Monday, June 30, 2008

Amazing Bat Flip

Each season, how many times does a hitter drop his bat and run to first? The short answer: many. Still, I have never seen anything like this.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Kobe Raps to Rip on Shaq for Everything!

We are guessing that Kobe Bryant is unwilling to reply to Shaquille O'Neal's freestyle rap with a rap. So, we did it for him.
Shaq knows who I be.
He ain't won without players like me.
Penny, Wade, and Kobe.
Can't you see?
He ain't won without players like me.

You're the "difference between first and last?"
Did you forget about this season past?
The Heat were 9-37 through the trade.
The Suns were worse after it was made.

Shaq knows who I be.
He ain't won without players like me.
Penny, Wade, and Kobe.
Can't you see?
He ain't won without players like me.

Shaq, you is bashing Kareem.
You is bashing Ewing.
But how about Olajuwon?
Oh, he kicked your tush one-on-one?

Shaq knows who I be.
He ain't won without players like me.
Penny, Wade, and Kobe.
Can't you see?
He ain't won without players like me.

You were given talent matched by very few.
Then your tush just grew and grew.
So much talent went to waste.
Oh, and I don't know how your tush taste.

Shaq knows who I be.
He ain't won without players like me.
Penny, Wade, and Kobe.
Can't you see?
He ain't won without players like me.

Shaq, it was your darn itch,
Needing to relations that woman.
You should have been apologizing to Shaunie,
'Stead, you was complaining to me.

Shaq knows who I be.
He ain't won without players like me.
Penny, Wade, and Kobe.
Can't you see?
He ain't won without players like me.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Top 10 Bizarre Baseball Injuries of All-Time

Who knew adjusting a pillow could be so dangerous? Brandon Inge, who "couldn't even make this up," pulled his oblique Monday night after he stretched out to move his pillow. He is expected to miss two weeks.

Baseball has had its fair share of bizarre injuries, and Inge's would just be the latest. Where does it rank against baseball's all-time odd injuries?

Dishonorable Mention: Joel Zumaya
Originally, the Tigers staff believed the inflamation in Joel Zumaya's arm was caused by, I don't know, activities actually related to baseball. Then they found his problems were more consistent with another game, Guitar Hero.

Dishonorable Mention: Adam Eaton
In a way, I feel sorry for former Padres pitcher Adam Eaton. All he wanted to do was watch a movie. But no, those damn plastic wrappers stood between him and his DVD. So Eaton decided to pull out the paring knife. He accidentally stabbed himself in the stomach, leading to an ER visit. I think a smaller knife would have sufficed.


10. Mark Smith
When the air conditioning stopped working, Orioles outfielder Mark Smith decided to do some investigating. That is, if investigation means sticking just means sticking your hand in the air conditioner. Smith hurt his hand in the process.

9. Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa, along with Mark McGwire, placed MLB on his back, brining back the fans' interest. How could we have known his back was so weak. Sammy Sosa's back handled that heavy lifting and the first sneeze; it was the second one that brought out the back spasms. Sosa's double-barreled sneezing forced him to miss a game in favor of back treatment.

8. John Smoltz
John Smoltz is among the best pitchers of his generation. Still, he isn't above an odd (and preventable) injury. You see, Smoltz's shirt was wrinkled. Why not iron the thing? That's what Smoltz did, but he forgot to take off the shirt. He scalded himself with the iron.

7. Steve Sparks
Sparks, while playing with the Brewers, attended a motivational speaking seminar hosted. The group ripped phone books in half and blew up hot water bottles. Sparks was motivated to try it himself. He dislocated his shoulder while trying to tear a phone book in half.

6. Bret Barberie
Bret Barberie was a utility player who has two claims to fame: Jillian Barberie (his former wife) and a chili juice injury. Barberie accidentally jubbed the juice in his eyes, causing him to miss one game while playing with the Marlins.

5. Wade Boggs
Wade Boggs was a greater hitter, winning batting titles in the process. It wouldn't have hurt if, even just once, he was have practiced putting on shoes instead of hitting. Boggs once strained his back while slipping on a pair of cowboy boots. The injury kept Boggs out of the lineup for seven games.

4. Kevin Mitchell
Former slugger Kevin Mitchell has a long history with the bizarre injury. On one occasion, Mitchell was placed on the disabled list after apparently straining rib muscles while vomiting. Later, Mitchell was four days late for 1990 spring training when he was hurt eating an overcooked microwaved donut, leading to a root canal.

3. Greg Harris
Eating sunflower seeds is commonplace in a baseball dugout. Former Ranger Greg Harris learned the hard way that the seeds need to be taken seriously. He injured his wrist while flicking sunflower seeds.

2. Marty Cordova
Most baseball players tan naturally by spending many summer hours under the sun. Others choose to get their tan a different way. Not Marty Cordova. A visit to a California tanning salon provided baseball with one of its more bizarre injuries. Marty Cordova burned his face under some tanning lamps. The Orioles outfielder was ordered by doctors to stay out of direct sunlight for a couple of days. I'm sure he didn't get too much heat from his teammates for that.

1. Glenallen Hill
Nightmares can induce emotional and psychological stress. For Blue Jays outfielder Glenallen Hill, bad dreams brought on a more physical pain. Hill fell out of bed and crashed into a glass table while having a nightmare about being covered in spiders. Hill sustained several cuts in the process, leading to baseball's most bizarre injury.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Safeties: Their Skills, Duties, and Differences

The importance of the safety position to defenses varies across the NFL, depending upon scheme and defensive preference. But for the most part, the general idea behind the safety is to be the last line of defense for your team, preventing plays from going the distance. As always, there's much more to it than that.

Bob Sanders is among the NFL's best all-around safeties.

The basic concept behind the position of safety is to stand your ground and close in for a tackle when you need to. You are to prevent a long play at all costs and to play a support role to the rest of the defense.

Safety has historically been one of the more interchangeable positions in the NFL. In other words, some quicker linebackers can play safety, some corners are better at safety, some safeties can play linebacker or corner, and vice versa. It's because of the varied skill sets a safety can have, and depending on assignments the defensive scheme will ask of him, may or may not need.

Safeties line up anywhere from 10 to 20 yards behind the line, sometimes even deeper, and in some cases, "in the box" of the front seven to play a run support role or to bring a blitz. Because of this, quarterbacks tend to be taught to locate the safeties and try to identify their assignments based on where they line up and how far back. It can be a big tip off, or it can be a big bluff from the defense that causes a negative play by the offense.

The skills set

Safeties can and will use all different types of skills. A safety needs to be able to play to the coach's assignment for them, and depending on that scheme, they will need to do different things well. But I will pinpoint and explain several key skills for any safety.
  • Tackling skills. A safety needs to be able to wrap up and bring down ball carriers without any hesitation. As the last line of defense, this is the most important requisite for any safety. Because safeties generally have a full running start and are sometimes the surest tacklers on a defense, some of the hardest hitters in the NFL's history have played safety.
  • Coverage skills. From zone coverages to man coverages, a safety must have some form of coverage ability in all aspects of coverage. If they cannot cover they will be exposed time and time again if assigned to any form of coverage role -- which 3 times out of 5 they will be.
  • Recognition skills. Like a cornerback, one of the most important asset any safety can have is the ability to read, recognize and react to what is going on in front of them. Being in position and knowing where the best position for you to be in is a big part of playing safety, and a lot of that comes with recognition and general on-field smarts.
Assignments

Many schemes assign safeties to many tasks that revolve around the same concept: being the final line of defense. But there are schemes where the safety is asked to do more, and sometimes that safety's skills are such that a coach will ask different things of a safety that more resemble duties of another position, such as play closer to the line and support the run, or man up on a slot receiver or a receiver coming out of the backfield. There are even "ball hawk" safeties, assigned to do nothing but roam the defensive backfield and swarm the ball carrier as quickly (and as ferociously) as possible. It all depends on the defensive scheme and the skills of the safety.

Some of the general assignments are:
  • Cover 2 Zone coverage: The general premise of a Cover 2 Zone is playing two safeties deep in zone coverage. One safety will cover one side (half) of the defensive backfield while the other will cover the remaining half. The idea is to restrict any pass to the shallower areas of the field or have the receiver face two defenders when trying to make the catch.
  • 1 Deep coverages: Utilizing the better coverage safety, teams will place said safety deep and in center field while using the other safety in a man assignment, shallow zone or a "free roam" or "ball hawk" assignment closer to the LOS. This ensures that at least one safety will always be deep for assistance against any long throws while keeping the better hitter of the two safeties closer to the line where can make an impact -- literally.
  • Man coverages: While not very common, some safeties are asked to move up and cover a receiver one on one in man coverage. They can also be assigned to a tight end or running back. Assigning them to a running back is usually more common than any of the others because, even if the offense runs, there is already a good tackler designated to follow the running back.
  • Shallow zone/Run support: By playing a safety in a shallower zone, closer to the center of the field, teams can keep him near the area of the play and increase the defenses' chances of stopping a run early. This is usually used in conjunction with a cover 1 assignment by the other safety.
  • Free-roam: A bit pop-warner and old school for this new age NFL, there are still safeties that strive at playing this assignment and schemes out there that still assign this. This assignment asks the safety to simply wreak havoc any way possible. They need to read the offense and play to their recognition skills, and put themselves in the best position to make a play of any kind based on the offensive play call. Free-roaming is usually used in conjunction with a cover 1 assignment from the other safety.
Troy Polamalu's various skills can confuse offenses.

Safeties always have certain duties to keep in mind that they have to maintain at all times often regardless of their assignment for that play.
  • Maintain a last line of defense. Don't let anything past you or your team is giving up six.
  • Break up middle-field catches with a hard hit. Most of the time the safety will not get there before the catch is made, but as it's being made, with barely enough time to stop it, as it happens. Timed just right, you can separate a receiver from his catch or be a force no receiver wants to challenge in the middle of the field while extending for the catch (and thus exposing their midsection to some serious pain infliction by the safety).
  • Support the cornerbacks in coverage. If a corner is getting beaten or struggling to cover on a particular play, it is the duty of the safety to roll their assignment in that direction and provide an extra coverage blanket against that receiver.
  • Support run coverage. If the front seven is beaten by a running back, a safety is the final hope to prevent a score. They cannot be caught out of position and need to make the play.
Strong and free safeties

While free and strong safeties are generally interchangeable, there are widely accepted differences between the "mold" of safety who plays each position.

Strong safeties are typically the larger safety, capable of hitting hard and playing all the assignments closer to the LOS to perfection -- playing more physical in both coverage and run support. They tend to line up closer to the line as well, and are often the slower of the two safeties.

While the misconception is that they are called "strong" safeties because they play the physical role of a safety, they are actually called strong safeties because they play on the "strong side" of the defense, the side the Tight end usually lines up on.

Free safeties are typically the smaller of the two safeties. They are often better in the coverage aspects of playing safety, and thus line up a bit deeper. However, the "free roam" assignments began as a free safety duty, which is most likely the reason it earned it's "free" pre-fix. Generally speaking, they are never actually free, especially in this age of zone coverages.

It all depends on scheme. For example, a team might ask their free safety to play a shallow zone and support the run while the strong safety plays manned-up on the tight end during one play, then on the very next play have the free safety play a deep zone while the strong safety blitzes. However, another team may stick to specific "free" or "strong" assignments, preferring to keep their free safety in coverage and their strong safety closer to the line.

More teams actually utilize their safeties in the same roles nowadays than teams that use them specifically in "free" or "strong" roles, and the pre-fixes have actually become more of a title of which side of the field they line up on rather than what duties they are assigned to. But again, it all really depends on the scheme and preference of the coach.

Summing it all up

Safety is often referred to as the easiest job on a football team. Success at the position is typically intelligence driven rather than just speed and athleticism. As long as a safety is playing the way the coach asks within his assignments and schemes, he will be always be there as his defense's last line of defense.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Today's Lesson For Kids: Don't Flash Around Your Loaded Gun

New Orleans Hornets Rasual Butler was arrested Monday morning and charged for carrying a concealed weapon and wrongful display of a firearm.

Rasual Butler is an idiot. Really, it's as simple as that.

Here is the summarized version of the incident according to South Beach police and witnesses. As Butler was leaving Club Mansion, he started pointing his gun at and threatening several people. The police arrived shortly thereafter to find Butler sitting in the back of his Navigator. He told the officers the gun was on the floorboard. They found a gun that was "loaded, with a round in the chamber, ready to fire."

He was taken in to the shop, though he maintained, "I'm a professional athlete, I didn't do anything wrong."

I love how the go-to defense for any South Beach arrest has to do with "athlete" and "didn't do anything wrong." I mean, they screwed Gilbert Arenas over with a disobeying the police arrest. Still, I don't see how that compares. Rasual, you told the cops you were carrying a gun that you legally couldn't carry in Florida! Maybe if you hadn't threatened other club-goers with it, your civil rights wouldn't have been violated by those pesky police officers.

Again, Rasual Butler is an idiot. Don't let your kids be idiots.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Shaq Raps and Rips Kobe For Losing, Snitching

Shaquille O'Neal decided to take his feud with Kobe Bryant to the next level: he rapped about it. While at a New York club, Shaq ripped on Kobe for losing in the Finals. He then claimed Kobe caused his divorce.

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Steven Jackson Brutalized in Colon-Cleansing Procedure

Too often, money hungry NFL players are just full of shit when it comes to their contract demands. That's what I always say. St. Louis Rams running back Steve Jackson isn't demanding more guaranteed money or anything like that. Still, his girlfriend suggested he get his system cleaned out.

Jackson and his girlfriend, Supriya Harris, decided to have a colonic, a colon-cleansing procedure. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports has the lowdown:

"My hands were covered in sweat, and the (colon therapist) lady comes in and starts talking my ear off. There's this thin hose-type-thing that you put up there that shoots water into you and sucks everything out, but I had trouble getting it in, and then it kept coming out. The lady had to come back six different times and put it back in there. It was brutal."

Interjected Harris: "When we got done and he walked out to the waiting room, I said, 'Steven, are you OK?' He said, 'I don't want to talk about it.' I swear to God, he looked like a kid who'd been in there with R Kelly."

Jackson laughed at the memory and shook his head in mock disbelief. "I can't believe we're talking about this," he said. "But I will say this: Once you get it all out of you, your body feels great. You get a boost of energy, and you feel like you can accomplish anything."
To put this in perspective, Johnny Knoxville had a colonic on Jackass. I can only imagine how unpleasant this experience was.

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Sports Figures Living With Unfortunate Same Names

Athletes work hard to build their reputations, their names. Throughout his career, Pacman Jones has done nothing but destroy his. As such, it's no surprise that, with a change of scenery, Pacman is trying to rebrand himself as a new man. That man is Adam Jones (Mr. Jones to you youngsters who, for your sake, better not be looking up to him).

Adam Jones is a talented man on the fast-track to success. To his teammates, he is a humble kid that hasn't let the hype get to him. Of course, this description doesn't fit Pacman (except when his people are trying to show he is a good guy, a victim of circumstances). But, it does fit Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who is in the unfortunate position of sharing names with a should-be felon (and having a really bad picture).

Considering the number of professional athletes, there's bound to be a few that have the same name. Some may be mistaken for a criminal. Others find it hard the escape the shadow of the name. But which athletes or sports figures are in the most undesirable positions?

Howard Webb (engineer) vs. Howard Webb (soccer referee who upset a nation)
I'm not an expert on soccer. This is what I gather of the situation. The referee called a late-game penalty against Poland. The penalty allowed Austria to tie the score at 1-1. The tie basically eliminated Poland from Euro 2008 contention. As you can imagine, the Polish people were angry. Both Webbs received death threats. Yeah, that wouldn't be good.

Ervin Johnson vs. Earvin "Magic" Johnson
I remember Ervin "Not Magic" Johnson as the Bucks backup center in NBA Live. I moved him to point guard, thinking he was the NBA great. I was disappointed (as was, I'm sure, Ervin when he was mistaken for Earvin).

Don't call me Magic! I'm one upset backup center, Rik!

Steven Jackson vs. Stephen Jackson
Steven Jackson, when healthy, is an elite NFL running back. Stephen Jackson -- between cold-cocks, gun fights, and general lawlessness -- is an exceptional offensive and defensive wing. It would be interesting to see what the average sports fan thinks when he hears the name Stephen Jackson: thug or fantasy football savior (when healthy)?

Just a quick side note: Stephen Jackson might not be that bad after all!

Evan Longoria vs. Notable Basketball Wife
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is one of baseball's bright young stars. Still, whenever I hear his name, I think of a certain housewife. I can't be the only one.

Jason "Jay" Williams vs. Jayson Williams vs. Jason Williams
In 2002, Jayson Williams, a former NBA player, was accused of killing his limo driver while he "played" with his shotgun. He then (allegedly) attempted to orchestrate a cover up. While these stories were in the headlines, Duke guard Jason Williams was working on making the jump from All-American to NBA superstar. He felt he needed to change his name to eliminate any connection to the other's crime. Jay Williams was born, never to be confused with Jayson or that White Chocolate guy (and I don't know which one is worse). How did that turn out?

Baseball Adam Jones vs. Adam Jones
When I google my name, I wouldn't want this stuff coming up.

Eddie Johnson vs. "Fast Eddie" Johnson
In August of 2006, "Fast Eddie" Johnson, a two-time NBA All-Star in the 1980s, was arrested for raping an 8-year-old girl. Of course, the Associated Press printed the picture of Good Eddie Johnson, the former NBA player turned Phoenix Suns commentator, with the article. Good Eddie said the mistake led to the worst day of his life. His friends, family, and colleagues thought he was a child rapist, and in my expert opinion, that would suck. Though the AP eventually fixed their mistake, Good Eddie believes the damage is irreparable.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

IM Chat With Ray Allen, Hater of the Big Three Label

The following instant messaging conversation took place following the Celtics' championship win. Ron P. Crimson had no idea Celtics guard Ray Allen took exception to the Big Three nickname. He will find out now. Let's join them as the conversation begins...

Ronniecrimson78: Congratulations on the win, man.
RayRay20celtics: Thanks.
Ronniecrimson78: The title's back where it's supposed to be: Boston!
RayRay20celtics: Haha. You know it.
Ronniecrimson78: I knew the Big Three would bring it home. Big Three FTW!
RayRay20celtics: Well, to be honest, it took every last one of us to win it. Really, we're the Big 15.
Ronniecrimson78: OK. ;-)
RayRay20celtics: What's that supposed to mean?
Ronniecrimson78: Well, I mean... Scalabrine?
RayRay20celtics: Yeah, Scalabrine. He was big, stepping up for us.
Ronniecrimson78: Seriously? Scalabrine?
RayRay20celtics: Yeah, Scalabrine!
Ronniecrimson78: He didn't even suit up!
RayRay20celtics: So? Have you seen him in practice? He can disappear, preparing us for Lamar Odom. Scalabrine was great.
Ronniecrimson78: OK. Whatever. I guess Scalabrine did something, but the Big Three still won the thing for Boston!
RayRay20celtics: OK, for the last time, stop calling us the Big Three! We are more than three players. I told you, there are fifteen players on the championship-winning Boston Celtics. Drop the entire Big Three thing!
Ronniecrimson78: How about the Three Amigos?
RayRay20celtics: Stop!
Ronniecrimson78: The Three Basketeers?
RayRay20celtics: Shut up!
Ronniecrimson78: Parquet Posse?
RayRay20celtics: Well, if it's referring to...
Ronniecrimson78: The Boston Three Party!
RayRay20celtics: We are a team! Any time there was that label, whether it was on TV, in a newspaper or we saw it traveling to another city, we just did our best to downplay it. We wouldn't have won with just Kevin, Paul, and me! So start saying the Celtics won! The media, people on Sportscenter, and fans are just masking the team's achievements by crediting the Big Three for the win. We're tired of it!
Ronniecrimson78: Um, isn't that kind of hypocritical or at least irresponsible?
RayRay20celtics: (Pause in typing) How so?
Ronniecrimson78: I mean, the Big Three was more than a media creation. You, Garnett, and Pierce embraced the label. You guys went out and did interviews as a trio. Hell, you did multiple ESPN commercials. In one, you decide on new nicknames for the Big Three. How can you complain now about the media and fans saying the Big Three won it or other stuff like that when eight months ago, you reveled in it?
RayRay20celtics: (Pause in typing) I don't get what you're trying to say.
Ronniecrimson78: OK. Look at Paris Hilton. She would go out of her way to be photographed by the paparazzi. They were key in making her into a celebrity even though she has done nothing to deserve it. How can she then complain about them, the people that she embraced to help make her famous?
RayRay20celtics: Well, Paris Hilton is stupid. I got to go.
Ronniecrimson78: Wait!
RayRay20celtics: What?
Ronniecrimson78: Is this actually Ray Allen?
RayRay20celtics: Nope.
Ronniecrimson78: Figures.
RayRay20celtics: Bye.

WARNING: Scrolling past this point may cause trauma!

Boston's Championship X-Factor

Lamar Odom Ain't This Darn Intimidating


Seriously?

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Anything's Possible for KG, Including a Nutritious Breakfast

You might have heard that the Celtics won last night. It's true. Kevin Garnett, previously a doubter, realized anything is possible, even him winning a championship. Of course, with victory comes many honors, the most prominent of which is Wheaties! Kevin Garnett with a proper jumpstart to his day? NBA, watch out for the repeat!

Photobucket

In all seriousness, congratulations to the Celtics for the win. Going wire-to-wire as the favorites is difficult task.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Dummies Guide to Cornerbacks

Today's installment of the Football FAQ is a look at corner backs. Arguably the most important asset for a defense, a good corner is hard to find. The rules work against them and there is quite a lot of knowledge of the offense required to play well.

The general concept of the cornerback is to, as I was taught when I was little, "legally interfere with the catch." They do this by playing different coverages and playing to their assignment. But there is so much more to it.

Asante Samuel may be one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.

Making a good corner

Cornerbacks generally are the quickest and most athletic players on the team. This is for a reason. They need to be able to chase speedy receivers, keep up with them, and be able to correct themselves quickly when beaten on a double move or a misjudgment on the route.

They need to be able to be athletic enough to get in front of a receiver before the ball gets to him; that means agility and recovery speed, not just pure straight line speed. Not to mention, they must jump high enough to compete for the football.

Even if a cornerback has all those skills athletically, they still need to be able to tackle in the open field, or at least slow down the carrier enough for someone else to clean up.

And of course, you need to be very smart and alert. Corners must locate the ball while reading and reacting--to the point of being proactive--to everything that the quarterback and wide receivers do. This takes amazing work ethic and willingness to study every aspect of the opposing team, looking for anything that will tip you off on what is going to happen and how to stop it.

Basic skill set

There are some basic techniques and skill sets that corners need to possess. In this case, many of the techniques are skills in themselves.
  1. Backpedaling: The basic technique all corners need to be good at. This keeps the play in front of you while still being able to keep an eye on your man or any receiver entering your zone.
  2. Shedding blockers: Corners need to do this, too, and especially if you expect to stop some speedy outside runners. Luckily, it's mostly receivers they will need to beat off a block.
  3. Physicality: Nowadays, the rules are against the cornerbacks. They only have five yards in which to interfere with a receiver in any way (in high school and even to some extent in college, you are allowed to keep an arm, hip or back against a receiver, but cannot grab or push). This makes it much harder to to keep track of the receiver when beaten, and thus it's becoming a bigger necessity to be as physical as possible within the five yards. This disrupts the route's timing and flow. Physical play when going for the ball without interrupting the receiver is also a big plus.
  4. Man up bumping: A separate skill from purely being physical at the line. This is the ability to force a receiver, from the bump, to go outside or inside and completely adjust their route. Only the real best of the best (with physicality) can do it this well.
  5. Tackling: A corner who can't tackle is a huge liability, especially against the short passing game in which he may get beat for lots of 2 or 3 yarders that turn into first downs on a failure to wrap up.
  6. Sudden explosiveness: The ability to make quick adjustments and "burst" into the play. Explosiveness is necessary for getting in front of a receiver before the ball does without impeding the intended target, blitzing, making up for a misjudgment of the route, or recovering from a lost step to stop the receiver when he slows just enough to make the catch.
  7. Speed: Plain and simple, they need to be able to run with at least the worst-of-the-best of them.
Reading and reacting

It's preached to corners from the high school to pro levels by any defensive coach: watch everything. Maintain focus on the play. Be aware of what the quarterback and receiver are doing. React to what you see as quick as you can.

It sounds simple. At the pro level though, with all the confusing variables the offense will throw at a defense, it becomes extremely difficult. Luckily enough (or maybe not so, depending on the work ethic of the corner), at the pro level, there is plenty of time for film study with school studies done. But the same goes for the offense, who will be tipped off about your coverage by anything you do as well. So reading and reacting, again, becomes even more crucial and difficult.

Cornerbacks need to react to everything the quarterback does without biting on any form of misdirection play--be it a counter, a draw, play action or pump fake--while still keeping tabs on anything the reciever is doing to get an idea of where they are doing with their route, when to break on it, or deciding keep the play in front of them instead of breaking on the route. Some coaches preach different aspects of this for their defense, preferring their corners play aggressive and break early, while some demand their corners never break and always keep the play in front of them (usually zone defenses).

Aggressive and conservative corners

Depending on the coaches preference, the cornerback will either play aggressive, meaning break on the route (jumping it for a play) or conservatively, meaning keep the play in front of you at all times to prevent a bigger play.

Usually corners who play conservatively and play well are the cornerbacks with great adjustment and make-up speed, with that good burst for ensuring the big play doesn't get started. Reacting--again, to the point of almost being proactive--with smart decisions is key. A great example of this is Ronde Barber.

Corners who play aggressively and play well generally are the guys with size and physicality to their game, able to out-muscle at the line and disrupt plays early enough to put themselves in a better position to make a catch than the receiver is. However, they still need to maintain some strong form of a short burst and good general speed for keeping track of and biting on any read they make as soon as they make it. A great example of this is Al Harris.

Then there are the cornerbacks who do both pretty well, and often are allowed to play freely and read, react and be conservative or aggressive based on what they see. You generally need to be a very well rounded cornerback (in terms of skill sets and "immeasurables") to do this. A good example of this style of play is Marcus Trufant.

Champ Bailey plays the ball as well as any corner in the NFL.

Zone and man coverages

As with conservative and aggressive styles of reading and reacting, a cornerback has to be able to play to the defensive preference of the coach in terms of coverage scheme. As was the case with zone-blocking and man-blocking, all teams use both, but tend to favor one of the other. The difference is, man and zone coverages can be combined each play, with, for instance, the slot and X-receiver being manned, while the other cornerbacks are playing zone coverages.

As a result, cornerbacks need to be able to do both. Still, some corners tend to fit the mold of one type of coverage corner over the other, and play that coverage better.

Zone-coverage is when the corners cover a portion of the field. This area is assigned by the play, and can be nearly anywhere on the field depending on the play design. It is intended to confuse the offense, forcing the quarterback to find an open area and sometimes delay his throw until his target hits an open area of the field, or "hole in the zone."

There will always be a gap or hole in the coverage with zone assignments, it's just a matter of finding them and having the right route to hit them, which in turn gives the time advantage to the pass rush. Receivers and offenses can counter this with option routes and post-snap route adjustments that the quarterback and receiver must both read and make in sync--a difficult task.

Cornerbacks that "project" to zone defenses are physical in their style of play and are very good at reading and reacting to the point of proactivity. They don't need to have as much speed so much as a short length burst, and again, I can't stress enough the need to be extremely quick with reactions to play zone well. Asante Samuel is a good example of this type of player.

Man-coverage is when a cornerback is assigned to "shadow" a particular receiver (or in some cases, tight end) and cover them the length of the play in a one-on-one matchup of abilities. One wrong step, one wrong read or one slow step, and the receiver could very well be beating you for six. The positive is just the opposite: good steps, good reads and fast feet can prevent you from having to defend one pass or make one tackle all game. This is the true sign of a great corner.

But as the saying goes, no one stays covered forever. Eventually, especially with the rules favoring the receiver, a quarterback is bound to find a target sometimes. The same as with "holes in the zone", it depends if the breakdown happens before the pass rush gets there. If you haven't caught on, a good pass rush is a corner's best friend.

Cornerbacks who are great in man coverage generally are the faster of the cornerbacks, with great back peddling and the knowledge to combine aggressive and conservative play and use it to their advantage. A great example of this is (homerism or not, it's true!) Terence Newman.

Slot corners

Covering the slot is a tricky ordeal. Some teams prefer, as with their starters, a good man or zone corner for the position. A good slot corner generally is a well-rounded corner, able to do both at any given time, and they need to be able to play the run working in that position.

Other than that, there really is no difference between a slot corner and a starter except where they play in the defense. And none of that truly is a difference at all.

Summarized

While it comes down to scheme and preference, cornerbacks, especially the good ones, need to be able to do it all. Any lack of ability can get exploited by a good offense, and often if you have one really good corner, it can force more efforts to the other side of the field, making that corner look worse than he is.

It's an important and unique position. The best corners often don't get noticed for a while because they are quiet in terms of playmaking, keeping quarterbacks throwing the other way. The worst corners can make a play at any time if they study enough film and slowly become effective for a defense, even as a fourth man on the depth chart.

As with many positions, knowledge for the game can triumph over ability.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

7 Celestial Objects Named After Sports Figures

Myron Cope, the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers broadcaster, was given an honor typically reserved for gods. The International Astronomical Union agreed to rename an asteroid "7835 Myroncope." Myroncope is 3 miles wide and located 88 million miles from Earth.

Now, this leads me to ask: which sports figures deserve to have celestial objects named in their name? And by deserve, I mean create a fairly decent analogy.

7. Mark Prior will donate his name to a meteoroid.
Mark Prior was so good, so young. At 22, he was arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball. There was no telling how good he was going to be. Five injury-plagued years later, we are asking if his career is over. Remember, meteoroids are also called falling stars.
6. The sun will be renamed after Chad Johnson.
Really, I could have gone with an egotistical wide receiver here. Chad Johnson is just the most recent who is under the impression that the world revolves around him.

5. Eddy Curry has been called a black hole. Thus, it is only fitting for black holes to be known as Eddycurrys.
If you will recall, Eddy Curry is a bad passer with a large gravitational field. His teammates will sooner orbit him than receive a kick-out from the post. For comparison's sake, a black hole's so powerful that nothing can escape its pull.

4. White stars will be known as Larrybirds.
Um, I think you understand the thinking behind this one.

3. The planet formerly known as Uranus will be renamed Kobebryant.
We all remember learning the planets as a youngster. We all remember the snickers that followed Uranus. Ha. Likewise, we will all remember that Kobe Bryant was a bit of an ass to his teammates. Really, this is just a perfect match.

2. Rogue planets can be named Bobbypetrinos.
A rogue planet is an object that resembles of planets, but is not bound to a star. This allows it to roam, on its own, through space. Bobby Petrino is a coach that resembles a coach, but his loyalties are not bound to a specific team. He is allowed to roam throughout the coaching ranks, following the money. The two are strikingly similar.

1. Dark matter will forever be referred to as Shane Battier.
Shane Battier is considered the ultimate intangibles player. He is a smart defender, but has never been flashy. The team plays better with him on the floor, yet he goes unnoticed. Really, Battier is to the Rockets what dark matter is to visible matter. (WikiDefinition: dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.)

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Canadian Senator Attempts to Ban NFL Games

When the Buffalo Bills announced their plans to play eight games in Toronto, many longtime fans worried the beginning to the end was underway for their hometown franchise. I guess, we all just assumed the Canadians would welcome a real football team. Who knew they didn't want the Bills or the NFL?

If Canadian Senator Larry Campbell has his way, the Bills won't even step foot in his great land. Campbell drafted a bill that would effectively ban the NFL from playing regular season games in Canada.

The actual language is "no person owning or operating a football team within a foreign league shall require or permit that team to play football in Canada" and "no person shall play football within Canada as a player on a football team within a foreign league."

Why would Campbell want to ban the NFL from his country? Well, he wants you to remember a few things: Canadian football has existed longer than American football, the Grey Cup has symbolized Canadian "football supremacy", and the CFL "contributes to the bonds of nationhood across Canada."

Additionally, Campbell says the Toronto Argonauts would be unable to compete against the Bills for fans in the region, which would then destroy the Canadian game. Campbell and his like-minded Canadians will fight the americanization one of the last remaining Canadian institutions.

In other Campbell news, his implementation of the Downtown Eastside skid row doesn't sit well with some Canadians.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

All You Need to Know About Offensive Linemen

Offensive linemen have one of the roughest and toughest jobs in the NFL. They are responsible for helping the offense produce yards and points by protecting the quarterback from the rush and creating open gaps for the running back. Still, they receive little recognition. Hopefully, with this guide, that will change.

Games are won and lost in the trenches.


The Offensive Line

Many fail to realize is the skill, technique and knowledge that goes into this position. Even more fail to realize that pass protection and run blocking are different skills and require different skill sets. Often, these skills are determining factors when deciding to place that newly acquired offensive lineman at tackle or guard.

As a tackle, your primary objective will be maintaining speed rushers, even on run plays, so you need to be better at pass protection. Guards, lined up inside, are expected to deal with the bigger run stopping forces, and thus, often need to be better at run blocking.

Doing any blocking is easier said then done. The defense is always scheming to take advantage of the offensive line and to confuse them with different fronts or blitz schemes in an attempt to conceal the blitzer. As a result, is up to the quarterback or the center to call out the blocking assignment adjustments if they feel any are neccessary. They need to sync up and be sure of their assignments if they are to have any form of success blocking.

This is a different position altogether in explaining how skill sets work within the position because all players need the same skills, if even at varying degrees. Footwork, balance, leverage and smarts are the main prerequisites for an offensive lineman.

Working within the scheme

The most important concept for any offensive lineman is to work within their scheme. This cannot be stressed enough by any coach to their player. All play designs begin and end with determining which blocking assignments are given to each offensive lineman.

Obviously, it would take all day to explain how every blocking scheme works. And, to be quite honest, some of the professional blocking schemes are beyond my expertise as a high school coach.

Zone-blocking schemes (ZBS)

Zone blocking is a type of scheme used by coaches to have their offensive lineman block opposing players. In this scheme the offensive lineman block an area of the field, or zone, as opposed to a particular man as seen in the Man Blocking Scheme (MBS).

The ZBS requires a different type of player than the MBS. A lot of fans just think "light" players when it comes to ZBS, but that’s not necessarily the case. You need linemen who are "light on their feet", and have better balance than average linemen. You still need the mass and muscle that is a requirement of the position to begin with.

Now it is important to remember that all teams use a combination of both schemes, but generally favor one or the other. Teams use ZBS in an effort to help neutralize stunts, slants, and blitzes without having to identify and/or adjust first. It can eliminate 30-50% or sometimes even more of the adjustments that need to be made or called pre-snap. However, in the run game it can be used to create larger gaps in one area at the sacrifice of a bit of protection elsewhere on the line. More on that later.

The ZBS, when used for running, is when two or three offensive linemen work in tandem as opposed to each offensive lineman having a specific, predetermined man to block. The key is for two linemen to come off in unison and attack a single defensive lineman to the play side. Then, as the play progresses, one of them leaves and moves to the second level to block a linebacker. The key is for the linemen to have chemistry so they can decide who and when one of them will leave to block the linebacker.

This it will create a "crease" for the running back, but often times leaves one defensive lineman opposite the play side free to get into the backfield. That is why ZBS schemes often run counters. They attempt to draw the defense away from the play side first to allow the runner to "cut-back" and run into the crease. That is why teams like Denver rely on one-cut runners with a really strong cut back ability.

The movements

Now the linemen must do 4 key things for this to work.
  1. They must stay hip to hip with each other. Without enough repetitions together, you will probably see offensive lineman tripping over each other. This, interestingly, is why offensive linemen in this scheme rank among the highest in high ankle sprain injuries.
  2. They need to keep their shoulders square to the line. This keeps their arms within reach of making a play and help conceal any potential foot movement, as well as help explode into their block.
  3. Most importantly, both linemen have to keep their eyes on the linebacker. They must know where he is at all times and be aware of his assignment based on his first few movements.
  4. Finally, they must communicate with each other and know who is going to take over the defensive lineman and who is going to move to the second level.
The main zone blocking plays are the inside zone and the outside zone, also called the stretch play. The outside zone calls for the defensive end to be double teamed by the guard and the tackle. They decide who breaks off and blocks the linebacker. (This usually depends on the defensive end). If he tries to edge rush, the guard moves to the second level. If he spins inside, then the tackle moves to block the linebacker. On the inside zone, the defensive tackle is double-teamed (especially prevalent in cases of going against a 3-4). The center and the guard have to make the double team and the decision to move on to the second level.

Now, for the individual linemen, there are two basic techniques for the linemen when running a ZBS: Zone Block Right and Zone Block Left. As the names indicate, Zone Block Right is for plays and the double teams to be run to the right of the center. Zone Block Left is just the opposite. Then you put this together and run Inside Left and Inside Right, or Outside Left and Outside Right.

Basic Steps in ZBS

As for the actual footwork there are four basic steps, depending on what side of the play you’re on and where your zone is.
  1. The Drive Block is when the offensive lineman fires straight out and drives the man in front of him back. This is used if you are on the front side of the play (the play is on your side, such as a left tackle or left guard on a Zone Block Left) and your zone is directly in front of you.
  2. The Turn Step is where you take your play side foot and step about six inches at a 45-degree angle away from your body and to the play side. The second step is a long forward step with your backside foot putting you at an angle to the play. This is used if you are on the front side of the play and your zone is not directly in front of you. Generally, this is used by the second man on the double team.
  3. The Scoop step is where the blocker takes a short step laterally, away from the play, to block the back side blocker. This is used if you are on the back side of the play and the zone is not directly in front of you. This is generally where the cut block is used to cut off backside pursuit.
  4. The Bucket Step is a short backwards step to the outside where the foot lands at a 45 degree angle to the outside putting an offensive lineman on a 45 degree track up field. It is basically a backwards turn step. This is used if you are on the back side of the play and the zone is directly in front of you. Unlike the Scoop Step, these players generally don’t use the cut block. Instead, they continue on an angle looking to block the player who shows on the next level in the event that the defender beats him to the inside.
Pass protection gets trickier. But this is where Zone blocking and man blocking scheme begin to get very similar, utilizing more foot-to-foot protection until the point of impact, in which the linemen separate to work their player away from the quarterback. In pass protection, even with an MBS, it becomes more of a zone protection, maintaining protection over your area of the field.

Man-blocking

Now that you understand the concepts of Zone-blocking schemes and how the linemen must work within them, the concepts behind man-blocking schemes are relatively easier to understand. Man-blocking often relies on more play-specific assignments per player and is heavily determined by the adjustments that are made pre-snap.

For instance, it's possible for the left tackle and the left guard to have completely different assignments, such as the guard "pulling to the outside" (moving to the outside to make a block on the end or backer) while the tackle is then assigned to the defensive tackle left free by the pulling guard. Every offensive lineman is assigned to a defender in an MBS, but their assignments for that block will always vary and is predetermined by the play and any adjustments that were made.

Summarized

With offensive lineman, it all comes down to playing with leverage and within your scheme. It is the most scheme-determined position on the offense, relying heavily on the players to do what is mapped out for them. While some offensive lineman are devastating players, it's quite possible to have average talent on the offensive line but still have one of the best in the game if they play within their scheme, work well together and don't make any mental errors.

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Because of Criticism, Milton Bradley is a Sad Panda

Ryan Lefebvre, a Royals broadcaster, says he complimented Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton's accountability for his past mistakes. Lefebvre then decided to make an "interesting" comparison to fellow Ranger Milton Bradley, saying "it doesn't appear Milton Bradley has done the same thing in his life."

Bradley, who was watching the game on the clubhouse TV, wasn't very happy with the comments. He decided to try having a chat with Lefebvre after the game.

Bradley left the clubhouse after the game and reached the press box but never talked to Lefebvre. General manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington chased after Bradley, and Daniels escorted him back to the clubhouse.

Bradley then walked around with tears welling up and his voice breaking as he spoke.

"All I want to do is play baseball and make a better life for my kid than I had, that's it," Bradley said to a quiet clubhouse. "I love all you guys. ... I'm strong, but I'm not that strong."

Many players tried to console Bradley, who had his head down at his locker.
What really bothers me about Lefebvre's comparison is that, really, there isn't much to compare between the two's mistakes. Josh Hamilton was abusing cocaine and heroin during his troubled period. Too my knowledge (and Wikipedia's), Milton Bradley has never had serious legal problems outside of disorderly conduct and rumors of assault. It seems much of his trouble stems from on-field confrontations. Personally, I can live with that.

That being said, could Bradley have handled past situations with more maturity? Absolutely. Would I be annoyed by sideline critics like Lefebvre? Surely. Did going to the press box help his cause at all? Nope.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

10 Things Less Shocking Than Racism in NASCAR

Have you heard about Mauricia Grant? She is the former technical inspector who is suing NASCAR for $225 million. Grant alleges she subjected to racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Grant's lawsuit stems from harassment in the racing garages. Grant says co-workers called her "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba", told her that she worked on "colored people time", and intimidated her by referencing the Ku Klux Klan.

Oh, did I tell you that Grant is black?

Considering the history of NASCAR, it's no surprise that racism is prevalent in the sport. Honestly, it's probably expected. Given that fact, I ask: what would be less shocking than hearing that NASCAR is being sued for racism? Let's make a list!

10. After finding his personal happiness, Floyd Mayweather decides to come out of retirement to box another payday.

9. Hours before a key playoff game, Tracy McGrady sneezes, triggering a back injury. He misses the game and the second round. Again.

8. Kelvin Sampson, now an assistant for the Bucks, is fined by the NBA for tampering with opposing players.

7. The revelation by Pete Rose that Pete Rose did, in fact, bet on baseball. A few of us had figured that was the case beforehand.

6. Bill Belichick hired an assistant to videotape the "games" he "plays" with his girlfriend.

5. Clay Bennett moves the Sonics to Oklahoma City despite a national outcry.

4. Jonathan Papelbon and his bullpen-mates signed a baseball in exchange for a naked picture of some random fan's ex-wife. Wait, I wasn't surprised by this.

3. While attending USC, O.J. Mayo was funneled thousands of dollars from a prospective agent.

2. A group of Dallas Cowboys, led by Pacman Jones, have created White House 2.0. This time, it's located inside the locker room.

1. Roger Clemens had relations with a goat while playing for the Yankees. Seriously, at this point, I will believe anything about this man.

Photobucket

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Trivia With Joe Morgan: That's Trivia?

Who cares if it was the eighth inning in a two run ballgame? Joe Morgan had a trivia question to ask! How did a simple question into a discussion about a fishing trip, Kurt Russel, and so much more? Well, Awful Announcing has the transcript (which I think is better) to go with the video.

"Jon, I gotta ask you a trivia question. I was fishing with Matt Franco, used to play for the Mets. I was fishing with him on a boat, and Matt Franco asked me this trivia question. He said he had talked to players past and present. He asked me, Which guy hit the hardest line drives most consistently of all I'd ever seen. Hardest line drives."- Joe Morgan
"That's a trivia question?"- Jon Miller
"Well, it was for me and him. We were playing trivia on the fishing boat."- Joe
"Where would I look up the answer to that?"- Jon
"Well, you should know the answer!"- Joe
"Give me the question one more time."- Jon
"All right. Who hits the hardest line drives of any player you ever saw on a consistent basis?"- Joe
"Dave Winfield."- Jon
"All right, keep going. That's one. That's "A". "A" wasn't right.- Joe
[Loud Laughs] "Yes it was right! I beg to differ!"- Jon
"I'm gonna give you, uhh … I'm gonna give … I'm gonna give you a hint. You even broadcast games for him."- Joe
[Long Pause] "I broadcast Dave Winfield's games."- Jon
"No … for the answer, I'm talking about. I'm telling you, he asked all the other players. I'm not saying—"- Joe
"Well, I'm saying, this is a question for which there is no correct answer."- Jon
"Yeah, there's a correct answer."- Joe
"Well, what did you say? What was your answer? Did you get it right?"- Jon
"Yes." [pause] "Al Oliver."- Joe
"Oh, Al Oliver. He was—"- Jon
"See!"- Joe
"He was a very good line drive hitter."- Jon
"I knew you would say that. See, I knew that you'd eventually come up with the answer."- Joe
[Al Oliver and Dave Winfield Talk]
"It was interesting because Matt Franco said if I got the answer correct, he would introduce to his cousin … the actor … Kurt Russell. And I said, 'Okay.'- Joe
"That's his cousin?"- Jon
"That's his cousin."- Joe
[Laughs] "So when did you meet Kurt?"- Jon
"Well I haven't met him yet. I just answered it last week."- Joe
"Well, what's taken him so long? We're in L.A. Kurt could have been here tonight. Or maybe he wants to wait till you're in New York, and we can help Kurt Russell … escape from New York."- Jon
"Yeah, that was a great movie. Snake Plissken. The Snake."- Joe
"You want to meet him bad, don't you?"- Jon



In my high-stakes games of sports trivia, questions like that just wouldn't fly.

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The Making of Wide Receivers

In today's NFL, wide receivers play an important role in most offenses. They make big catches, move the chains, and open the field up. It doesn't hurt if they can block, too. What goes into the making of wide receivers? We will examine the "measurables" and 'immeasurables", the various types of wide receivers, and how they fit into an offensive scheme.

"Measurables" versus "Immeasurables"

Most wide receivers nowadays are rated coming out of college based on how well they performed in the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump at the NFL Combine. It's possible for under performing receivers to be propelled into the first round simply because they ran a 4.35 in the 40 and measured out at 6' 3". As of late, this formula has resulted in many first round busts with later round receivers exhibiting the talent that should have had them in round one.

In my opinion, you really have to look at certain skills and immeasurables to determine how good a wide receiver is or will be--not just their speed, height, or vertical. There are several factors I personally look at, but a lot of it is about preference and the type of reciever a team is looking for.

The Key Immeasureables

Any style of wide receiver needs a few skills to will make them into a better player. For the most part, these are not physical attributes. Instead, they focus on the mental aspects of the position.

  • General field awareness. The ability to know where you are on the field--where the defenders, the goal line, and the sidelines are--and knowing when the ball should be coming to you if you are the quarterback's target.
  • Good route running. The ability to keep track of your feet and to be in position to make the catch. This usually comes with experience, but all wide receivers need to be able to run a crisp, well-timed route. Creating separation to overcome good coverage or a lack of speed is a calling card of a good route runner.
  • Route Adjustments. The ability to make adjustments during the play. In more diverse offenses, the wide receiver may need to make adjustments to their route based on the coverage before the quarterback gets hit.
  • Catching adjustments. The ability to locate the football and adjust your body to make the catch, even if it means exposing yourself to a hit.
  • Catching ability. - Pretty self-explanatory. Whether you call it "good hands", "catching ability" or even Madden's "spectacular catcher", it goes without saying that this is one of the single most unmeasurable features a wide receiver must have.
  • Blocking. You still need to be able to block as a receiver, especially if your team plans on running outside the tackles at any point in the game.
The Styles

As with every position, there are different styles of play that vary from receiver to receiver. Some earn titles for their style of play like "possession receiver" or "deep threat", but as always, such a term can be quite vague. Labels like "number one target" or "slot receiver" become even more vague when you consider the amount of variable skill sets a guy could have as that number one target or slot guy. I'm going to do my best to break down these titles, explain what skill sets are generally associated with them, and analyze how they fit into offensive schemes.

Possession Receivers

A possession receiver is a pretty vague description, but personally, I call these types of receivers the "pure receivers." Some may be big, tough targets who make all the tough grabs for first downs, taking the big hit from the coverage and hanging onto the football. Other possession receivers strive at getting yards-after-catch (YAC) by using their toughness or elusiveness in space.

Some kinds of possession receivers even combine both of those styles of possession receiving (able to take the big hit over the middle for a first down and able to slip a tackler or two for a big gain). Receivers of this style are often referred to as YAC specialists for their ability to generate yards after catch when given the ball in a shallower area of the field.

A common misconception about possession receivers is that they aren't fast runners. That is not always true. For example, one of more physical possession threats was Keyshawn Johnson, and he lacked ideal wide receivers speed. There are also other cases (T.O. comes to mind) in which the possession receiver does have speed, though it might not be equivalent to a game-breaking speed/deep threat.

The main factors and skills that are associated with possession receivers are that they are typically a taller, bigger target without world-class speed, play physical, possess amazing "hands", and adjust well to the pass. They also need to be willing to extend their body and risk taking a hard hit.

If your team has a receiver who fits that description, he is probably used in a role where he runs a lot of routes 5 to 15 yards deep and works the middle areas of the field more often.

Keyshawn Johnson is the prototype when it comes to possession receivers.


Deep threats

Deep threats are usually titles given to receivers who thrive at running the deep routes. While they vary in effectiveness based on what skill sets and immeasurables they have, they generally have one common skill: speed.

Deep threats generally need to be well-versed at looking the football into their hands from over their shoulders. Foot control is required for difficult sideline catches.

The main concept behind a deep threat receiver is to have a target to always throw deep to, thus lifting the coverage away from the shallower areas of the field. This opens up the field for the quarterback to make shorter passes.

That being said, it is pointless to have any player be nothing more than a decoy every down. Many offenses rely on a progression based system and post-snap adjustments by the quarterback. If the safety bites up or the corner gets beat (anything that would favor the deep match up), the deep threat must make the catch; hands and catching ability are also needed. (Without the hands, you have Troy Williamson, and he isn't particularly good.) In the the situation that a deep threat lacks the ideal catching ability, they must make up for it in "decoy-potential" and game-breaking speed.

There are deep threats who excel at catching. These deep threats are good enough at their job that they become the top receiver for their team. However, I prefer to call this type "speed threats." To me, "deep threat" implies they only work deep, while a "speed threat" implies that it's a receiver whose speed is a major threat to all areas of the field.

Speed threats can make great YAC specialists because of their explosive ability when given the football in space. If they can make a catch in stride or are great at the "run-turn-catch-turn-run" transition and can do it without losing much forward momentum, they can often speed right through a seam to the end zone. However, this usually only applies to speed threats or deep threats that have some of the immeasurable abilities of a possession receiver: the willingness to make the tough catches where they could be subject to a big hit.

Randy Moss is the NFL's best deep threat.

Number 1 Targets

Guys like Marvin Harrison--who can do the job of a possession receiver but are also a legitimate threat with speed and deep ability--are considered "number 1 targets." The majority of this title is nothing but fanfare. Teams have been successful for decades using recievers who only strive in one area of receiving while just mix and matching them to the proper role in their offense. They may use spread offensive sets to feature more recievers and substitute players for specific play calls or down and distances.

Slot receivers

Slot receivers are the guys who work well from the third wide receivers spot, which is the position between the offensive tackle (or tight end) and the outer most recievers.

These guys vary in skill sets depending on scheme, team, and preference. In some cases, the slot receiver is the pure speed threat, capable of lifting coverages and able to break a game open with one catch. Some teams prefer a possession receiver or YAC specialist in the slot, giving another big possession threat for the quarterback in the 3rd down situations where you might go to a 3 wide receivers set.

As always, it's all about the scheme--and in some cases, all about the players available when a coach tailors his offense to them.

Putting it into a system

A wide receiver usually is not the tell-tale sign of what an offense schemes to do or of what system they try to run. Many offenses, since the dawn of the forward pass, simply utilize a good possession target (even if it's a tight end) and a good speed threat or deep threat opposite them; they may have tremendous success.

It all comes down to the routes they are asked to run within the system. Most coaches will adjust the play calling to reflect the routes their receivers are best at. This is actually one of the easiest positions to adjust your scheme to fit the personnel (as long as your not like Bill Parcells who refuses to adjust for whatever old-fashioned reason).

Typically, most schemes nowadays make perfect use of whatever type of receivers they have or obtain. It's rare you come across a team searching for just one or two styles. Instead, a diversity in receiving styles helps to variate am offense in an affordable manner.

Summarizing it all

The speed threats have been hot commodities lately, but measurables are often times misleading. However, this trend towards the measurements is dying. Slowly (but surely), it's converting back to the classic possession-types preference, with selections like Jordy Nelson (not saying he's slow or can't go deep, just saying, he fits the bill of a "pure receiver") being made before some of the more exciting speedsters available is a testament to this. The best speed receivers and the best deep threats are the receivers who can combine at least some of the possession receiver's abilities into their own game.

Possession receivers generally are the more pure of receivers, able to make the tough catches a routine part of their job. While many of them may not be as exciting as Steve Smith--a real speedster who outruns the entire defense with the ball in his hand--their role in an offenses is just as important.

It more or less breaks down to if the receiver is physical enough for working in the middle regularly or breaking tackles in shallow routes; or if they are quick enough to run the deeper routes without allowing the rush to get to the quarterback.

As always, there are plenty of players with mixed-skill sets who break and even shatter any barrier that a tag like "deep threat" or "possession receiver" usually brings.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Cedric Benson Released by Bears Following Second DUI

Cedric Benson was drafted in 2005 to be a franchise-changing running back. He had me, ignoring his draft-day tears, believing in the hype. He had me defending him after his lackluster play and his first DUI charge. Of course, he had head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo doing the same--and I'm guessing here--on a larger scale. All of these issues came to a head Monday following Benson's second DUI arrest in a month.

How would Smith and Angelo handle the situation? They stopped defending him. On Monday, the Bears placed Cedric Benson on waivers, effectively cutting ties with their distractions.

In a statement to the media, Angelo announced the move.

"Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate. As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of 'team' will not play for the Chicago Bears."
Maybe things would have been different if Benson had produced on the field. Instead, Benson rushed for only 1,593 yards in three seasons. When the Bears organization gift-wrapped the starting job for Benson by trading Thomas Jones, Benson responded with a season which only confirmed suspicions: he was a bust.

Now, the Bears are left with rookie running back Matt Forte, drafted in the second round out of Tulane, and longtime backup "Chicago-Adrian" Peterson battling it out for the starting position. Hey, Minnesota, that sounds like some yards, doesn't it?

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Vinny Del Negro to Coach Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls have been waiting to hire the right coach since April 17 when they dismissed interim coach Jim Boylan. Their fans (and by fans, I mean me) have been waiting all season for someone anyone capable of leading a group of young players.

According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, the Bulls have finally found their man in Vinny Del Negro. Um, what?

Del Negro was a late arrival to the search process and has no formal coaching experience. He spent last season as an assistant to Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr. Prior to that, he was a broadcaster for the Suns and San Antonio Spurs.

Though never officially an NBA coach, Del Negro has a history of working directly with players and will be expected to hire experienced assistants to fill his staff. He impressed Bulls general manager John Paxson during a two-day visit to Deerfield last week.
I think we can agree that the Bulls are team that lacks experience and need leadership. They are the youngest team in the league, and with the first pick, they are set to get younger. For some reason, hiring someone who has never coached on the NBA level seems illogical to me. That being said, my worries have been put on ease a bit; a Suns announcer was on the Chicago radio today and said two experienced coaches were interested in joining Del Negro's staff if he were to be hired.

Del Negro's coaching experience aside, he does come from Phoenix. His familiarity with an up-tempo offense would be great in Chicago because--wait for it, wait for it-- they lack a go to post scorer. At least that is what I am told. Really, it would just be nice to have athletes like Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, who are might no be great in a half-court set, get easy baskets by outrunning the opposing bigs.

So, Vinny Del Negro (whose last name is just hilarious when you start learning Spanish) will be the Bulls coach. Things could be worse.

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A How to Guide to Running Backs

The running back is one of the most glamorous positions on the football field, playing an integral role in both the passing and running attack. A well-rounded running back is a requirement for success on any level. What skill sets are required for a strong runner? How do running backs fit into different systems? Here are the answers.

Running backs have different requirements based on their scheme.

As with just about every position, there are many ways to play running back based on the skills of the player, the blocking schemes and the offensive system.

Obviously, running backs have different requirements based on their system. For starters, some variations of offenses require a running back to make one cut and run upfield without dilly-dallying behind the line. This tends to require good vision to find the hole immediately, and some of the more intelligent runners make this look easy. Guys like Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee are perfect examples of guys who stick with and have success with the "one cut and run down field" form of running.

Meanwhile, other systems, like in Indianapolis, require the running back to run out of "stretch" plays. These types of running plays create several potential lane openings as the entire offensive line block in a diagonal path. Ideally, this leaves several gaps and a potential outside cut open to the runner. A stretch play requires the runner to have perfect control over their feet: knowing when to put on the juice, when to cut upfield, whether to cut back the other way, or to sprint diagonally toward the sideline if nothing is happening. It's a skill set not many have: that perfect balance and foot control.

These are just two different types of requirements for a runner depending on scheme. There are so many that listing them would be futile.

Tomlinson combines speed and power, making him lethal.

Power runners


When envisioning a power runner, most would think of skill sets similar to Cowboys running back Marion Barber. However, there are many kinds of power running backs, each with different sets of abilities used in a variety of ways. The term power running back is actually quite vague and leaves a lot of gray areas.

If you were referring to a running back as a power runner of any kind, there are a few features generally associated with a "power running back." They are:
  • Extreme leg drive. Able to push piles and constantly push forward despite being impacted of wrapped up. Jamal Lewis is one of the best at this.
  • Gets a low pad level. Able to drop their shoulders and bend their knees lower than the average tackler, giving them enough leverage to explode into and thus trample over a would be tackler. An exciting move even when it fails. Marion Barber is amazing at this.
  • Hard to bring down. Able to keep their momentum moving forward using every ounce of their will power. Larry Johnson is top notch at this.
  • Stiff arming. Able to extend their arm with enough force to throw a tackler off balance. Just being able to do it often isn't enough, it's about placement and timing as well. Laurence Maroney is excellent at doing this.
Evasive runners

To offset the power runners, there are also running back considered "evasive runners". These running backs avoid contact with quick, agile movements. Depending on scheme and depth at the position, as well as judgment on how tough the evasive runner is, they are as backups. Often times, they are used in the perceived "scat back" or "third-down back" role, which I will explain later. But like power runners, the term elusive runner is also quite vague.

Skill sets usually associated with elusive running backs are:
  • Speed. While speed is generally overrated (specifically 40 times) at the position, it is also associated with an elusive runner. However, there are cases where speedy runners don't necessarily have any other feature associated with an elusive RB.
  • Hip swivel. The ability to play with your upper body basically as free as a bobblehead's big head bouncing around and swaying from side to side. This makes an elusive runner hard to grab a hold of, especially when they have a speed advantage. Brian Westbrook is arguably the best at this.
  • Good change of direction. The ability to instantly change direction with quick foot work and a good plant of the opposite leg. A runner good at this makes cut back running look easy, and often makes entire defenses look foolish. Devin Hester, though not a running back, has this skill at the top of his arsenal.
  • General evasiveness. The innate, natural ability and instincts of a slippery runner. Be it by juking, spinning, cutting back or even leap frogging a low padded tackler. Some of the features here can be shared by both a power and elusive runner, but it's generally associated with the elusive types. LaDainian Tomlinson is probably the most naturally evasive runners with the best tackle slipping instincts.
Necessary skills for all running backs

There are features that both types of running backs share or need to have to even be successful:
  • Vision. The ability to see or find a hole and know exactly when to hit it. Often times, poor vision runners will cut to the outside often because they are failing to find the crease, often resulting in tackles for loss or no gain.
  • Field awareness. Knowing where you are on the field at all times, knowing where the boundary and the first down marker are, sensing the goal line and defenders. Knowing when to dive forward, run out of bounds or when to give up on the run and settle for what you've gotten.
  • Pass protection/blitz pick-up. The ability to follow the rush and support the protection of the quarterback. If even for an extra split second, it helps more so than if there were nothing else impeding the rushers progress toward the quarterback.
  • Receiving ability. This is more of a luxury, but in many offenses it's vital that the running back is able to catch and turn upfield. They not only need to be able to catch and hold onto the football, but run the routes in the right timing for the quarterback to make the proper throw to the runner.
And as always, there are variations to how good one back is at any one skill. There are also running backs with skill sets from both types of runners, and not surprisingly, it's often those runners who are the more flashy numbers producers and highlight-reelers.

The luxury-backs

Everyone understands what a starting RB is, but there are what I call luxury-backs. Luxury-backs are the types of runners who play in the roles of a third-down running back or scat back.

The idea of a third-down back is to change the pace and style of the runner in an attempt to catch the defense off their guard. They usually come in on third down because, generally speaking, they have more speed than the starter, can catch out of the backfield better, making them more of a threat for that down and distance. They might also be a better pass protector.

The idea behind a "scat back" (I hate the term, I'm calling them "weapon backs" from here on) is to use a good athlete in several areas of the field rather than just as a running back. Generally, they are better outside runners and a big threat for home run touchdowns. They usually can be found lining up in a receiver position and are a weapon in the passing game as much as they are the run game. They are always quite versatile and have impacts in more than the rushing game.

The concept is to basically supplement the pure running ability of a more natural running back with a runner who is a threat to do more than run the ball. There is no coming out in a dime package on 3rd and long with a guy like that on the field.

A luxury-back's offensive role varies from team to team. For the most part, they all share traits of an elusive back and, as I've said, can generally be found coming in on 3rd down and playing positions other than the lead RB role. Though there are cases, like Brian Westbrook, of a weapon-back that does indeed also play the lead role.

Brian Westbrook is the exception and a major offensive weapon.

In conclusion, the running back position if full of variety. From catching the ball to avoid the tackler to picking up pass-rusher, the running back has many responsibilities on the football field. No wonder they are such a barometer of success.

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About the Undrafted Free Agent

Ron Crimson was the only player on the high school roster to not get in a game. He couldn't argue with the decision, because he sucked. Needless to say, yet stated anyway, when he entered the NBA draft following his sophomore season in college, he went undrafted. Now, Ron Crimson is the Undrafted Free Agent.

Contact the Undrafted Free Agent

Interested in informing the Undrafted Free Agent of his mistakes, advertisement opportunities, or a scoop on the latest sports scandal? (You can guess which is more likely.) Well, email him at undraftedfreeagent [at] gmail.com.

Look at This!

There's nothing here; I just needed to fill some space. Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! I also needed to balance it out a bit.

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