  One soldier in particular on my team is an excellent athlete and football player. He catches the ball when I throw it to him, knows the game, and has good speed.  I end up looking to him first on most plays and we win often.  I do try to spread the ball around just so that other people have fun. But if our team really needs a score, I know who I’m looking for.  I trust that player.  It is not so much about a system that guarantees or maximizes the chances of our success–it’s about knowing who the most capable person is. One person on the team is an advocate of designing plays so that each player has an assignment. While this would be fine if we had lots of time to practice it doesn’t work very well for our situation. The only direction that is usually given is deciding who blocks, who throws and who receives.  Once in a while I’ll tell a receiver to run a certain pattern, but mostly it’s just “get open.” We were actually less successful when we tried to assign each receiver a pattern.  He could not make the small adjustments needed to get away from defenders, since his assigned pattern may take him towards a safety or linebacker and not away. So we run our offense like the old Run and Shoot.

These two anecdotes reinforce my politics: That nations are not made by regulation, but by the capabilities and attitudes of millions of individuals.  Only individuals can make on the ground assessments and quick changes to make sure things get done the way they should. We are guided by principles, but a rule cannot guarantee success, and we can see by looking at the IRS’ tax code that millions of pages of regulation still leaves loopholes.

For me, it’s never going to be about regulations. It’s always about trust and people.

Tim Tebow: A Real Leader

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As much as there is a real “Tebow Mania” in the air concerning the Denver Bronco’s quarterback Tim Tebow, there is also an equally potent dark side to this mania.  Call it Tim Tebow Manicheanism.  On one side, there are the people who just like football and appreciate the play of a football player who is winning in a very unorthodox way.  Also on that side are people of the Christian faith, who also follow football, who identify with Tim Tebow’s beliefs and who appreciate the fact that he is not ashamed to express those beliefs.

On the other side of the Tebow explosion, are the haters and doubters.  There are people who had and still have legitimate doubts about Tim Tebow’s ability to play football at the professional level.  To those people I must point that Tebow still has under 300 pass attempts in the NFL.  The Denver Broncos selected Tebow in the first round and he has won the games that Kyle Orton could not.  At some point you have to stop doubting his ability and start realizing that he is driving defenses nuts.  Any other QB would have been given at least two full seasons as a starter before such judgments were made.  Especially a first round pick, like say, Rex Grossman–who’s still a starter and performing at a lower level than Tebow.

Then there is the other group of people on the dark side of the Tebow Manichean coin.  These are the people who hope Tebow will fail and it is primarily because of his unabashed Christian views.  These people hate Tim Tebow more than they hate al-Qaeda.  To them, Tebow represents a sappy, Christian anti-intellectualism under which assuredly boils a hatred for hippies, homosexuals and single moms.  The haters must ascribe luck to Tebow’s success, mock him as a Jesus Freak.  Each victory brings a new soliloquy of venom on YouTube video comments  and blogs.  Yet Tim Tebow keeps winning in the most excruciating manner.

Tim Tebow is a real leader, whatever be his innate ability to throw a football.  This morning, ESPN’s NLF Countdown presented a 10 minute tape of Tim Tebow with a mic on during his games.  You simply can’t teach the type of leadership that Tebow displays.  At least not with “leadership courses”, like the US military and some corporations use.  Tebow’s leadership comes from character.  It comes from confidence in something greater than himself.  In the ESPN tapes, Tebow displays an unshakable demeanor, laughing at his own mistakes, constantly motivating his own team mates even as a victory seems more and more unlikely.

We all know leaders who are pretending.  They are overly autocratic, mistaking control for leadership.  They are afraid that others will see their faults, lest they lose the control they ascribe to success.  Ofttimes, they present themselves as intellectuals, failing to recognize that a real leader can capture  emotive power more than the intellect.  Leonidas was no intellectual.  If he were, math would have told him he couldn’t win.

Week 10 NFL predictions

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A couple of comments here.  First, there are a few teams that are downright bizarre this season.  Kansas City is one of them.  Destroy Oakland 28-0, beat San Diego in a game where Phillip Rivers passes for over 350 yards, then get crushed by arguably the worst team in the NFL: Miami.  Then we have Oakland and Denver, whose new QBs have no real record to analyze.  Is Tim Tebow the real deal?  I can’t tell.  His accuracy is atrocious, but he gives Denver a lot of other things that few QBs can bring to the table.   What’s Carson Palmer’s ability right now?  Who can tell.  He’s already thrown a ton of interceptions and after almost a year off, I’m not sold.  I basically have to flip a coin when it comes to Oakland and Denver.  Need we even talk about Philadelphia? Though I still say Michael Vick is just settling back into the statistical norms of his career–last year was an aberration. Well, I had another atrocious week in week 9.  But here goes (I’m late on the Oakland/ San Diego game).

Week 10 winners:

Philadelphia

Carolina

Houston

Washington ( Just found out Rex Grossman is starting for Washington)

Jacksonville

Kansas City ( I know; can Tebow prove me wrong again?  Arrowhead’s a tough place to play)

Dallas (I’m not convinced by Buffalo yet)

New Orleans

Cleveland

Pittsburgh

Baltimore

San Francisco

Detroit

NY Jets

Green Bay

Week 9 NFL Picks

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Last week went considerably better than the prior; only 3 wrong.  Let’s give it another go.

Week 9 Predicted winners:

Kansas City

Atlanta

New Orleans

Buffalo

Houston

San Francisco

Tennessee

Oakland

New England

Arizona

Green Bay

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

NFL Week 8 predictions

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Well, last week was one of my worst prediction weeks ever.  A number of the games that most people agreed would be close calls didn’t go my way and there were a number of upsets.  But I have to stay with my formula; one week is a small sample and I have all of last season to prove that my formula works.  So on to week 8.

Week 8 winners:

Baltimore

Carolina

Houston

NY Giants

New Orleans

Tennesee

Detroit

Buffalo

Cincinatti

San Francisco

Pittsburgh

Philadelphia

San Diego

NFL Week 7 predictions

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Using the same formula that I used to win approximately 50% of last years football pool weeks, here are my predictions for week 7 of the 2011 NFL season.  I’ll put my record at the end of this season against any of the analysts on ESPN.

Winners:

Detroit

Tennessee

Miami

San Diego

Chicago

Washington

Oakland

Pittsburgh

Dallas

Green Bay

New Orleans

Baltimore

Cleveland