Meet the Cubs: Mikel LeShoure

>> 5.13.2011

27 December 2010; 2010 Texas Bowl- Baylor Bears v Illinois Fighting Illini; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Mikel Leshoure (5) hoists his MVP trophy after the game; Illinois won 38-14

2.25 (57): Mikel LeShoure
          Running Back, Illinois

On the day he declared for the NFL Draft, Mikel LeShoure’s words matched those of thousands of other kids who’ve gone through the process. It’s practically boilerplate:

"I believe I have accomplished everything I can at the college level and want to go after my dream: playing in the NFL.”

For millions, playing in the NFL is a dream they’ll never have the opportunity to pursue, because they weren’t born with the talent. Mikel LeShoure was born with talent, but little else—Mikel LeShoure was born in prison.

Mikel, and his mother Jacqueline “Jazz” Frasier-Jones, faced an almost impossible climb up life’s mountain. Post-release, Jazz battled drug and alcohol addictions (and prior drug convictions), and worked multiple jobs to provide for Mikel. Meanwhile, Mikel spent the earliest years of his life with his aunt and stepmother; his father was in sporadic contact, fighting drug demons and prison sentences of his own. All three persevered, though: his mother has stayed clean and sober for 15 years, father got a good job, got back in contact, and was present at Mikel’s draft announcement, and Mikel racked up 4,652 yards and 52 rushing touchdowns at Champaign Centennial High School.

That’s Champaign, as in Champaign, Illinois—and from the sound of it, Illinois head coach Ron Zook didn’t let LeShoure, a three-star RB recruit per both and leave his backyard. Listed at 6’-0”, 220 pounds, LeShoure had offers from Iowa and Wisconsin, as well as Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Boston College. He was Rivals’ 28th-ranked running back, nationally, and Scout’s 52nd.

Mikel saw some platoon time right away his freshman year, and even started a game. However, he got into a fight with teammate Jeff Cumberland, now a TE with the Jets, and Cumberland broke LeShoure’s jaw. LeShoure spent six weeks on a liquid-only diet, and he realized he could stand to drop his freshman fifteen. In the layoff between his freshman and sophomore year, Mikel went from 237 back down to a very lean (4.8% body fat) 228. In car circles, there’s a classic quote from Lotus founder Colin Chapman: “If you want to add speed, add lightness,” and that’s exactly what LeShoure did.

Besides his diet, Mikel knew that he had to make lifestyle and attitude changes, too, if he was to be the lead dog in the Illini’s four-tailback pack:

"I'm bigger, stronger, faster — all of that," LeShoure said. "The main things were my diet and not going out and partying, handling it and being smart. I stayed in more, just hanging out with the family. It was pretty easy because the No. 1 thing I thought about was football season and what would make me better."

With his maturing mind, maturing frame, and returned explosion, LeShoure notched multiple hundred-yard games his sophomore year, culminating in a 184-yard explosion against Fresno State that got him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. He used his size, speed, and improved conditioning to wear down defenses; his second-half YpC was 7.6, and all five of his rushing TDs came after halftime. He was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.

In his junior year, Mikel LeShoure blew everything up. I’ll just quote the official bio:

• College Football Performance Awards Running Back of the Year (2010)
• Second-team All-American by the Associated Press (2010)
• Third-team All-American by and Phil Steele (2010)
• Honorable mention All-American by and Pro Football Weekly (2010)
• First-team All-Big Ten by both coaches and media (2010)
• 2010 Texas Bowl MVP
• 2010 Team MVP and Most Outstanding Offensive Back

• Illinois season rushing yards (1,697)
• Illinois season points scored (122)
• Illinois season total touchdowns (20) and rushing touchdowns (17 - tied with Rashard Mendenhall)
• Illinois season 100-yard rushing games (9) and consecutive 100-yard rushing games (5)
• Illinois single-game rushing yards - 330 vs. Northwestern at Wrigley Field, 11/20/10
• Finished sixth on the UI career rushing list (2,557) and second in school history in all-purpose yards (1,893)

Got all that? Mikel LeShoure was one of the best running backs in the nation in 2010, with some truly astounding numbers and performances. Of course, Michigan fans remember LeShoure’s five-touchdown game against them, but Mikel’s real masterwork was the Northwestern game at Wrigley Field, where he carried the ball a whopping thirteen times at a staggering 10.0 YpC clip, for a crushing 330 yards and two touchdowns. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, Walter Camp Foundation National Player of the Week, National Player of the Week and College Football Performance National Performer of the Week for that magnum opus.

Now, let’s see what the experts are saying.

  • Sideline Scouting:
    Positives: Great size, very strong build... Plays faster on tape than timed speed... Does a great job holding the football close to his body... Very quick feet, reaches his top speed almost immediately which makes him a big play threat... Gets his first 15-20 yards in a hurry, tough to contain... Runs through tackles, does a great job getting through trash and running between the tackles... Keeps his legs moving at all times, very hard to slow down... Runs with low pad level, delivers hits rather than absorb them... Great vision, waits for his blockers... Soft hands, is growing to be a capable receiver out of the backfield... Put up big numbers against tough Big 10 defenses, had only one game this year with less than 75 rushing yards... One of the few backs in this class that has the potential to be a true workhorse.

    Negatives: Really has only had one great season thus far... Often tries to break the big play rather than settle for a short gain, is prone to some negative yardage plays... Broke his jaw in 2008 after an altercation with a teammate at Illinois... Conditioning was a concern in the past... Takes most of his handoffs out of the shotgun in Illinois' spread option offense... Ran poorly at combine.


    Inside running: Powerful back, gets behind his pads when running inside. Runs with lean, and has a small strike zone for which opponents to get a square hit. Good vision to cut away from traffic, very smooth in his cuts. Keeps legs moving after initial contact. Can jump over piles near the line. If the line provides a big hole, he has an elite burst to hit second level at full speed. Excellent ball security, keeps it high and tight. Must avoid stopping to run outside when defenders penetrate, instead taking the couple of yards behind his line. Usually uses his fullback when in the I-formation, but must trust him in short yardage situations. Sells fake handoffs.

    Outside running: Thick upper- and lower-body build but he has the vision and quick feet to bounce outside as if he were a smaller back. Exceptional burst makes him capable of turning the corner to break off chunks of yardage. Has patience and vision to take a pitch and find a cutback lane and explode through it. Keeps his pad level low outside, which combined with a low center of gravity and strong legs, make him tough to tackle. Not afraid to push a pile or carry a defender a few yards after initial contact. Does not go out of bounds right away, willing to lower a shoulder to get a couple of extra yards.

    Compares to: Ryan Mathews, Chargers -- Mathews had a stellar junior season but didn't stand out in San Diego, battling ankle problems until late in the season. Leshoure has the same combination of open-field burst and power, with a chance to be an impact rookie.

  • I don't know if I'm taking crazy pills or just not a subscriber or what, but apparently only lists "negatives" this year. They graded him at 2.82, "FIRST-YEAR CONTRIBUTOR," though:

    Negatives: Loses a lot of momentum when he must quickly change direction. Not a creative ball carrier. Does not consistently run with an aggressive style. Effective when he gives effort blocking yet not consistent in that area. Cannot run to daylight in the open field. Has an upright running style that leads to a lot of heavy hits.

  • Pro Football Weekly:

    Positives: Looks every bit the part with a chiseled, NFL physique with little body fat. Sturdy runner equipped to make a living between the tackles. Quick-footed and shifty and shows some shimmy in the hole. Can get to and through the second level. Barrels through contact. Can handle a heavy workload and responds to a lather. Soft hands. Physical cut blocker. Outstanding production — paced Big Ten running backs his final two seasons with 6.4 yards per rush. Has a 38-inch vertical jump.

    Negatives: Inconsistent down-to-down compete level. Does not attack holes, and too much of his production is blocked for him — was barely touched on long gains in career-best 330-yard performance against Northwestern. Is tight in the hips. Lacks extra gear to break away and play speed is not exceptional. Average vision and run instincts — the game does not come natural to him. Does not run angry and is not as powerful or as punishing as he could be.

    Summary: A downhill runner who looks every bit the part, Leshoure carried the offense and flashes starter-caliber ability, though he could require time to acclimate to a complementary big-back role and handle the physicality of the NFL game. Sheer size and bellcow potential will appeal most to physical, ground-oriented attacks such as that of the Dolphins, Steelers, Jets, Titans or Lions.

    But what do “the experts” really know? We have indisputable, infallible, visual evidence—the one and only prognosticator of future NFL success: YOUTUBE HIGHLIGHT REELS!!

    FIrst, the highlights of that incredible day against Northwestern:

    Next, we have some Illinois offense-only "every snap" videos; first the aforementioned Michigan game, and then the 2010 Texas Bowl vs. Baylor (the pic above is LeShoure accepting the Texas Bowl MVP trophy). Lots of non-LeShoure snaps, of course, but you’re getting the lumps along with the good stuff, here, too:

    Finally, a true and proper YouTube highlight reel, complete with hype music:

    LeShoure reminds me of another Lions running back, one who stood a very similar 6’-1”, 224: James Stewart. Stewart, like LeShoure, made a lot of hay between the tackles—and if Stewart lacked a certain je ne sais quoi in comparison, he probably hit a little bit harder. Both had excellent acceleration into “good” straight-line speed, both played faster than their reputation or clock times would suggest. Stewart, though, struggled mightily to stay healthy . . . let’s hope LeShoure doesn’t have that problem.

    LeShoure has wonderful stop/start for a man his size, and you see it deployed to his advantage many times up above. He also has nicely fluid legs that let him redirect and cut while keeping his shoulders square and his upper body quiet. He appears to have nice hands, but for some reason wasn’t used much in the passing game—and I don’t think he’ll be thrown to much here, either.

    His vision seems to be okay, but not as prescient as Best’s; he doesn’t have that Sandersesque “I’m cutting this way and setting my shoulders that way, thereby juking the guy in front of me and freezing the guy behind him” way of seeing the field. Sometimes he seems to go for the home run when he just needs to get four, and sometimes, he plows ahead when there was another lane open. Remember, he only started one full season; he has a lot of learning left to do. Further, unlike Kevin Smith, Mikel Leshoure has a lot of tread left on his tires—extremely important for a mostly-between-the-tackles back.

    In short, Mikel LeShoure looks to be an excellent complement to Jahvid Best, much the way Stewart combined with Fred Taylor in Jacksonville. This isn’t a “thunder and lightning” situation, like Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, or Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. Some folks had LeShoure rated as their #1 workhorse back due to Ingram’s injury concerns; he and Best will doubtlessly find a mutually beneficial workload ratio. Together, they’ll spell each other, make each other more effective, and back each other up—the Lions’ offense shouldn’t ever be without a tailback that can keep defenses honest.

    Researching this piece has me deep in thought about the power of the NFL, the power of people’s dreams, and the incredible diversity of paths these young men take to achieve glory. The truth is, whether you were born in a correctional facility, or grew up down the street from Bobby Layne’s house in an exclusive suburb, it takes incredible dedication, hard work, perseverance—and still, even, a little luck—to make it to the NFL. For most of these rookies, the hard part is just beginning . . . but for Mikel Leshoure, I bet, even two-a-days will still feel like a dream.

  •

    NFL Teams Are Downsizing, Before They Lose A Cent

    >> 5.11.2011

    The Jerry Jones million-dollar bill. A joint.

    It started in December 2008, when the NFL laid off ten percent of its staff. From the AP article:

    Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league is cutting more than 10 percent of its staff in response to the downturn in the nation’s economy that could put a dent in ticket sales for next season.

    That’s right: the NFL laid off 150 people because the richest sports league in the world may—or may not—see a dip in ticket sales. Not because there had been, just because there might be. I don’t have actual ticket sales figures, so I can’t tell you exactly how the prophecy was fulfilled, but we can see the reported attendance thanks to’s NFL Attendance database:

    Year Total Avg. Pct.

















    It’s true that in terms of percentage of capacity, there was a dip from 2007 to 2008: instead of NFL stadiums across the league being 99% full, on the average, they were merely 97% full (the spike in total attendance is due to four teams not reporting their home attendance in 2007). Apparently, the specter of looming disaster—only 97% capacity!—spooked the NFL so badly that they had to lay of 10% of their workforce. It’s a good thing they did, because they suffered another horrific 2% drop in 2009! Again, that’s attendance—people who showed up—not tickets sold.

    It’s unfathomable to me that the economics of the NFL are structured so that if every team doesn’t sell out every game, people have to lose their jobs. There’s nine billion coming in the door to split amongst a total workforce of several thousand . . . and in order to make payroll, the league has to dump many of the few who don’t draw six-, seven-, or eight-figure paychecks? Secretaries and sales folks had to go on the dole so the NFL could afford Roger Goodell’s $9.76 million 2009 salary—a figure arrived at after Goodell volunteered for a “20-25%” pay cut from off his previous $11M. Math was never my strong suit, but I don’t think one million is 25% of eleven million.

    Unfortunately, the teams are following the league's example. According to a 2009 USA Today article, “10-12 teams” had laid off “about 200 people” in advance of the 2010 season.  How could they justify mass job cuts in anticipation of an economic downturn, even as revenue, ratings, and interest are at levels never before seen in the history of sport?

    Some of the league's layoffs are clearly intended to impact talks on the collective bargaining agreement, which could start up this spring, after the NFL Players Association selects a new executive director to replace the late Gene Upshaw. The owners opted out of the contract last season, arguing it was too favorable to players, who receive nearly 60% of total revenues — an estimated $4.5 billion next season with a salary cap increasing from $116 million to $123 million.

    Oh right. Posturing.

    A year later, NFL teams continue to cry poor, and it’s again the little guy who’s feeling the pinch. Some teams, like the Chiefs and Jets, have already laid off or furloughed employees this offseason. Yesterday, the Dolphins announced that salaries would be slashed 10-20% for for all “support staff” for the duration of the lockout. So, some owners are making sure that all their employees feel the pinch of the lockout they’re imposing, not just the ones they’re negotiating with. This is particularly egregious coming from Dolphins owner Steven Ross, who in January gassed up his private jet and flew to California to offer Jim Harbaugh a salary “in the $7 million-to-$8 million range.” Clearly, he’s got the money to pay his administrative assistants. He just doesn’t want to.

    That several other NFL teams have announced that they will not lay off or furlough staff due to the lockout is both heartening, and damning. Heartening, because it lets us know that not all owners are hell-bent on Scrooging everyone on their payroll, just because they can. Damning, because it proves that the rest of them are doing exactly that.

    I have to say, not for the first time, that I’m awfully proud of the Lions franchise for doing this the right way: Tom Lewand announced back in March that there will be no changes in staffing as a result of the lockout. I’m not sure whose call that is; I know Mr. Ford rarely involves himself in the nitty-gritty of league business. But here’s a golden opportunity to tighten up employee costs under false pretenses of hardship, and the Lions aren’t taking it. As mad as I am about the way other teams are approaching this whole mess, I’m proud of the way the Lions are.


    Old Mother Hubbard: The Wide Receivers

    >> 5.10.2011

    Finishing up the Old Mother Hubbard series, post-draft, seems anti-climatic. However, there’s plenty of offseason left (maybe too much), and this cupboard isn’t done being restocked. To that end, we dig into the Pro Football Focus grades for wide receivers:


    In this case, “Pass” refers to their grades in the passing game, i.e. their receiving performance. “Run” refers to their performance when running the football (on reverses, etc.). Unlike tight ends, run blocking and pass blocking are consolidated into “Blocking,” as receivers rarely pass block. The bright orange line represents Brandon Lloyd, the wideout who turned in the best overall grade. His +24 is predicated almost entirely on his +23.4 receiving grade (the other dimensions have little variation, and therefore little impact on the overall grade). Should we be surprised that Darrius Heyward-Bey is bringing up the rear? His –14 overall grade is the worst of any NFL wideout.

    There’s a little thing in research called “confirmation bias,” where you seek out objective facts that confirm your preconceptions. That the Lions drafted a speedy receiver with their second pick suggests the Lions saw a need that had to be filled. I simply have to acknowledge this: I’m curious to see why the Lions thought they should pick a wideout so high, especially one whose game superficially matches Nate Burleson’s. I’m going to do this straight, but keep an eye out for signals that there’s a need to stretch the field.

    The Lions’ WR corps is the most divergent unit on the team. Most of the other positions’ players are clustered around the thick black AVERAGE line, with only a few strong deviations in either direction. However, Calvin Johnson was PFF’s third-best graded receiver in 2010, with a very strong +14 overall grade. That was powered by a +14.5 receiving grade, and only having a single penalty called against him all year. He also had a (very) slightly above-average rushing grade.

    Surprisingly, Megatron’s blocking grade was awful. He turned in a –3.1 blocking mark, well below the NFL average of –1.27, and ranked 94th out of 110 receivers. We don’t play Megatron to block, but you’d think a dude who has half a foot and sixty pounds on most corners could do better than that without breaking a sweat.

    Statistically, Calvin caught 77 of 131 passes thrown at him; his percentage of passes caught is actually a little below-average at 58.8% (NFL average: 59.6%). Part of this is definitely due to system and quarterbacking. The top receiving percentage guys are typically slot receivers in pass-first, multi-WR offenses featuring quality quarterbacks; Megatron is a #1 wideout in a conventional offense driven by very inconsistent quarterback play last year. Still, I’d expected Calvin to be better than the mean at getting to, and hauling in, footballs.

    Perhaps it's in the way they use him? Megatron was thrown at once every 7.8 snaps, exactly the NFL average. His yards per reception, 14.5, is definitely a notch above average, 13.2. But his touchdowns . . . well, his 13 12 vastly outstrip the league average of 4. It was my eyeball observation that the Lions tended to move between the 30s with passes to slot WRs, TEs, and RBs, then take shots at the endzone with Calvin once they got close. I divided receptions by touchdowns and . . . yup! Megatron was 10th in the NFL with 6.4 receptions per touchdown (4th with 5.9 if you count the Chicago Robbery). If the Lions were throwing to Calvin, they were often taking a shot at the end zone.

    Bottom Line: Calvin Johnson was one of the NFL’s best receivers in 2010, despite being targeted the average number of times, primarily in the red zone, by a rotating cast of quarterbacks. If he and Matthew Stafford play all 16 games in 2011, expect Megatron to be #1 by a long shot.

    The neon-green line a little ways inside of AVERAGE is Nate Burleson, the Lions’ second-splashiest free agent acquisition of 2010. Burleson turned in a –2.7 receiving grade, which couldn’t be offset by his run grade (+1.6, tied with Devin Hester for third-best in the NFL), or his relatively clean penalty grade. His very-slightly-below-average blocking performance (-1.4) didn’t help either.

    Burleson’s negative grade didn’t come entirely from dropped passes, as Brandon Pettigrew’s clearly did. Burleson was ranked 56th in snaps-per-drop, with 17.0 (avg.: 17.6)—not great, but barely off the NFL median and mean. His YAC was excellent; 18th-best in the NFL with 5.6. He also made a defender miss on a post-catch tackle 8 times on just 55 receptions—the 21st-highest rate in the NFL (6.9 Rec./MT; NFL avg. 10.8).

    That is the end of the good news for Burleson—who, outside of two great games against the Jets and Dolphins (+2.9, +3.4), turned in neutral or weakly negative grades the rest of the year (none worse than his –1.8 week one; most not nearly that low). He also, despite his well-above-average YAC rate, could only muster 11.4 yards per reception. Think about that: he ran for an average of 5.6 yards after every catch, but only gained 11.4 yards on an average catch. He caught the ball an average of 5.8 yards downfield! The picture this all paints is of a slightly-below-average receiver who struggles to get open deep—but becomes a genuine threat once the ball is in his hands.

    Bottom Line: Nate Burleson proved to be a valuable asset, often getting open short and manufacturing yards in space when there were none to be had. However, he failed to provide a credible threat across from Calvin Johnson, instead carving out a niche in underneath the coverage. “Recepticon” has a future in this offense, but it will be much brighter if he can work in the space created by a legitimate deep threat.

    Bryant Johnson is a receiver from Penn State who seems like a really cool guy on Twitter. Unfortunately, PFF’s grades are not kind to him. Johnson’s –13.1 overall grade is second-worst in the NFL, ahead of only Darrius Heyward-Bey. His –13.5 receiving grade is at the very bottom; it’s only his total lack of penalties called that pull him up above Heyward-Bey. His 37.5% of targets caught is also second-worst in the league; dropping 7 passes on just 48 targets didn’t help.

    Here’s one positive tidbit for Johnson, though: his 4.2 catches per missed tackle means he was the third-hardest WR to bring down in the NFL. Should he happen to catch the ball, Bryant Johnson is tough to stop.

    Bottom Line: Bryant Johnson struggled mightily to catch the ball in 2010, as he did in 2009. Though his body type and tool set would be the perfect complement to draw coverage away from Megatron and open up space for Burleson, his inability to catch the ball strips him of any credible threat—and of any real chance of returning for 2010.

    Derrick Williams is a receiver from Penn State who seems like a really cool guy on Twitter. Williams's commitment to giving back to the Detroit community is as impressive as it is unheralded. Unfortunately, PFF’s graders took a dim view of his 2010 performance, as well. Williams, whose 154 snaps didn’t qualify him for the 25% cutoff, only saw time in weeks 3, 4, 5, 11, 12, and 13.

    His –6 overall rating and –4.8 receiving rating didn’t come from doing a bad job catching the ball. The problem was, he was never open: in 154 snaps played, Lions quarterbacks only targeted him three times. Astonishingly, that’s the exact same number of penalty flags he drew (though one was called back).

    Bottom Line: Despite being, by all appearances, a great guy and a good teammate, Williams’ single reception for 7 yards was probably the former #1 recruit in America’s last as a Lion.

    SHOPPING LIST: Though no one identified WR as a need prior to the draft, had I managed to crank this one out I’d have been screaming from the mountaintops about this one, too. Calvin Johnson is a flat-out stud, Nate Burleson is a quality slot ninja, and after that the Lions have two guys who’ve proven they can’t help, and practice squadders like Brian Clark and Tim Toone. The need for a wideout with legitimate downfield speed and NFL hands to go with it was, in fact, desperate—and the Lions may have filled it with Titus Young.


    The Grandmaster Tells Fairley Not To Hit The Books

    >> 5.09.2011

    Over the weekend, word broke that the Lions didn’t give Nick Fairley a playbook in the short not-quite-two-days they were allowed to contact him. They flew Fairley to Detroit, let him meet the fans, had him tour the facilities . . . but never gave him a playbook? They passed up a chance to get their new thoroughbred up to speed? What’s up with that? Per the Freep, Schwartz didn’t think it was a thing:

    "Our blood pressure's pretty low on stuff like that," Schwartz said. "We don't want to rush things. You give somebody a set of instructions without being able to communicate with them, it really might not do a whole lot of good so we haven't done a whole lot."

    Schwartz explained the raw playbook isn’t going to be of much use to a rookie who hasn’t had the instruction to back it up. That’s doubly true for Fairley, a defensive tackle in a system where DTs play a conventional role. It’s not as though he has three positions to learn, like a wideout or a linebacker. Unlike Ndamukong Suh, there’s no chance Fairley will be asked to play every snap he physically can; Fairley will play situationally. The most important thing for him is being ready to answer the bell—which is exactly what Schwartz said:

    Schwartz said Fairley won't have as much to learn as some rookies when football resumes -- "We're not real complicated up front," he said. "It's more of a physical game than it is a mental game for him."

    Josh Katzowitz of still takes issue with Schwartz’s approach, though:

    Yes, but what if the lockout extends deep into the summer and then the lockout is lifted with only a short training camp possible before the regular season begins? Won’t Fairley be hampered because the Lions didn’t give him the opportunity to familiarize himself with the material when they had the chance?

    Schwartz’s decision makes sense to me on a few fundamental levels. First, I’ve dug up some pro and college playbooks for study purposes—and even with an explicatory “Here is what we are trying to do” foreword, it takes an awful lot of digestion for a layperson. Without the experience of a coach explaining it, without physical demonstration or film study backing it up, it’s almost impossible for a layperson to understand why the squiggles and arrows and dashed lines are any more significant for going this way than any other.

    Of course, Nick Fairley isn’t a layperson—he was the cornerstone of a BCS National Championship-winning defense, drawn up by one of the best defensive minds in college football, Gene Chizik. Fairley’s been reading playbooks for years; he knows what all the lines and squiggles mean and can pick it up, no problem—so why not let him memorize everything now?

    Because that’s not the important part. Nick Fairley will indeed pick up the “who am I supposed to kill, on what play” part quickly; as Schwartz said the Lions aren’t complicated up front. What Fairley needs is the coaching: the physical demonstrations of how they want their linemen to hit the hole, the film study of last years’ team executing the defense, the coaches’ explanation of the philosophy behind each arrow and dash in that playbook.

    I remember when Jim Schwartz took over, he talked about defensive line technique. Marinelli coached his players to “get skinny in the hole,” ($) to attack gaps with a shoulder and penetrate blocks. Schwartz, meanwhile, prefers his D-line to engage their blockers, to attack and control with their arms, to get pressure without losing containment.  It meant Schwartz had to coach all the linemen to do, essentially, the opposite of what they’d been doing. Nick Fairley can memorize “On this play I go here,” right now—but if he’ll have to re-learn how to “go there” from scratch, what’s the point? Schwartz would rather Nick Fairley be lifting and running sprints than poring over a playbook—so when it’s really time to learn the defense, he’ll be as ready as he can possibly be.


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