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Why Do We Have Spring Practice?

Football is a fall sport. As the summer cools, the air itself seems to change. And, to me, that fall air always smells like football. The games are then played for the next few months until, bleeding through the winter holidays, the championships are played and the final tallies are taken on another season gone by. Still in winter, coaches, players and fans all turn their eyes back to the hope of a new season, the next game: the fall.

Just a few more months...

Except that there’s actually some odd little mini-training long before the real one: spring practice. Colleges all have it — it’s considered a must, an outbreak of actual football bracketed by long, grueling months of winter conditioning — and even most high schools now have it. Urban Meyer, speaking to high school coaches, lamented that Ohio doesn’t allow spring practice for high schoolers and vowed to do his part to change that. Indeed, the importance of spring practice is questioned by almost no one, and it’s obvious to see why: In a world of time limitations on practices, anypractice — whenever it is — is good practice. But why is it for one little block in the spring?

In the NFL, the summer months are taken up with “mini-camps” and “OTAs” (“organized team activities”), where the basics in terms of schematics are installed and technique is addressed in relative leisure, before the intense sprint of fall camp and the season begin. Some of that timing is because, with free agency and the NFL draft, teams often aren’t quite sure what their rosters will look like until around the summer, but that’s not altogether different than in college. True freshman are increasingly important to the success of even top flight college teams, and they tend to arrive on campus around June. It may have something to do with the idea that most universities break their academic calendar years into semesters, but (a) players “work on football” in the form of conditioning year round and (b) almost all of them spend the summer term on campus as well. You don’t hear about too many star college players who spend the summer before their senior years at an internship with Proctor & Gamble or studying abroad in Barcelona. And in high school there are definitely oversight issues with allowing practices in the summer, but fall camp itself begins before the fall school year begins and presumably most of the high school kids stay local.

So there is something odd and maybe even anachronistic about “spring practice.” Obviously, no coach is ever going to vote against less practice, but why spring? And, given that it is in the spring, how important is it to player development?

In 1971, Texas sports information director Jones Ramsey famously said: “There are only two sports in Texas: football and spring football.” And it’s clear that this phenomenon has spread across the country, as fans pack in to see their team’s spring game — filling the stadium to watch practice — encouraged by hope. Spring practice is disconnected enough from both the prior season and the following one to exist only in a world of optimism: Everything is possible.

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Smart Links – Strategery Round-Up – 2/27/2012

Strong Scrape Fire Zone and Fire Zone Adjustments:

scrape

I have borrowed a lot from Manny Diaz when it comes to Fire Zone adjustments. There are many adjustments that can be run, which include having the DT being a dropper at times, but there are two adjustments that I think are the most important. Diaz talks about how the coverage needs to be the easiest thing as far as Fire Zones go, so it is important that we not over-complicate things. If a defender blitzes the wrong gap, you may have a bad play but it won’t be a disaster. Now, if there is a mistake in coverage, that’s a disaster.

- Bill Belichick’s blitz package versus empty:

The Ravens have five potential pass blockers. It doesn’t take great mathematical abilities to realize that if the defense brings 6 rushers there will be a defensive player unblocked. New England gets a free rusher while only rushing 5 by having the Mike and SS execute a read out blitz based on the slide of the protection.

blitz

The SS is reading the block of the Left Guard. If the LG blocks the DT the SS blitzes and is unblocked. That is both what is diagrammed here and what happened in the video clip. The Mike is reading the guard to his side as well. If the guard is stepping toward him he will drop out, looking to cover the hot route from the opposite side. The Mike knows where the hot route is coming from because the protection and hot routes are linked. The offense can pick up 3 rushers to the defensive right of the center with 3 blockers. . . .

The offense is more likely to slide to the Mike linebacker than toward a SS. Bill Belichick is manipulating the pass protection by exploiting the offense’s expectation of the SS’s role on defense. A SS should be covering a receiver or a zone not walked up into the B gap to blitz. Where else can you find this pressure concept? In the Alabama playbook of former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban.

- In defense of success rates:

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Is it worth it to actually go to games anymore? Yes, but not too many

Another broad problem: the younger the sports fan, the less they enjoy being in an arena where their smartphones can’t get a signal. “People don’t like to be out of touch,” said Doug Perlman, founder and CEO of consulting firm Sports Media Advisors and a Duke graduate. “They want to be sharing the experience with their friends.”

That is from this piece in the WSJ, about declining attendance at ACC basketball games. (H/T Senator and Elkon.) That’s a rather ridiculous reason not to go to a game. But I do generally agree with this statement:

Chris Bevilacqua, the founder of a media-consulting group and architect of the Pac-12′s nearly $3 billion TV-rights deal, pointed to another general culprit: the affordability of clearer, larger televisions. The at-home TV experience, he said, is better than ever.

The sports-at-home experience has gotten better and better while the stadium and arena experience — despite the incredible infusion of taxpayer money — has only improved at the margins, if at all. I can honestly say that I do not enjoy going to a lot of games every year in any sport, including football, and for me there is a high degree of diminishing returns: I make it to a few games a year, but after those few the idea of going to more — and to think of the transportation, parking, weather, etc — gives me a particular kind of nausea.

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Urban Meyer’s 2012 Ohio High Schools Coaches Clinic Lecture

Excellent stuff from Urban Meyer at this year’s OHSFCA clinic for Ohio high school coaches:

It will be very interesting to see how Meyer, who has had some success in the past of his own (to say the least), continues to evolve and change now that he’s at Ohio State.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Vince Lombardi

Sort of, though he knew how take care of the ladies:

H/t CoachHuey.

Smart Links – Eli Manning, Success Rate, Back-Up Quarterbacks, Receiver Routes – 2/13/2012

Kendall Wright and not drifting away from the ball out of a cut. Matt does a good job of discussing the difference between drifting away from the ball after a receiver makes a cut while still having different “types” cuts, like “flat” breaks and “speed cuts.” A lot of scouts have an instinctive reaction to speed cuts, claiming the receiver “rounds off his route,” but that’s actually what you teach on certain timing patterns; you don’t want the receiver to lose speed out of his break which he will on any true “flat” break.

- Peter King on the growth of Eli Manning. Also, it’s worth revisiting Michael Lewis’s piece on the “Eli Experiment” from a few years back.

- Indy Football Clinic Spread Offense Notes.

- “Bench Wren,” a great boundary defensive pressure concept.

- The best negative book reviews of the year.

- NFL quarterbacks and their backups.

- The return of Van Halen.

- Why Success Rate is not as important in football as it is in baseball. Note that one of the few useful applications of Success Rate is with respect to individual runningbacks, which was discussed here.

- The physics behind music. Interesting piece.

- The universe from nothing.

- Obituary of Lucian Freud.

- Inside Instagram. I’m not convinced that the goal of all of these start-ups should be to “get big fast” via venture funding, but different contexts require different approaches.

Best of Billick 101: Chalk talks with NFL coaches

Good stuff:

<a href='http://msn.foxsports.com/video?videoid=ca002bd1-848c-4f15-9626-c8d9a3108a3e&#038;src=v5:embed::' target='_new' title='Coach Speak: Best of Billick 101' >Video: Coach Speak: Best of Billick 101</a>

After the jump are some full segments (note that it will load a bit slowly):

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New Grantland Blog: Draw it Up: Two Key Plays, Super Bowl Edition

It’s now up over at Grantland:

On the other side was Manning’s brilliant thread-the-needle pass to Manningham. Just previously, the two had barely missed on a similar fade throw to the opposite sideline. (Manningham caught it while stepping out of bounds.) But get used to this one: We’re going to see it a lot, for a long time.

The entire game, the Patriots had played a form of “cover two,” two safeties deep to take away the big plays. Belichick did not want the Giants to burn them with deep passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Manningham, and for most of the game, they succeeded. The other elements of Belichick’s game plan were to move Vince Wilfork out to line up over the guard and tackle, to take away the off-tackle run game that the Giants favored (as with two safeties deep, the Patriots were a man short against the run the entire game), and to double-team the electric Cruz. This opened things up for Nicks, who had more than 100 yards receiving on 10 catches, and, ultimately, for Manningham, on the biggest play of the game.

Read the whole thing.

And yes, the Giants — likely unintentionally — used Buddy Ryan’s old “Polish Defense” tactic by having extra men on the field to force the Patriots to burn extra time off the clock before the eventual hail mary. A wild game.

Smart Links – Sabanization, Ball Security, iPads – 1/30/2012

This edition of Smart Links brought to you by Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand and his awesome vertical leap:

- Blutarsky and Michael Elkon on the “Sabanization” of the SEC.

- Gary Crowton to become the offensive coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

- I’m still now sure how I feel about this.

- The real secret to Nick Saban’s success.

- Drug testing for legislators. Hard to see why this shouldn’t be law.

- The world of Roger Scruton.

- BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s secret to not fumbling. Try here for a little more substance on the topic of ball security.

- A good way to waste time: Look up how much your favorite college professors and administrative officials make.

- Good analysis of the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices by police.

- LeBron’s “improved” post game.

- Football’s (the other “football”) best managers.

- Weaning off of “alternative” investments. Like so many things, what was once hot quickly cools.

- Human costs built into the iPad.