he's jes a good ole boy

>> 6.05.2009

I cracked up when I saw this Kowalski story/audio clip on Mlive.com.  It concerns the infamous series of pictures taken of Matt Stafford doing his Georgia days, partying with a couple of friends at Talladega.  First of all, to see those pictures posted at a "real media" site like Mlive is funny enough.  Second, it kind of pokes at something that's been crawling around in the dim, dank regions of my head.  Killer notes that these pics have made a positive impression on the fellas in the locker room, because they now know he's one of them: Golden Boy, 5-star recruit, $70M contract, comes from a ritzy suburb of a city where the word "ritz" still has some meaning . . . but ahhh, here he is lifting a keg with an SEC co-ed straight out of central casting!  He IS a real man!

One of the toughest things for me to take about Joey Harrington's failure in Detoit is that from the get-go, I really identified with him.  One of the classic daydreams of the sports fan is to imagine, "Man, what if I was born 6'-4" and ripped and could throw a football through a cow?"  One of the classic delusions that follows is, "Then I'd play just like Brett Favre!"  For me, I realize that if I were born with an athlete's body, but had the same heart, brain, and soul, I'd be like Joey Ballgame.  Besides his well-documented musicianship (I play bass and sing), and his above-average intelligence, there's something inherently self-aware about him that I feel an affinity for.  Brett Favre played with juvenile joy and abandon; Joey played with a cerebral understanding of exactly what was at stake on every down.  Brett Favre played like it was all great fun; Joey played with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It's evident that some guys are book-dumb but football smart; I know from playing pick-up football that I'm more like the other way around.  The coordination of sensory input, concious mind, and physical reflexes needed is overwhelming; it's like playing a game of chess with your entire body as fast as you can run.  I always felt like Joey had a touch of the same problem.  Even though he probably had more grey matter between the ears than anybody else on the field, he just couldn't call the play, line up the offense, make presnap reads, make adjustments at the line, take the snap, read the defense, remember his footwork, check his second option, keep an ear out for the blindside blitz, make a decision, and throw with good technique all at the same time.  Just too much stuff to keep up with, too much pressure.  Goalies in hockey, pitchers in baseball, and perimeter shooters in basketball all have this strong emotional component to playing their position: confidence, momentum, rhythm, and feeling like you've "got it tonight" are all crucial components of success.  These pressure positions require a degree of mental tenacity above and beyond most other positions on the field.  I've often wondered if, instead of a higher IQ or wonderlic score being an indicator of success at these mentally taxing positions, too high of an IQ is actually detrimental?  Overthinking it, so to speak?  Perhaps with so much running through your head, "paralysis by analysis" is inevitable?

Such is clearly not the case for Pittsburgh Pirates' righthander Ross Olhendorf.

A brilliant mathematical mind and Princeton graduate, who wrote his senior thesis on the average expected ROI for rookie signing bonuses in baseball, Olhendorf is living proof that having an extraordinary analytical mind is no barrier to consistent clutch performance.   So then, what is it?  What is that X-factor--the ability to analyze on-field action, react appropriately, and maintaing composure, technique, and execution--and does Matt Stafford have it?

My friends, if I knew that, I wouldn't be blogging for a living.

(PS: I do not blog for a living.)


meet the cubs: brandon pettigrew

>> 6.03.2009

Donald Mirelle/Getty Images

Shortly before the draft, I (and many other Lions followers) had had far too much of the relentless speculation over the #1 overall pick, and even of the crazy scenarios surrounding the the Lions' subsequent four picks.  Given the presumptive targets of the first few rounds: middle linebacker, offensive and defensive interior linemen, and cornerback, I decided to analyze the secondary needs, and what players might be available with the Lions' late-round selections.  Since the Lions selected no middle linebackers, interior linemen, or cornerbacks with their first five picks, this piece proved to be prescient in profiling the needs--just wrong on the players selected.  Here's one of the three "archetypes" I profiled:
Finally, I think the Lions could be looking at tight end in the later rounds. Whether or not they surprise everyone and take a TE early, the Lions' depth at tight end needs to be rebuilt. Casey Fitzsimmons hasn't shown any NFL ability since his rookie season, and that was five years ago. Michael Gaines was neither a great blocker nor offensive weapon, and John Owens is gone. Free agent signee Will Heller looks like a pure blocker. It's well known that one of the greatest crutches for a QB is a tight end with great hands, who can get open quick and catch the ball reliably, especially on third down--and whether or not the Lions draft Stafford, the Lions's QBs will need all the crutches they can get. A guy I really hope might be there is N.C. State's Anthony Hill. At 6'-5", 262, Hill's a really big, strong guy with a long frame. He's a great inline blocker, but he's got really nice hands and can get open in traffic. I think the Lions desperately need this kind of TE, a big blocker who can get open and make the catch on 3rd-and-6; move the sticks, over and over and over. I don't think the Lions are really in need of the field stretching, Gates/Winslow type. Johnson and Johnson are both deep threats; there should be plenty of space underneath for a TE like Hill.
Of course, the Lions did indeed "surprise everyone", taking Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th overall pick.  Standing  6'-5" tall, and weighing 263 lbs., Pettigrew was far and away the consensus #1 tight end; in fact he was commonly regarded as the only serious tight end prospect available in this draft.  In a tight end class comprised of strictly second-day material, what made Pettigrew stand out amongst the others?  What made him the sole tight end worthy of a first-round pick?

Coming out of Robert E. Lee high school in Tyler, Texas, Scout.com rated Pettigrew as the #13 tight end prospect in the nation, garnering three stars.  He took a redshirt year, but then immediately got onto the field as a freshman.  Playing in all eleven games, and starting nine, Pettigrew mostly made hay as a blocker, but did haul in 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.  His sophomore year, he became the full-time starter.  While still being asked to do little more than block in OSU's kinetic spread offense, he still more than doubled his previous year's statistics: 24 catches, 310 yards, and 4 TDs.  For this, he was named honorable mention All-Big 12.  His Junior year, he continued to improve, finishing third on the team with 35 catches for 540 yards (a 15.4 ypc average!) and 4 TDs. He had his two best performances in two of OSU's biggest games: 8 catches for 87 yards and a score against Texas, and 8 for 85 against Georgia.  He was named first-team All-Big 12.
Expectations were high for his senior year, as he made the preseason watch lists for both the John Mackey Award (for tight ends), and the Rotary Lombardi Award (for LoS players).  However, disappointment was quick.  Pettigrew injured his ankle early in the season, and completely missed four of the first six games.  However, he still managed to post his best single-season reception numbers: 42 catches for 472 yards.  Even with the injury, he was still a John Mackey finalist.  With 112 career receptions, Pettigrew ranks 7th on OSU's all-time list; #1 for tight ends.  He's also ranked 8th for career recieving yards (1,450), and also #1 for tight ends.  He registered a remarkable 216 knockdown blocks per season in his career, and 30 touchdown-resulting blocks.
Now, the definitive authority on a player's potential . . . internet highlight reels:

Actually, NFL.com has the best video on Pettigrew, but unfortunately they don't allow for easy embedding.  I urge you to watch the following:
There isn't much about Pettigrew that I can say that hasn't been said repeatedly in the videos above.  He's a legitimately big-framed athelete who posesses the size, strength, and inclination to blow people up in both the running game and passing game.  He's a natural pass catcher with extremely soft hands, who has surprising speed and agility for someone so big and strong.  He's not a glorified wide reciever, with 4.45 deep speed down the middle.  However, what he is is something more than that: an outstanding two-way player who should never come off the field.  He'll be a weapon in the run game, blowing up holes and sealing off edges.  He'll be a weapon in the passing game, finding space in the middle of the field to move the chains.  He'll be both a crutch and a shield for Matt Stafford, providing critical max-protect help against blitz-heavy teams, and a huge target with soft hands that he can dump it off to when he absolutely must complete a pass.  
Time and time again, when reading about, watching about, or "scouting" Brandon Pettigrew, what I'm seeing and hearing is the same thing over and over and over again: Brandon Pettigrew will step on the field as one of the best two-way tight ends in football, and his potential beyond that is almost unlimited.  He'll never catch 90 balls or 1,100 yards, or 13 TDs, like an Antonio Gates.  However, Brandon Pettigrew just might be the biggest contributing factor to the immediate and long-term success of Matt Stafford--and the Detroit Lions.


the lions congregation: the return

>> 6.01.2009

Praise be!  The good Reverend Spielman has returned from his sabbatical, and the flock has duly responded to his questions three:

1) Who starts at LG and RG this season?

2) How many games will the Lions sell out this year?

3) Kevin Smith believes this is a playoff team.  Do you?

As always, practically the entire spectrum of possible answers is represented; I encourage everyone to go check it out!


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