Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Coaching Them Up!

This past weekend was a great one – I had the chance to put into practice everything I learned two weeks ago from LeCharles Bentley and his staff. A friend of mine asked me to come out to his high school and coach his players up a bit. It’s a new staff, and the program had run onto hard times, only winning a couple of games each year for the past few seasons.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect – I was told to “oversee” the OL during Indy, 1-on-1’s and team during the Friday afternoon practice, and then I would have them for four hours Saturday morning all to myself. When I got there, there were two other OL coaches there, and one was pretty much running everything. So I decided that since they were going into a competitive period (1-on-1’s) and then team, that I would hang back a little on Friday and just take notes about where they were at in terms of skill development. I didn’t want them to have to think not only “who” to block, but also “how” to do it in competitive drills.

Remember, this is a new staff, so none of the coaches were holdovers and they’d only had 4 practices with them. Given that, they didn’t look like they’d been coached much in previous seasons. One of the OL coaches is a young guy, and very enthusiastic. I’m convinced he’s going to be very, very good. He just has to develop his teaching patterns. Just as offensive linemen need to develop movement patterns to be efficient, coaches need to get their teaching patterns down so they can be efficient as well. This young guy isn’t quite there yet (but he’s way better than I was at the same stage of development). The older OL coach is more of an “attitude guy” – he’s very good at getting the kids to play with a proper attitude and to go out there and kick butt.

The kids themselves were great. They may not be great football players yet, but they are A+ human beings. As I mentioned, their technique was very raw, to the point of it was always a bit more of “how can I survive this play” rather than “how can I dominate this play”. So on Friday, I just took notes and offered some general suggestions to guys when I had the chance.

Saturday morning was different. They were all there either early or right on time. I’d developed a practice plan to take them through everything, that extended (in outline form) to five pages (!). Being that this is the first time I’d gone through this progression as a coach, and not knowing what pitfalls there may be, I wasn’t sure at all of how it might time out.
As it happened, we got through everything in almost exactly four hours. And let me reiterate – these kids are top-notch. I’d give them a water break, and they’d sprint off the field to an area a little ways away where the water was. By the time I got over there, they were saying, “OK guys, let’s go!” They really wanted to work and get better.

Some of the transformations were remarkable. The right tackle was a kid who sort of hopped into his pass set and opened up almost completely by his second step. We took a “before and after” video of him, and the results were staggering. A (soon to be) senior guard was coaching the other kids up before too long – he’s a smart guy, and was taking in everything and was able to repeat it back to me and the other players. They had two freshmen kids, one of which had never played football before, and they ended up being two of the stars of the camp. I could go on and on about how much fun I had coaching these guys, and how much I’m looking forward to watching their continued development over this season.

LeCharles just announced on Monday that the next Coaches Seminar is going to be July 16-17. I would strongly suggest that any OL coach who wants to make his guys better attend. I’ll be back in 2017 for sure. You can register here. You can thank me later.

In the WFA game of note this week, Chicago beat up on Boston 50-something to 18. I was expecting a much closer game, maybe even with Boston winning, I understand that Boston’s outstanding QB, Allison Cahill, went out with a season-ending injury. At the time, I think the game was close, and my guess is that then not only were the Renegades missing a whole bunch of offense, but also probably were a bit emotionally deflated, which is understandable.

With that result, if there is any difference in the Final Four other than DC, Chicago, Central Cal and Dallas, I’ll be shocked. I’m still fairly certain that Dallas will be the finalist from the West, and less certain that DC will be from the East.

On the men’s side, my Nighthawks have landed in a new league, the Southern California Football League (SCFL). This league is a quantum leap up in competition: The California Raiders were undefeated last year, the So Cal Coyotes have won a couple of national championships*, the Inglewood Blackhawks have won some, and the San Diego Thunder had a run on the national scene at late as the late 2000’s. Throw in a virtual All Star team in the Las Vegas Trojans, and there are very few gimmes on our schedule.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier – these are the types of games you sign up for as a coach, the types that for whatever reason we didn’t get often in the women’s game, at least until the playoffs.

*For my female game readers, national championships are a bit different in the men’s game. First of all, there are over 600 men’s teams across the country, so having one national champion is pretty much not going to happen. Second, there are several “national championship” tournaments put on in December/January. Fortunately for us, our league is recognized as one of the most competitive in the country, so our league winner will get an automatic bid to a national tournament.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Blown Away

OK, I am blown away, and I want to tell you about it, but first there was one game last week in the WFA that merits a short discussion, and that was the Pittsburgh/Boston game. I’d picked Pittsburgh to finally break through into the upper sphere of the National Conference by beating Boston. To me, he Renegades seemed a little lackluster lately, and given their daunting upcoming schedule, perhaps ripe to be taken down. Well, I underestimated Boston before and was proven wrong, so why not this time? Boston came out on top, 51-32.

With that win, we’re better able to slot where Pittsburgh stands, and that was of interest because they were IWFL champs last year, and were looking really good so far. For now, there is no grand re-ordering in the WFA universe. It’ll be Dallas and Central Cal in the West (although I’ll give Portland a 20% chance at an upset of Central Cal), and then DC and either Chicago or Boston in the East, dependent on how this week’s Chicago/Boston game turns out. I really have no idea how that will turn out, and it should be a great game.

OK, back to the main topic…..this past weekend I was in Phoenix at LeCharles Bentley’s OLine Performance World ( I’ve talked about him and his training plenty of times before, and had become a fan. Back in January he announced that he was going to hold a free coaches’ clinic in May, and that it was limited to the first 50 to register. So I made sure that I was one of those. Later, I heard that they accepted 80+. Now, I don’t know what goes through people’s minds, but I’m wondering if since it was free, there wasn’t as much value attached to it by some folks. That was their mistake. There were only about 35 coaches there, and it was the perfect size group. I think I was able to at least speak briefly with everyone there at some point, and the instructing coach to student (us other coaches) ratio was great.

LeCharles is a dynamic speaker and coach. He can get people fired up at the drop of the hat. His progression in leading students from skepticism to discipleship is masterful. Those who disagree or question aren’t ridiculed, but shown the “why”, the “how to” and the “how to do”. I can now say that I’ve watched his teachings on film, seen it in person, and felt it/done it myself. There is no quicker way to become convinced that something is right than when you do it yourself and have success.

CJ Davis is one of LB’s fulltime coaches. After playing at Pitt, he had a short NFL career with Carolina and Denver. He is a phenomenal teacher and communicator, and was dispensing knowledge, demonstrating and coaching us throughout almost every break. I had him as a demo partner in one drill, and the way he took me through it made me wonder about my own ability as a coach!

Matt Lee is LB’s strength and conditioning coach. His knowledge of training, kinesiology, power development and functional movement is absolute first class.  His presentations (with CJ demonstrating – we felt a lot of what was taught, but I’m glad we weren’t called on to front squat and snatch!) made me into more of a believer in Olympic movements for offensive line development than ever before. All I’d heard before regarding oly lifts is they “develop power”…..OK, great. Not inspiring. But Matt broke it down for us and explained why what he was talking about was so important, and exactly how it would make our players better. I can guarantee you that if I’m ever at a place that has a S&C program again, I’ll be incorporating his teachings.

Also, there were three current NFL players who came down on their own time to help out. Chance Womack (Tennessee), Larry Warford (Detroit) and Patrick Omameh (free agent, played for Chicago last year) are all very capable teachers and super nice guys (I just wouldn’t want to line up against any of them). I have a suspicion of “former/current players” being coaches because so often it seems they rely on their superior athletic talents to get by and don’t develop their communicative skills and don’t have an appreciation for what the average guy has (or, more likely doesn’t have) to work with. But these guys were great at offering suggestions, looking at what we were doing wrong and having the ability to fix it. I was working through some stance issues and Patrick came over and talked me right through it, told me exactly what changes would make me better. I can’t say enough about how helpful they all were.

Finally, there were two CFL guys there. I didn’t catch their full names (Matt and “Big Dog” was all I got), and they served as demonstrators as well. After Patrick helped me on my stance and ensuing pass set, I just remember Matt saying “Wow” – that pretty much made my day.

So, by now you’re thinking, “OK, great – they’re nice guys and great teachers. What did you learn?” Fair enough. I learned movement patterns. I learned how to move with purpose and intent. I learned how to move from the ground up, and I learned how to fight pressure with pressure at any point during a play. I learned that if you start bad, you’ll finish bad. I was taught OL play from an entirely different perspective.

There will be more clinics given by LB. The talk right now is to have one in July. I probably won’t be able to make that one, as our season games will be starting then, but if he sets a certain weekend (second one of May, for example) as a constant, then I’ll make my reservations years in advance. If you can’t tell, I have zero reservation in recommending that anyone remotely involved in OL play should pay attention to what LB has to offer. Make the trip when it is offered. I promise you you’ll thank me after.

What’s got me just as excited is that I’ll get a chance to teach what I’ve learned to a brand new group of young OL next week when I’m in Las Vegas to conduct a high school OL mini-camp. Before this weekend, I had an idea of what the practice plan would look like. No more. In a sense, it is perfect, because the staff has just taken over at the school and wanted to concentrate on just the basics. And I’ve gotta admit that at one point I found myself wanting to push that envelope further. But now I have a much better understanding of the pace and importance of movement, and the learning of those patterns. So I’ve got two practices with the Nighthawks this week….we’re going to be spending our first 10 minute Indy periods from here on out focusing on stance and movement….and then I get to teach the high school kids.

Who’s got it better than me?  :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Into Pads & WFA Review

Things are starting to heat up in the Nighthawks camp – we went into pads last week. After seven weeks of one-a-week practices without pads, we started our 2x a week sessions which will last at least until the season starts in July, then we’ll reevaluate. As might be expected, the guys were itching to really get after it, and they did!

From an offensive standpoint, I’ve seen that I need to make some adjustments in which formations I run the counter out of – the defenders are just too fast, and I don’t want to automatically put my QB in a keep/run situation there. So in order to keep everything else consistent, I’ve just got to tweak the formation list a little to keep them honest.
Another nice surprise is how quickly the guys have picked up on the five man pass protection. I thought there might be more communication issues than there has been so far. I imagine that as the defense dials up more sophisticated schemes, we’ll have to keep adjusting upwards, and that’s OK.

It is also clear that our run game will have the ability to be a game-changer, and that was without one of our better backs even taking a rep. All in all, I guess you can tell I am pretty happy after the first week.

This week I’m very excited to be heading over to Phoenix on Friday night to attend LeCharles Bentley’s OL Performance coaches’ clinic. LeCharles, as he puts it, “stays in his lane” when it comes to teaching OL technique. He keeps scheme out of it, and concentrates on the biomechanics, which don’t change – the body works how it works. Over time, I’ve seen him make some incredibly detailed adjustments which can make a big difference. I’m looking forward to going over, bonding with some fellow OL coaches (I know at least a couple of top San Diego high school guys will be there) and bringing back some knowledge that’ll make my guys better.

I may have mentioned that I’m working with Dual Threat Athletics here in town. I had a young (11-year-old) OL out last week, who’d played for one year previously. I have a battery of initial drills that I put everyone through just to see where they’re at, and then I build the rest of the session off of those. This young man, once he got into what was his stance, I knew that whoever he played for before, there probably wasn’t an OL coach on the staff. And that’s OK….there may be a guy designated as such, but the chances of an experienced OL coach being at the youth level is relatively slim. Anyway, we worked for about an hour and I gotta say that at the end of the session, he looked like an honest-to-goodness Offensive Lineman. His Dad came up to me afterwards and said, “(My son) learned more today than he did all last season.” It is for experiences like that, that I coach.

OK, a look around games of note for the WFA the past couple of weeks:

For better or worse, I called a couple of games billed as “big ones” correctly two weeks ago – Dallas beating Kansas City by 40 (I said “it wouldn’t be close”) and then the Central Cal War Angels beating the previously unscored upon Sin City Trojans 58-6 (I said, “War Angels by a comfortable (28+) margin”).

I have to give credit also to the Pittsburgh Passion – they really look like they’re stepping up into the upper stratus. Their game this week against Boston will tell if that is true or not. I’m going to go out on a limb and call this one for Pittsburgh, by 10 or less. That game seems to be the only one of true nationwide interest.

I think for now, the debate as to which team is #1 is settled – I think it is clearly Dallas, until/unless someone knocks them off. After beating DC on the road in Week 2, then having DC go up to Chicago and beating the Force in a nail-biter, the Elite seem to be truly that.


Until I get into the Nighthawks’ season (or something else interesting pops up) I may not post for another two weeks. I’ll be out in Las Vegas in two weeks to conduct an OL mini-camp for a high school there, and will catch the Trojans vs. Pacific Warriors game. I’m definitely looking forward to both! Catch you later!