Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Week Seven: A Pleasant Surprise

Well, I’m back from a very nice vacation – did you miss me? :-)

First, a quick camp update: We’re waiting to hear back from the high school we’re planning to use –will hopefully hear something this week. As soon as we confirm that, we can publish the dates. On top of that, we now have the contact information for a possible sponsoring hotel that, if it works out, I think you’ll all really enjoy. Again, once things are confirmed we can publish that info as well. Remember, we’re still almost 6 months out so it’s not like we’re running up against any deadlines, even for those who love to plan ahead!

We played our biggest game to date on May 17. Our opponent had taken us out of the playoffs last year, to the tune of 45-14 (or thereabouts – I blocked it out of my mind). Suffice to say that it was a butt-kicking: miserable heat, our players dropping like flies to cramps and cumulative injuries brought about by too many 60-minute games (which will happen when you have a 28 man roster). All that finally caught up to us, along with finally being exposed in both our passing game and in being able to defend the pass.

Looking at their roster and film, it was apparent that they had lost a couple of their best defenders to retirement and their best WR to a move. Couple that with our roster being reinforced by a lot of 2012 players who sat out 2013, we knew that the game should be closer than last year. They still had their two extremely powerful and deceptively fast running backs, and we’d lost a couple of our bigger defenders over the off-season. I wasn’t completely sure that even if we could score on them that we’d be able to stop their ground game.

I’m sure that by now, many of you saw the final score – 64-0 for us. After a first series on defense that came close to having my fear realized (they started marching down the field in 5 yard chunks before we settled down and forced them into passing situations), we responded on our first offensive play with a 55-yard TD pass. We stopped them again, and drove down in 4 or 5 plays to score another TD. Then on the next defensive series, we picked it off for a 75-yard Pick Six. It was 21-0 and still in the 1st quarter. It was 42-0 at half, and we ran the clock for the second half.

So that was a shock – at least to me, and I’m sure to them. I wasn’t shocked that we won – my son asked me before the game what I thought our chances were and I said 70%. But I never imagined winning by that margin and holding them scoreless.

So now what? Due to quirky scheduling, we have two bye weeks in a row, then travel up to them on June 7. Will it be different? I imagine so. I don’t know how many players they may have been missing. I know that most if not all of their “main people” were there, but there may have been some role players that could have been helpful that didn’t make the trip. I’m hoping that all of our people will make the trip. The last time we traveled (to Reno) we were missing 4 starters and two other role players.

Right now I’m trying to anticipate what adjustments they’ll make on both offense and defense. Given their roster and overall personality, I’m not sure they can do too much – they’re not all of a sudden going to turn into a speedy shotgun spread team, for example – it doesn’t fit their personnel at all. But they’ve got to know that if they don’t find some way to get mismatches against us while on offense that they “probably” won’t be able to score enough points to keep up with us. Of course, I’m more interested with how they might adjust to us defensively. This year we give people more problems than we did last year – more overall speed and a very effective passing game. Overall this year we’ve been pretty balanced between run and pass, which is the way I like it, but last game the plan was to come out throwing and see how we could stretch them before trying to run inside on their big DL.

My guess is that they’ll try to overplay one aspect of our offense and hope for either a turnover or a couple of stops to keep them in the game. We’re going to have to be ready especially now to switch gears from what may have worked in the last game to another part of our offense. Fortunately we do have some flexibility in that area, so we’ll see what happens.

Stay tuned – this is starting to be the best time of the year!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Anatomy of a Blow Out

We played a game this past weekend, sort of. We ran fewer plays than we would have in a 30-minute team practice session (26, two of which were kneel-downs) and scored 12 TD’s. Add in two defensive scores and the opening kickoff, which we returned for a TD, and you get the idea.

How does something like this happen? Several reasons:
1)      Small roster size. Despite our owner asking for confirmation that the other team would bring the league minimum of 20 players, they only brought 17. We practically invited them to call it off as another one of our opponents did previously due to injuries. We don’t want to be a part of having other players get hurt any more than they do.

2)      Limited coaching staff. As far as I could tell, they had two coaches. They may have had three. In theory you could do it with three coaches, but they had better be the exactly right three coaches! I think these coaches were all new this year, some of them may have been in their first seasons of coaching. Too few coaches, with too little experience is a bad combination for an inexperienced team.

3)      Not enough athletes. Forget the raw numbers, if you have to put a 350-pound player out on your kick off team, you’re in trouble. Fortunately, she only had to run down the field once.

4)      Not enough interest. When we played this team at their home field, they played a spirited game. Some of them were flying around making plays. This time, they largely acted like they didn’t want to be out there – and this was early on, so it wasn’t fatigue. We’d run 8 offensive plays and were up 40-0 with 6:42 left in the 1st quarter. A few of them would take one or two steps and simply stop. I don’t get it….drive 6 hours to come out and do that?

Now, if you take all those points above, and reverse them (well, except for the large roster size - ours is “larger” but I wouldn’t call it big in comparison to Chicago, Boston or DC at between 30-35), then you have our team. I don’t mean that to brag, but it is true. You have one team that has been to and won the national championship and has aspirations of winning it again this year. The other team, quite frankly, is just trying to survive.

Games like this should not be played. But what is the alternative? If you only had the competitive teams in the league, you’d have about a 12-team league nationwide. That model was the old WPFL from about 2001 until 2007. There were never more than 20 teams in the league, and there were frequent flights during the regular season. I can remember going to Dallas, Houston, Albuquerque and Wisconsin, and having all of those except Wisconsin come out to us, along with New York. That was some great scheduling and fun games, but boy I bet it was expensive! Our owner at the time pretty much paid for everything. When we won the conference title in 2007 in Rochester, NY, she held up the trophy and said, “This is my $500,000 trophy!” She’d owned the team for five years.

If you schedule like that, soon there will be no teams left. In many instances, the owner can’t pay for it so it falls on the backs of the players. Back in the early 2000’s I remember thinking that the female players were so much older than their male counterparts and that maybe because they tended to be more established in their careers that they were better able to afford those extra costs. But over the years, the age of our athletes has gotten younger and younger and now they face the same problems that men’s teams have – broke players.

So since we can’t exclude local teams from our schedule because they are all we have to play, the answer is to do whatever we can to bring those teams up a level. That was the genesis of Coach Suggett and I wanting to continue the camp concept (with a few tweaks) that Dion Lee started in 2008 in Las Vegas. Certainly teams have to do a lot to help themselves - all the camps in the world won't help if there is no follow-up on the team's and player's part.

We just want competitive games week in and week out – or at least never repeating what happened this week. And if that means opening our playbooks for ideas and coaching up our opponents, even to the point of it costing us a win at some point, then so be it. A rising tide lifts all boats.

PS - I'll be on vacation next week during our two bye weeks, so there will be no post on May 21. See you on the 28th!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Tricks for Old Dogs

Man….what a long bus ride! Reno this past weekend was fun but my old butt can do without 11 and 12 hour bus trips. I like the Storm team – they have some athletes with some speed, and they play hard. Their coach has them on the right track. Hopefully those ladies will all stay with it and come back next year.

Next, a camp update: We’re working on nailing down the exact dates now – that’s our next major step. We need to contact the HC at the high school we’re having it at (we’re not using a park for this) and see when exactly his season ends and if they’re going to have any soccer tournaments or anything. I can say this: As of now we have coaches from Central Pennsylvania, the Dallas area (3 of them) and Kansas City who will be part of the instructors. We know all of them, and they are all coaches we’ve coached with or against and coaches that we’ve been dying to work with at some point, so we’re very excited about that. We also have at least one other coach who is coming down with 10 of her players to observe and attend. That’s the update for now, I’ll post more each week.

So, I talked a couple of weeks ago about the 126 DVD’s I bought from the C.O.O.L clinic ( I’ve watched three of them so far and just from those three, here is what I picked up:

·         A technique to prevent the quandary of an OL vs a LB – do I haul ass to get to him only to have him “backdoor” me, or do I “waddle” up to him and take the risk of not getting there at all?

·         A hand placement correction to help with OL who are in contact with a defender on a stretch or outside type of play, and your back cuts it up allowing that defender to “fall off” and make the play.

·         A companion play off of a two-back inside zone play, to be used as a “check with me”.

·         An alternate way to block the backside of that inside zone play.

·         An alternate way to think about using the fullback on the backside of the inside zone.

·         A footwork change to allow a tackle trying to reach a playside DE more efficiently.

·         A run drill for use with pulling linemen to ensure they’re running in balance through contact.

·         A pass protection circuit.

·         A footwork coaching point versus outside rushers in pass pro.

·         Plus a couple more points that I need to check my notes for!

Now, I can remember early in my coaching career going to a clinic and taking bunches and bunches of notes. I still take notes when I go, but now I hope for one or two nuggets of info and I’ll consider it a success. But I’ve been doing this for 24 years now, and have gone to clinics for 23 of them, spoken at clinics and given clinics. All that stuff up above was new info for me!
I’m pretty stoked, and so were the veteran players I’ve shared these with so far. One thing that is cool about coaching at this level is that there is no pre-set time limit that you get your players for. I mean, in high school, I’d coach freshmen during their summer camp, see most sophomores only during spring, and then spend hours and hours with guys during their junior and senior years. Here I’ve had my left tackle for 10 seasons, another guard/tackle for 6 and my right tackle for 4. Those players pretty much know my whole repertoire of drills, techniques and terms. I was excited to be able to give them some new information, and they were excited to get it.

The point is, don’t rest on your laurels. Keep learning, keep evolving. It’s funny, when I learned a majority of the stuff I use now, it was in a 2-back West Coast system. My license plate is still “WC OFNSE”. Over the years I’ve evolved into more of a spread guy, the bigger the spread the better! But now after watching some of the NFL two-back stuff, while I may not go back to a true two-back system, I’m definitely thinking about how I can use those same concepts in what we do now….could be a formation tag or a motion, or…who knows?

That’s all for now….Central Cal showdown is in two weeks!