At Wednesday’s mini-camp, Bill O’Brien and several players met with a Houston press pool desperate for topics to discuss other than Johnny Manziel, because for the love of all things holy we’ve had enough. Bill did not disappoint. He seemed downright playful at times, which Bill Belichick has likely taken note of.
Here are a few tidbits (I’ll promise I’ll never use the word “tidbits” again):
(on the use of advanced analytics as it relates to this team) “We use that quite a bit. We use it in the draft. We use it especially when we get toward the season. Probably not so much now in the mini-camps but we’ll use analytics when we get into the season and look at different ways to study our opponents….”
This made me happy. Kubiak didn’t seem like he was much for analytics, which had a certain charm to it right up until the 2-14 season. The fact of the matter is that, these days, if you’re not looking for an edge in every possible corner, you’re going to miss opportunities you didn’t even know were there.
People have an aversion to analytics that I find puzzling. Nobody goes to an accountant that uses an abacus, but somehow we want the highest paid football coaches in the land to scribble plays in the dirt and hope things go well. The brightest chess players in the world can’t beat a computer, but we trust Jim Bob with a clipboard to game plan by dead reckoning.
Nobody’s arguing to replace football coaches with computers, but computers have been a part of the game for a long time and have been put to good use. 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio once told me that scouting and self scouting leaped forward tremendously when all the teams started using computers back in the 80’s. Advanced analytics is simply the next step in the neverending quest to find a little bit of an edge here and there. Small edges add up to wins in the final minutes of games.
(on what he can find out from a three-day mini-camp) “That’s a very good question because I think obviously, when you get the pads on, that’s when you really get a good look at the linemen and your running game and your run defense and things like that and how guys tackle and how they are on special teams. So to me, this is a lot about watching everybody out on the field, their conditioning level, their ability to take the installation from one day to the next day, to the next day, how they learn and how they compete out here. You can really see that, too. I think just with all that being said, I think these guys have, to this point, they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.”
The danger in minicamps, and coaches know this, is that some guys simply look like champs until the pads come on. Minicamps benefit athleticism over toughness and technique, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. Every year a guy that looks like a beast rushing the passer in May turns into a neutered canary in August.
There are several things you can tell this time of year that do transfer. If a guy isn’t in shape by now, you have to question his professionalism. If a guy can’t grasp the vanilla scheme you’re installing, it’s hard to envision him mastering game plans that change by the week. If a guy is falling asleep in meeting during a three day minicamp because of his extra-curricular activities, how does he take care of his body over the course of a 17 week season?
(on if the two extra weeks before the draft has helped that process take place) “I’ve heard a lot about that, that people are saying, ‘Two weeks is too long,’ or ‘Two weeks isn’t enough.’ You know what I do? Whatever the rules are, I try to follow the rules. Whenever they say the draft is, then that’s how we prepare for it. So I don’t get into all that.”
Maybe this is a trivial matter, but one of the things that always impressed me about the great coaches that I played for was that they never groused about things that were out of their control. The attitude was, “The NFLPA won’t let us do something? We’ll just change the drill. Today’s players are different than my generation? Well let’s figure out how to coach them differently. Payne injured his knee again? That’s what we expected.”
(on why he plays music at practice) “The main reason I do it is to force communication. It’s not about having fun out here at recess. It’s about forcing guys to communicate. The coaches aren’t out there behind them during a game.”
An adage I heard from several different coaches over the years is that good defenses are loud defenses. Before the snap the defense might change several times in response to offensive shifts. Playing at home, the crowd noise can go from blessing to curse if all 11 guys don’t realize that the blitz has changed in response to a tight end swapping sides. Practicing with loud music simulates those challenging conditions.
Brooks Reed knows what’s up, saying “I think it’s a good thing. One of the emphases this year is communication. Obviously if it’s louder, you have to yell louder to get the call across. That’s what we’re doing out here, so everyone is yelling loud.”
O’Brien scheduled the last minicamp practice for this morning, the first day of the draft. Like his decision to act as his own offensive coordinator, we could interpret this as either the mark of an innovator or the hubris of an ingenue. The NFL has a way of sorting these things out.
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