Wednesday, October 7, 2009

So, is it Heart or Head that is lacking on kickoffs?

Before the season, I was trolling around the Intertubes thinking about the upcoming season and wondering how the coaches that are currently coaching the team mold the team. I was looking for some insight into the way the team reacted poorly to adversity last year.

I came across this article about Coach Fabris, his approach and his fire. Now, I am not debating his ability as a position coach. There is no doubt he is among the best motivators and teachers on the staff. There is also little room for debate about his defensive ends, what they have done in his tenure at Georgia and the accolades he has gotten from his former players. I supose we can disagree about the play of the DEnds over the past season and a half, but I am in the camp with those that view the injuries along the Dline to be a much more important aspect of the lack of production here than coaching.

However, there is one thing that struck me about the article. His approach to playing aggressively vs. playing smart. I thought it was particularly interesting when applied to his coaching the kickoff coverage teams:
"Playing with the head means hours in the film room. Pregame preparation enables defensive players to recognize and accurately predict the opposing offense's objectives so they can instantly react. As soon as a play goes live, Fabris wants the thinking to stop and the aggression to start."
When you think about that statement, consider the amount of preparation put into the total special teams practice. Then think about the need to accurately predict the opposing team's objectives. That is as good a reason as I have seen for the directional kick. He wants his players to know what is going to happen so they can react instinctively. The idea is that the player, even if they don't go exactly to the right place, will still be in a position to make plays. Think about the directional kick, you take one of the options away by kicking to the sideline, in theory.
"Even if you're wrong, you're still going to be aggressive," Fabris said. "As George Patton once said, 'A good plan violently executed is better than a perfect plan executed too late.' Sometimes you don't have to be perfect if you're making things happen."
Yeah? That is all well and good, but what if you are using players that are executing the plan both imperfectly and late, and it is a bad plan to boot? Then you are having to make great plays, but 15 yards too late, everytime. I was confused by Coach Richt's statement about the wind on Saturday. By his reasoning, we should have had our coverage team even more on top of Holliday on the last return of the game (keeping in mind that with a normal kickoff, Holliday would have fielded that kick at the 2 yard line). Instead, Holliday fielded it on the 17 and was on the 28 yard line before any Georgia player threatened to make a play. Hell, I could have been on the wedge for LSU and gotten him to the 45. One way to negate speed is to make it take a longer route to get from point A to point B. Letting speed dictate the angle of attack isn't a good scenario to be in. That is what happened on that kick and on several others this season.

Of course, that doesn't explain the selection of players for the squad. In my mind, this is an important part of the discussion. I can't, for the life of me, understand team selection and don't want to try. I just know what is happening isn't working. Perhaps it is a chicken and egg discussion; that improving the talent level (specifically speed) of the kickoff coverage squad might make the directional kicking scheme more effective. Perhaps kicking the crap out of it and hoping for touch backs every time will improve the starting field position.

I think David Hale put it best in his own comment to one of his posts this week (albeit about another point):
"Right now, it appears that there are a lot of people plugging holes in the dam when what they really need to think about is finding a new way of redirecting the river."
I am all for heart and believe it is an essential part any great football player's tool box. But a squad full of Rudys will only get you so far. Likewise, a talented, but poorly schemed and coached squad will lose to a team full of Rudys sometimes. That explains some of the crazy losses you see week to week in football (I am thinking about Michigan vs. App State or anyone who loses to the Raiders). In the end, you need both head and heart. This team has shown a lot of heart as a team this season, but no amount of 'want to' will make you get down the field faster. Likewise, no amount of talent will make up for being put in a disadvantageous position in the first place, especially in a talent on talent world. I would posit there is a meeting place somewhere in the middle that has to be better. It has to be, because it is pretty bad right now.

Addendum: Coach Richt further muddied the waters with a comment about the kick coverage being "due to inconsistent placement of the kicks." So we are back to having a better mousetrap, if only the mousetrap would just operate the way we want it to? Color me unconvinced.

He does go on to prove part of my point by mentioning we have "the youngest bunch we've ever had out there." That part is fixable. Easily fixable.

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