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Football Gameplan’s 1st and Forever | FOOTBALL GAMEPLAN

Football Gameplan’s 1st and Forever

Tyrod Taylor’s Impact on the Quarterback Perception

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Yes it happened, it really happened! Many believed it was not possible, but now we know differently. The wool can’t be pulled over our eyes any longer. NFL teams can’t keep making statements like, “Colleges are not preparing these guys for the NFL.” They can’t keep relying on a couple “QB gurus” to crank out ready made mediocre quarterbacks while hoping that they can land the next Manning, Brady, or Rodgers.

For years we were told that Tyrod Taylor was a backup. For years he sat behind Joe Flacco and many believed that the Ravens should upgrade or add a veteran backup in case Flacco went down, but Baltimore felt pretty good about their situation. The untrained public and media thought that Taylor’s free agent exit from Baltimore, and subsequent signing with Buffalo, was nothing more than a fight for a lateral move. Taylor had other plans and apparently, so did new Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who did something rare in today’s NFL.

Rex Ryan did something unusual in today’s NFL. He actually gave a black quarterback, who has been a backup for his entire career, a legitimate opportunity to compete for a starting position. Most mainstream media wrote it off as lip service and just assumed that Cassel would be the starter. But it became clear to more than the few of us who knew that Cassel’s incumbent role was in serious jeopardy. Eventually Cassel was “Wilson’d” and then thrown a life raft by the Bills to be Taylor’s backup. A position that was given to him and not earned as former Bills former 1st round pick EJ Manuel, outplayed him in the preseason as well.

When was the last time you heard of a black backup quarterback getting a legitimate shot as the starter? I believe the last time was Tavaris Jackson and before him you have to go back to Charlie Batch. But throughout the years, there have been countless amounts of capable black quarterbacks that have never been given the opportunity to fail. If they were given the opportunity to fail, they were never afforded the seemingly countless chances that those in the majority are afforded. Cassel, Matt Schaub, Brian Hoyer, Matt Flynn, Josh McCown and many others have been given the reins of an offense on many different occasions, only to continuously fail.

I guess they just deserved it more. That’s what people would have you believe. Well, here’s a reality check; Tyrod Taylor and many other young, black, and capable quarterbacks are tired of being called athletes, dual threats, scrambling quarterbacks, one-read quarterbacks, gimmick quarterbacks or any other negative slight you want to throw their way to justify not allowing them to lead your team.

If you look around college, not only are they coming, but they are coming in droves and you won’t be able to move them all to receiver.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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FBGP’s 1st and Forever: Wilson’d

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Football has long been a landscape where the feats of its members spawn vocabulary that becomes a part of society’s accepted vernacular. Words like “juked,” “trucked,” and phrases like, “give him/her the Heisman,” or “get it across the end zone,” are only a few of the colloquialisms that have been adopted from football. Probably the most famous of them all is, “Moss’d!”

This is a word affectionately named after former NFL super freak Randy Moss, who routinely needed to jump over multiple defenders to catch the ball. Now anytime a receiver out-jumps a defensive back to catch the ball, that defender has been “Moss’d!” It is really a testament to just how good Moss was, and how he resonated in the pop culture-like climate of sports.

There is another verb that should be added to the lexicon, “Wilson’d!” The official definition can be: When one person unexpectedly takes an incumbent’s position.

When Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, arrived in Seattle in 2012 as a 3rd round pick, most did not expect him to make an immediate impact. That includes the team that drafted him because they went out and signed former Green Bay Packers starter Matt Flynn, to a 20 million dollar deal to be their starter. The rest is history and wasted money by Seattle.

Last season, most fans and media members believed that Jacob Coker would be the starter when he transferred from Florida State to Alabama. However Blake Sims, a quarterback turned running back, returned to quarterback and had other ideas. The results: Sims had a very successful season for the Tide and is now playing in the CFL, while Coker was “Wilson’d” and may be again this season.

The most recent example of being “Wilson’d” should be happening in Buffalo where after consistently mediocre starting quarterback Kyle Orton decided to retire, the Bills traded for journeyman and mediocre backup quarterback Matt Cassel and his 10 million dollar contract he signed with the VIkings last season. They also signed, for much less money, Tyrod Taylor who was thought by many to give the Bills a serviceable backup for Cassel and allow first round draft pick EJ Manuel to take a redshirt year.

A funny thing happened on the way to week one of the regular season. Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel have thoroughly outplayed Matt Cassel. It is a rare occasion to see a minority quarterback who has never been a starter, get a legitimate shot at the job.  But if anyone is willing to break the trend, it is Rex Ryan who seems to be favoring playmakers over conservative chain movers. There is no doubt Cassel should be “Wilson’d”, what should be in doubt is the need to have him on the active roster come week one.

The action verb “Wilson’d” is also unique because to comfortably fits into pop culture. The 2000 Tom Hanks one man show Cast Away, stars Hanks opposite a volleyball named Wilson that has become his personal companion while marooned on a desert island. Eventually while trying to get out to sea, Wilson gets away from Hanks and slowly floats away being left behind and never heard from again.

That narrative fits what happened to Matt Flynn when he was beat out by Wilson. He’s bounced around from team to team and has existed in relative obscurity. I fear that is the path Coker is heading down in Tuscaloosa and it should be Cassel’s fate as well.

“Wilson’d!” Spread the word and somebody call up Urban DIctionary. There’s a new entry.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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The NFL Owes La’el Collins an Apology

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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When ESPN first reported that former LSU offensive tackle and NFL hopeful La’el Collins was leaving Chicago, site of the 2015 NFL draft, to return to Louisiana to address questions about the death of a former associate, I felt a tremble of fear go through my body.  However, unlike almost everyone else with a pen, computer, and a voice, that I feared that this would unfairly affect Collins draft status.

Over the next few days, while various media members and draft evaluators didn’t seem interested in waiting to get more information before forming their opinions, Collins dropped from a good bet to be a first round draft pick, to undrafted.

Throughout this time, law enforcement was very transparent and stated several times that Collins was not a suspect, that they just wanted to ask him questions. It is a curious case, one that is worth asking questions, even worth doing a little research into, but that doesn’t mean that Collins has ever done anything wrong.

So instead of celebrating with his family the highlight of his life, instead of having the opportunity to walk across the stage on draft night and shake Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, instead of holding up the jersey of a team that represented a city where he would at least spend the next five years of his life, he had to endure comments like, “No team wants to be the team to draft a murderer.”

I can only imagine the anger and frustration he must have felt knowing that he had done nothing wrong and seeing first hand that not one of 32 teams, not even the team in the state where he played collegiately, believed him. Not one believed in him and that’s a sobering fact. If there was ever an illustration of how much the NFL cares more for their product than the people who make that product great this is it.

Last night ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported that Collins was not the father of the child that the aforementioned murder victim was carrying at the time of her death. She also revealed that Collins passed a polygraph test administered by an independent investigator.

Is it safe to say that “The Shield” screwed this one up? Umm… Hell Yes!

But worse than that, they ruined a moment that will forever live in La’el Collins mind. He can never get that opportunity back. The words that people uttered can never be taken back and time can’t be reversed to give him back this past weekend. The NFL would not even grant him removal from a draft he was unlikely to be taken in so that once his name was cleared, he could have the chance to be drafted in a slot that was more commensurate with his abilities.

It’s about more than money but they definitely cost him quite a bit of it. I don’t know if he has any legal recourse but I hope he does. Now, every team in the league is making their pitch to land Collins. Three days ago nobody wanted to waste a 7th round pick on him and in the next few days he could become the most highly sought after undrafted free agent ever. This means that some lucky team will get a starter at a discounted rate for at least three seasons.

One would think that these teams would show some remorse for the embarrassment they caused Collins and his family, but I highly doubt it. Instead someone will say that the NFL is a business and that not taking Collins in the draft was about protecting themselves. The truth is that by not drafting Collins, they made everyone think that they knew something the public didn’t and therefore the public began to believe that where there was smoke, there was fire. Well, now it seems there’s no smoke and no fire but still wreckage.

Collins had the opportunity to make enough money to take care of his family for a lifetime and now his effort has to continue simply to make the money that he was almost guaranteed to make a little over a week ago.

It’s just another reason why you should never blame a player for thinking about his money first. The NFL definitely is.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Why Bad Teams Remain Bad: Part 2 – Oakland Raiders

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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The salary cap in the NFL has enabled its owners to make more money than any other owner in any other league because it makes them spend their money wisely. It’s impossible to buy a Super Bowl because you can’t afford to pay all the best players. The NFL’s salary cap has created parody unrivaled by other professional leagues.

Organizations know this and as a result player development is paramount in building a championship contender. While a team may splurge on a few free agent purchases, the nucleus of their team is built through drafting and/or acquiring young talent and developing them to fit a system. This is why the NFL Draft has taken a place of prominence in the spring sports landscape. Fans have become more aware that these college kids who are drafted or signed as free agents will comprise the majority of the roster.

The reason why bad NFL franchises remain bad is because some organizations refuse to exhibit patience, and build the only way that has been proven to provide an organization with stability. Obviously one can’t have stability in their program without stability at the most important position in an organization: the head coach.

The Oakland Raiders are a model of inconsistency at the head coach position and as a result, the development of their talent has suffered. Since former Oakland great Art Shell’s first exit as head coach following the 1994 season, the Raiders have employed 12 coaches. Twelve coaches in 21 seasons if you count the Raiders new hire, Jack Del Rio, who will man the sidelines in 2015; but he better get the job done quickly. Raider coaches are averaging 1.5 seasons before they are shown the door. That’s not much time to build a culture and develop talent to fit that culture.

That inconsistency is especially rough on players. Coaches have different philosophies which usually result in them wanting to develop the type of players they feel fit their system best. Because most coaches are ego-driven, they are convinced that their system is the best way to be successful, which is usually to the detriment of the current players. Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles for that example.

The average tenure of the 21 first round draft picks selected by the Raiders since Shell’s first departure is 5.5 seasons. The reason why that average is so low for 1st round picks has less to do with who was chosen and more to do with inconsistent training. Those 21 draft picks played for average of 3.5 coaches during their time in the silver and black.

Those numbers are staggering! There’s no way to believe a player could ever realize their full potential with that albatross flying around the organization. The results have been evident. The list of 21 first-round picks feature many supremely talented players who never lived up to their potential, but was that entirely their fault? Where was the motivation, the belief, the system, the culture?

“Just win baby” is an impatient philosophy. It doesn’t put up with substandard seasons. It doesn’t allow for growth.

The longest tenured Raider during this period has been Sebastian Jankowski and as a kicker, he was essentially immune to the changes in coaching. When Jankowski starts his 16th season, he will have kicked for 10 different head men. One could make the argument that more consistency could have encouraged “Sea Bass” to stay in better physical shape over the years. The truth is that he knows that any coach who gives him a hard time about his weight will probably not be around long enough for him to care what they think.

Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson comes in second with his 11 years of service across two separate tours of duty. He’s played for six coaches in his time with the Raiders but only one in the seven seasons he spent with the Packers. It’s probably why he had his best stretch as a Packer, including helping Green Bay win Super Bowl XLV. Since returning to the Raiders two seasons ago, he has already played for two coaches and will add another to the list when they kickoff under Del Rio.

Three coaches in three years? Three coaches in three years!

More alarming is when you take those stalwarts out of the equation, the number of coaches Raider players have had decreases from 3.5 to 3 coaches. However, the number of seasons spent with Oakland also decrease significantly from 5.5 to 4.6. This means that those players only saw the same head coach for a little over one season. How can that possibly be a positive for player development?

Speaking of player development, enter Jamarcus Russell. Many have been perfusive in their belief that Russell was a bust. But who has sat down and really examined his time with the Raiders? Russell had two coaches in three seasons. Oakland made him the first overall pick in 2007, then tried to pay him less than the going rate for first pick quarterbacks. Subsequently he missed an entire training camp, and spent his one season with then head coach Lane Kiffin trying to play catch up.

One year wasted. Bye Bye Lane! In steps a coach in Tom Cable who doesn’t believe in Russell, is not dedicated to developing him, and knows they even if he was dedicated, the organization wouldn’t give him the time necessary to complete the task. “Just win baby!” Russell spends one year starting, one year getting benched, and ends his career by being cut and cut down by the same franchise who thought he would be the savior three years earlier.

Say what you want about Russell but you can’t name a quarterback, past or present, who would have survived under those circumstances.

The next two coaches after Cable were not afforded time or the luxury of a first round pick to develop. Hugh Jackson was shown the door following one season with no first round draft pick because he rolled the dice on Carson Palmer. In stepped Dennis Allen who had no first or second round pick in his first season. In his third season he was given the same papers as the nine coaches before him. Now the new blood of the Raiders, D.J. Hayden, Khalil Mack, and Derek Carr, will be dealing with their third head coach in their brief careers. Will Del Rio mark the end of the revolving door of coaches dawning the silver and black? History says no and it also says that the fate of the young talent on the Raiders rest solely on the patience of management.

Not an incredibly good sign.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Why Bad NFL Franchises Remain Bad – Part 1

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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There is one word to describe why there are have’s and have not’s in the NFL: Desperation.

The NFL Draft puts this desperation on full display. The desperation of the fans to have a winner turns into the desperation of media to produce materials that garner the attention of the fans. These actions then promote desperation from ownership to make their clients happy, which ultimately makes front office executives reach for players not worth their draft selection.

The poor stay poor.

Franchises that do well have patience. They are even willing to trade down if they don’t see the value in their position, knowing that there is a “thirsty” team out willing to deal their way closer to an irrational decision.

Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars needed to fill a lot of holes. They had needs along the offensive line, at defensive end and at linebacker. However, they also had a need at quarterback that was being magnified by their fan base and media. Blake Bortles was the flavor of the hour and the Jaguars, hoping to make a splash pick, dove head first into the Bortles’ water. They ignored the fact that Bortles needed seasoning before he would be ready for the pro game and caved to the emotions of people. There’s a saying that goes “coaches who let fans coach their team are destined to become one.” That statement is equally true for front office executives.

Jacksonville passed on several players who could have been instant, positive impacts for their team.

They could have improved their offensive line by drafting Jake Matthews and pairing him with college teammate Luke Joeckel. This would have given the Jags bookends on their offensive line for the next 10-15 years. It may have also kept them from giving up 71 sacks last season and getting every quarterback who lined up behind center killed.

This year the Jaguars will look to bolster their defensive line by drafting a pass rusher to go with stellar interior line play. The 2014 draft featured three premier pass rushers and two, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr, were still on the board when Jacksonville drafted Bortles. Both had promising rookie campaigns for defenses that were not as good as Jacksonville’s.

The Jaguars also passed on a chance to draft the best middle linebacker prospect to enter the draft since San Francisco drafted Patrick Willis in Alabama’s CJ Mosley. Mosley would have represented a dramatic upgrade for the middle linebacker position. His athleticism and coverage prowess should been coveted by a head coach who is looking to duplicate the defense he helped build in Seattle.

Bortles did not improve the Jaguars offense. In fact, one can argue that they would have been better off sticking with Chad Henne, drafting a higher rated player that filled another need, and they could address quarterback by moving back into the first late for Teddy Bridgewater or moving up to draft Derek Carr at the beginning of the second round. Both quarterbacks looked much more poised than Bortles.

In the second round the Jags spent two picks on receivers to apparently grow with their quarterback selection. However, in one of the deepest drafts ever for receiving talent, Jacksonville could have waited until later in the draft to address that position. Their defensive backfield is one of the worse in the NFL and they had the opportunity to address that with those picks and further bolster their defense. Florida State’s play-everywhere-corner LaMarcus Joyner and Nebraska defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste were both available for the plucking.

There second round also featured several offensive linemen who were available to help protect an investment in a quarterback.

The desperate draft choices can be traced back to 2011 when the Jaguars reached for Blaine Gabbert with the 10th pick because they, “needed a quarterback” and passed on drafting defensive ends JJ Watt and Robert Quinn and offensive lineman Mike Pouncey. Those the were taken in picks following Gabbert and they have become cornerstones for their teams.

The Jaguars have gone full circle in just four short seasons. Drafting of Bortles proves one thing. History can and will always repeat itself. Now we will see if the ripples are the same. See you again in 2017.

Questions? Comments?

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

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FBGP’s 1st and Forever: A Ball?

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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I want to make sure that I am processing this correctly. I would never want to be accused of jumping to conclusions based off a few words. Contrary to popular belief, everyone doesn’t wake up, roll over and open Twitter, but when I did get around to it and then Facebook, I noticed an overwhelming amount of talk about the Patriots and this “ball” issue. Last week it was a “formation” issue and this week it’s what… balls? Really?

It has become customary to follow any big Patriots win with some type of reference to cheating. Ever since Belichick-disciple, Eric Mangini, snitched on his former employer and gave birth to the most ridiculous name for a scandal ever “Spygate”, the conspiracy theorist and resident foil hat wearers have been chomping at the bit to devalue every accomplishment earned by New England. They throw something out there about cheating and hope it sticks with phrases like: “They’ve done it before” or “You can’t put it past them.

These accusations and comments are really sad. Mostly they are made by sore losers who can’t just accept the fact that, on that particular day, and quite honestly most days, they were just beat by a better team. What a novel concept, admitting that your opponent was just better than you. Not saying things like: “Well, we didn’t play our best today” or “We let one get away” or even bolder, “We were the better team!”

To accuse a team of cheating is to accuse them of not having a belief that they can beat their opponent without cheating. Bush league!

To accuse a team of cheating is to devalue the work that those players and coaches put into winning. It devalues the countless amounts of hours game-planning, practicing, and preparing their bodies for the task ahead. Bush league!

To accuse a team of cheating is a cheap, lazy, and child-like way of comporting oneself after a contest is over. Bush league!

Now it’s balls! Really? Balls?

So, New England’s balls were responsible for a 45-7 beat down which could have easily been more lopsided?

So, New England’s balls caused Andrew Luck to complete 36% of his passes and throw two interceptions and no touchdowns?

So, New England’s balls forced Adam Vinatieri to miss a field goal after going 30-31 in the regular season?

So, New England’s balls made Greg Toler, a cornerback, the leading tackler for the Colts?

I’m guessing the ball made LeGarrette Blount tear up the Indy defense for 148 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns.

“It” allowed Tom Brady to complete almost 66% of his passes and throw three touchdowns in a windy stadium with various bouts of driving rain.

Who knew a ball had so much power! I thought it was just a ball. Most likely so do the Patriots. I will be waiting on Sports Science to do a segment on the advantages of having a ball slightly deflated but I am very confident in saying that if you held a football inflated to the recommended level, then held a football that was slightly deflated you would not know the difference.

Maybe the real reason the Patriots won is because during the Belichick/Brady era they are the Stylin’, profilin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, chip stealin’, wheelin’ n’ dealin’, son’s of a gun! And they are having a hard time keep their feet out of the Super Bowl.

“Now give me two claps and a Rick Flair!”

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Football + Preparation = Overcoming Adversity

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Football doesn’t prepare you for everything but prepares you to deal with anything!

This America, our America, is one where anything is possible. It is a place where you are only limited by your imagination. It is a place where dreams are made into reality. In football this happens all the time. It does not matter where you are from. If you live in a small rural town or a big city, an affluent neighborhood or a poverty-stricken neighborhood, you find young boys who want grow into young men and achieve their dreams of being professional football players.

Unfortunately, in America anything is possible. The same way dreams come true, so do nightmares. Occasionally, those nightmares are recognized while young men are living their dreams. Life is fickle and it gives and takes at will. That was never more evident than when the news reports began to pour in about the Kansas City Chiefs’ spectacular safety Eric Berry.

Berry, who is only 25 years old, is already known as one of the best safeties in professional football. In only four seasons as a pro, he has been named to the Pro Bowl three times. The only reason it was not four is because he missed the 2011 season due to a torn ACL in September.

This is where the nightmare begins. As a football player, Berry and anyone else who plays the game at whatever level knows that they may have to deal with injuries sustained while playing the game they love; while living their dreams. This is a byproduct of the game; this is what Berry and anybody who plays signs up for. Nobody, and I assume Berry as well, thinks that they will have to deal with Cancer.

After a loss to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night, which was enough to give anyone chest pains, Berry really complained about chest pain. When the team doctors examined him, they found a mass in his chest that they believe could possibly be lymphoma. Berry was immediately put on the season-ending non-football illness list. The nightmare is real.

Athletes know that injuries to their body can heal and they can rehab. There is normally a target date, something to strive for, a goal. Athletes are good with goals; they are very competitive and look to reach whatever carrot in front of them. The scary thing about the “C word” is that there is no timetable, there are no set standards of recovery. You just don’t know. The not knowing is hard for an athlete to process. It is hard to play through the whistle when you have no clue when the whistle is going to blow.

This Berry case is heart breaking. We can only hope that he receives great news. If he does not then he will have to lock in and find the focus and determination that got him to the NFL. The best thing about football players is that they are not afraid of hard work. Contrary to popular belief, football players didn’t grow up coddled or pampered. Football does not care where you live and what type of money you or your family makes. If you don’t work hard and grind through; if you don’t prepare yourself mentally and physically then football chews you up, spits you out, and moves on to the next young stud without an explanation.

Fortunately Berry is one of the best to do his job and his job is demanding. Football has uniquely prepared him for this challenge ahead. There is no doubt that he will be focused on defeating or overcoming this obstacle. Our prayers will be with him.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Rob Gronkowski is the Best TE in the Game

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Wikipedia defines the position this way;

 

The Tight End (TE) is a position in American football, Arena football, and formerly Canadian football, on the offense. The tight end is often seen as a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Like offensive linemen, they are usually lined up on the offensive line and are large enough to be effective blockers. On the other hand, they are eligible receivers adept enough to warrant a defense’s attention when running pass patterns.

It is truly the most unique position in sports and the only position in football that lines up wide, in the slot, attached to the line, on the wing, in the backfield, go in motion, run, catch or block. The flexibility of the TE has left the full back position damn near extinct and many offenses are opting for multiple TE sets instead of multiple back or receiver sets.

This offense obsessed society has begun to deem any tight end that catches a lot of passes a top tight end but they set aside the other aspects of the position. A pass-catching tight end with no ability to block inline, is simply a big receiver. On the opposite side, there are tight ends that are used primarily in the running game. They are offensive linemen with an eligible number but their value is limited.

These reasons are why New England is the location of the best tight end in football, GRONK! An earlier First and Forever column talked about the death of the tight end because of Jimmy Graham’s contract and his worth being devalued based on his position. The truth is that as a real tight end, Graham falls very short of what you want but Rob Gronkowski has everything you want in a real tight end.

Gronkowski does not need a special designation. He’s not a “pass-catching” or a “run-blocking” he does both of them equally well. As a pass receiver he is a matchup nightmare. At 6’6” and 265 pounds, Gronk is too big for any cornerback and safety. He either boxes them out like a power forward going for a rebound, or jumps over them. Once he has the ball, his 5’8”-6’ defenders bounce off him like beach balls in a crowd full of people. His speed allows him to separate from linebackers and stretch the middle of the field. Even after two seasons of injuries Gronk still possesses the athleticism to make any offensive coordinator drool over how to best utilize him.

He is still not a finished product. At age 25 he still has many years of peak performance and as he continues to learn how to be a better tight end, he will continue to add the mental side of the game to an overpowering physical nature. Many outsiders believe that Gronk is somehow not intelligent because of his crazy lifestyle; however, it has been proven that New England’s offense is not easy to learn or execute as a receiver but Gronk has thrived. Over the years many receivers have flamed out trying to learn the “Patriot Way”, yet he has not.

Gronkowski gives you the ability to be multiple in your offensive game-planning. When Jimmy Graham comes into a game, most realize that there’s a better than average chance that the play is going to be a pass because Graham doesn’t give you much in the run game. Because Gronkowski is a legitimate blocker, the play-action game becomes much more effective. Run and pass plays can be run out of the same formations which allows an offense to better disguise their play-calling.

Gronkowski is such a unique weapon in today’s NFL that there is not another comparable tight end to him today. Last season when people asked whether or not it was time to give up on Gronk, the Pats never flinched. They were committed to nursing him back to health and getting him back on the field. The results are evident. 40 receptions for 558 yards and seven touchdowns. But what makes it even more impressive is that his snaps were severely limited at the beginning of the season and yet he is still on pace to have an All-Pro season.

If he stays healthy, he will add extra years to Tom Brady’s career. That’s what a real tight end does.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Cowboys Need to Win Now

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Dallas Cowboys running back Demarco Murray is having a career season. The Cowboys are benefitting from his performance this season as they have rode his back to a 6-1 record and first place in the NFC East. He has taken the pressure off of quarterback Tony Romo to make every play and as a result, their offensive balance and ball control has been phenomenal. Many look at this year as a reason for optimism that the Dallas Cowboys may not only make it to the playoffs, but win the Super Bowl.

Well if the Cowboys want to win the Super Bowl, their window is not just closing, its size is clearly defined. There’s no way that the Cowboys can put the toothpaste back in the tube with Murray’s carries. He is definitely going to surpass 400 carries this season. Murray is currently on pace to double his season high for carries (217). He’s not only running to help the Cowboys win but to prove he can be a durable back and he deserves a contract worthy of a top back in the league.

Unfortunately for Murray and the Cowboys, running backs don’t fair well the year after leading the league in carries. Murray is on pace to run onto the top ten list all time in single season carries. The 11 current leaders on the all time single season carries list production dramatically decreased in the first or second season following that season. This means that most likely a running back that has had injury issues throughout college, and the pros, will break down under the strain of such a heavy work load next season.

The top two all time single season carries leaders are Larry Johnson and Jamal Anderson. Johnson’s record setting 2006 season had 419 carries and he was the bell cow that led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs but they didn’t finish the job. The next season, Johnson carried the ball only 158 times and his career derailed afterwards. After Anderson carries the ball 410 times in 1998, he was injured and only managed 19 carries in 1999. The fact that Murray is on pace to top 420 carries does not give one confidence in his production in 2015 and going forward.

The best thing for Murray and the Cowboys is to ride him until the wheels fall off because they have no chance at a title without his production. In fact, if the Cowboys don’t win the Super Bowl this season they will not win one for the foreseeable future.

It remains to be seen if the Cowboys offensive line is really that good or if their production is a result of a healthy Murray. Everyone wants to believe that running back is a plug and play position, but it clearly is not. The evidence is all around the league where you see teams that are not very effective at running the football. There’s no guarantee that another running back can come in and do what Murray is able to do; which means that if he is not healthy next season they will regress.

The Cowboys defense will definitely regress next season if Murray is not able to carry the load. The defense’s effectiveness has been in large part because of the offense’s ability to control the time of possession. If the Cowboys go back to relying on Romo to pass the ball, that means that the defense will be on the field more often, which will result in their flaws being exposed. Murray is the best defensive player for the Cowboys and when he’s gone the defense will take a hit.

Ultimately the Cowboys would be silly to give Murray an extension based on his history before this season. After they run him into the ground, it would be almost unheard of to extend him based on history. If Dallas could re-sign Murray for less guaranteed money, then that would be ideal. It would give them a contract that doesn’t penalize them when Murray gets hurt in the future.

For Murray, he should be thinking about his legacy in Dallas. As the CEO of Murray Inc., he must be concerned with his future earnings in the state of Texas outside of the arena. If he were to deliver a Super Bowl in Jerry World, he would set himself up to be revered for the rest of his life. That type of earning potential will take him further than any contract that he will sign going forward.

Everything hinges on this year because this current success does not look sustainable.

The Cowboys window is not closing; it’s closed after this season.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Why did the Bills draft EJ Manuel?

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Why did the Buffalo Bills draft EJ Manuel? It’s clear after looking at the team’s victory against Detroit. The Bills recently demoted the former Florida State star to backup status after a 2-2 start where he was less than stellar. They decided that Kyle Orton would give them a better chance of winning right now.

When did NFL teams decide that it was not their job to develop talent? Manuel had questions coming out of college. Everybody, including his college coach Jimbo Fisher, realized that he was far from a finished product. Most football people were surprised when the Bills selected Manuel in the first round. It was referred to as a reach pick by many in the know but Manuel was a great talent to develop. What happened to the development part?

Manuel was thrown to the wolves as a rookie last season and he played like a rookie that was not ready to play. In his 10 starts last season he flashed signs of great promise completing over 66% of his passes. He also had a couple games where he completed 45% of his passes. Five of those games he was interception free but he also had two games where he recorded two and four picks. Overall his rookie season was a learning experience filled with injuries, mistakes, and successes; pretty normal for any rookie but good for a rookie who probably should have held a clipboard in this first couple of seasons.

This season, Manuel seemed to be improving early on. In his first two games of the season, he seemed to be managing the team very well and the Bills started the season 2-0. However the 24 year old struggled in his third and fourth game of the season. He was under 60 percent in both games and threw two interceptions in his last start against the Houston Texans.

The Bills were competitive in all four games, and it’s easy to argue that Manuel was not the reason they lost two in a row and when you look at their most recent win with Orton as quarterback, it’s easy to see that Orton was not the primary reason for winning.

So why did the Bills give Manuel the quick hook? Why give the impression that they don’t believe in their first round draft pick? Why not keep developing him? The one thing good NFL front offices know is that when you draft a quarterback in the first round you are thinking about his impact 10 years down the line. You are making an investment in your future. If you start a young developmental quarterback, then you have to be ready to struggle or be inconsistent for a couple years until they are ready to lead your franchise consistently.

Instead of being proactive, the Bills were reactionary and gave Manuel a much shorter leash than his contemporaries. It’s a replacement that will not produce more wins, just more inconsistency. At 31, Orton is a known commodity. At 24 Manuel is still undefined and raw clay yet he’s being made the scapegoat for two close losses and given no credit for the two wins. When Andrew Luck has a bad game (AND I’M NOT COMPARING EJ MANUEL TO ANDREW LUCK FROM A SKILLS PERSPECTIVE), it’s everyone’s fault but Luck’s but when he has a good game, he is the sole reason for their success.

Other quarterbacks who have had more starts and produced similar or worse results, still have their job. Why would the Bills throw in the towel on your first round pick now? If they feel they made a mistake then just own it and say that. Are we really supposed to buy Kyle Orton as a better option or they using Manuel’s benching to try and keep their jobs longer?

Who really knows the reason but when they made that decision, they ensure that you would hear their name early in the 2015 draft next spring.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Buccaneers Line Change for Change Sake

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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When Lovie Smith took over as head coach and de facto decision maker on personnel of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he, along with general manager Jason Licht, decided that priority one was to improve the offensive line. They said goodbye to veteran Bucs Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, and Davin Joseph. They also parted ways with disappointing free agent guard Carl Nicks and starting guard Ted Larsen. They were going to focus their attention on upgrading what they had assessed as a big need for improvement.

The Bucs went out and lured in Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency and after a preseason that showed there were significant problems with their interior guard play they traded for long time New England Patriot Logan Mankins. When the smoke cleared and the Bucs were ready to open the season their line looked more like a patchwork job than a cohesive unit and it showed in the first quarter of the season. The Buccaneers signal callers have been under siege and running backs have not found anything that resembles consistent running lanes.

The jury is still out on the Bucs newly constructed offensive line. It makes you wonder if

Bucs Guard Logan Mankins

they would not have been better off restructuring the contracts of the old linemen and taking another shot at things. The four players that Tampa Bay deemed not worth of starting for them were quickly scooped up by other teams and are now starting.

Davin Joseph, now two years removed from knee surgery and a staph infection, has returned to Pro Bowl form with the St. Louis Rams. He is once again a dominant run blocker and solid pass blocker from his right guard position. Joseph proved to be a great signing for the Rams and was instrumental in the victory over the Bucs protecting a third string quarterback.

Jeremy Zuttah joined the Baltimore Ravens and has helped to return their running game to prominence. His versatility is also recognized and used by the Ravens. He currently serves as the starting center but he also has the ability to play almost any position on the line.

Ted Larsen has helped solidify an up and coming offense with the Arizona Cardinals. The left guard has given Arizona head coach Bruce Arians a hard nose blue collar guard to remind him of his Steelers days. The Cardinals offense has been dynamic and they are 3-0 coming out of a week 4 bye.

Donald Penn is the starting left tackle for the Oakland Raiders and while the team has started off 0-4 he has been solid at his position.

Bucs Offensive Tackle Anthony Collins

Could the Buccaneers have saved themselves a lot of time and money by restructuring deals with these four guys or at least the interior linemen? They could have taken more continuity on the line into the season and still added Anthony Collins if they truly feel that he is an upgrade over Penn.

As of right now the entire offensive line situation seems like change for the sake of change and has not produced more desirable results. After the victory over Pittsburgh, many want to point the blame to the quarterback position. They use the excuse that Mike Glennon gets the ball out of his hands faster than Josh McCown. Remember that Glennon was the quarterback of the 32nd ranked offense in the league last season.

Let’s hope this line is improved or this offense could be looking at that dubious distinction again this season.

Questions? Comments?

Tweet: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Russell Wilson is What People Wanted Vick to Be

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Russell Wilson has entrenched himself as the front man in Seattle for the Seahawks. He has become a media darling because he always seems to know exactly what to say and do off the field and he has backed that up with spectacular play on it. Wilson’s ability to extend plays with his feet, by avoiding oncoming rushers, forces opposing defensive backs to cover longer than they are comfortable with. When he decides to tuck it he becomes downright scary because his athleticism allows him to pick up first downs and touchdowns. He doesn’t overwhelm you with his passing numbers but he can always be counted on for accurate passing and timely big plays through the air.

The interesting part is that we have seen this show before to an extent. In Wilson’s first season as a starter, he amassed just over 3600 yards of total offense and 30 total touchdowns. Those numbers are very similar to Michael Vick’s first year numbers as a starter in 2002 for the Atlanta Falcons. That year Vick accumulated just over 3700 total yards and 24 total touchdowns.

Marketability

Vick was and still is an urban icon. When he was taken first overall out of Virginia Tech he was an immediate sensation. The “hood” loved him immediately and marketers saw dollar signs when they looked at him. It wasn’t long before brands like Nike and Gatorade, companies with urban appeal, entered into endorsement deals with Vick. Yet some worried that his image was too hip-hop, too streets, too urban. So the other endorsements never came for Vick. Quietly and publicly many hoped that Vick would clean up his image and appeal to a more broad audience off the field.

Wilson is a suburban icon. His exploits on the field give him credibility in the barbershop and on Fifth Avenue. Because his appeal is more mainstream he is able to attract endorsement dollars from every angle. Marketability is high with Wilson because of his squeaky clean image; an image that has been able to absorb a divorce from his wife with little to no National attention. He has been referred to as a sure bet and a safe bet.

Work Ethic

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young once said that if Vick set his mind to hit. He could revolutionize the way the quarterback position was played. The knock on Vick has always been his work ethic or lack of work ethic. He even admitted that he relied entirely too much on his God-given abilities during his Atlanta years when he was the most exciting player in the NFL. He had trouble reading defenses and also had accuracy issues. Those are two big things that could be corrected with proper study and harder work on the practice field.

Steve Young was not wrong. Vick has revolutionized the game. If you look around the league there are only a handful of quarterbacks getting the job done strictly through their ability to operate in the pocket. Quarterbacks today are combining a pocket presence with the ability to escape. No quarterback exhibits the pocket awareness mixed with the dynamics of a runner quite like Wilson. In addition, he is a student of the game and is constantly looking to improve himself as a quarterback. He is accurate with his passes and reads coverage like a ten-year veteran.

Health

Vick stayed banged up in college and that propensity for being hurt would follow him to the NFL. Many believed that the reckless abandon he played with would keep him off the field more than on it and again they were right. He took shots in and out the pocket and because he was a runner he was never protected the same way that manning or Brady was. There were constant conversations and debates on how he needed to learn to protect himself better at just over six feet tall.

Wilson has never had a problem protecting his body from car crash-like collisions. At 5’11” Wilson is similar in build to Vick. He has had the chance to see the punishment Vick has taken over the years. His years as a baseball player has made it comfortable for him to slide and avoid shots and he also runs with the purpose of keeping the drive alive instead of scoring.

Football Education Stability

Professional football player is just like any other profession, the more you learn in school the better you are. Vick spent as little time at Virginia Tech as possible. He opted to go to the draft immediately, and of course that was a great decision because he was the #1 overall pick but he missed out on two more seasons of making himself the best quarterback he could be. In the NFL, Vick has never had a stable coaching situation. Dan Reeves, Jim Mora Jr., Bobby Petrino, Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and now Rex Ryan. Those have come with more offenses and philosophies for Vick to count than one could count.

Wilson stayed in college and exhausted his learning there before he came to the NFL. He played in two pro style offenses while attending NC State and Wisconsin. When he entered the NFL he hit the ground running and was fortunate to come in to a professional ball club with a fresh innovative coaching staff. That staff provided Wilson with the support to be himself while doing what they need to do to win.

Early on analysts though that if Vick had a little less speed and arm strength that he would have to focus on how to make himself a better deliverer of the ball.

Well, what is Russell Wilson essentially?

He’s a slower, better prepared, better supported, cleverer, Michael Vick with less arm strength but more accuracy. In short he’s everything we’ve ever wanted Michael Vick to be.

Enjoy.

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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NFL Teams Scared To Play “Chicken” With Quarterbacks

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Why are NFL teams so hesitant to make the quarterbacks they drafted earn their money? We have always known that the NFL stands for “not for long.” The NFL has grown a reputation for their ability to keep player cost down with contracts that are not guaranteed. This has allowed them to play “chicken” with almost every position player in the league.

Despite teams making money hand over fist while keeping their players proportionately poorer, they constantly spend money on unproven, questionable quarterbacks. While running backs like Marshawn Lynch struggle to be paid their true worth, quarterbacks are constantly overpaid even if their performance doesn’t warrant their contract.

While Lynch has constantly produced pro bowl numbers each year, he is not paid at his value. In fact, many expect Lynch to be, but at the end of the year. His cap number will be too high and the Seahawks will have to pay quarterback Russell Wilson over 100 million dollars; which means many of the glue guys for Seattle may find themselves on the trade block or outright cut like Lynch.

This is in stark contrast to a starting quarterback who is constantly re-signed before he is a free agent. Just recently, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, and Alex Smith all signed contract extensions before they reached free agency. All four have big questions about their abilities as quarterbacks but were still given deals that put them in the conversation with the elite level of quarterback. Many could argue that these guys should have been allowed to play out their final season before a decision was made on their future, but that’s not how the league works.

Jay Cutler has rarely ever seen the postseason. There have been questions about his ability to get his team over the hump and his performances in the clutch. Colin Kaepernick has seen the postseason but many believe that he is limited in his ability to read and decipher defenses. He has also been ridiculed for how he carries himself off the field with his various tattoos and backwards caps. Andy Dalton has been a lock to blow up in the postseason every season. That is a complete 180 to his regular season performance where his stats are comparable to Peyton Manning in the beginning of his career.

But the biggest head scratcher is Alex Smith. His career was horrible to mediocre for the first five seasons which resulted in the career beheading of two coaches.  He was okay to good for three years and lost his job to a second year scrambler from Nevada. Yet, the Chiefs felt enough confidence in Smith, who has had more bad than good days in the NFL, to gift him a four year 68 Million dollar deal.

There are very few elite level quarterbacks in the National Football League. The saying use to go, “If you don’t have one you are looking for one.” Now it seems that if you don’t have one, you try to make people believe you have one. The problem is that people have eyes. You are not going to convince them that these quarterbacks didn’t need to prove their worth while you spent the money on other parts of your football team.

Quarterbacks are already treated differently on the field, they should not be treated differently off the field. Make them earn their money. If they don’t, then look for someone who does.

Spend wisely.

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Black Monday Has Nothing On This!

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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At the end of the NFL season they have a day that is dreadfully known as “Black Monday!” This is the day that coaches normally get fired. You will sit around and hear people mourn or celebrate depending on their perspective, but at the end of the day, only a handful of coaches are without employment and they are sitting on guaranteed contracts while they seek out their next employer. Amazingly, many feel bad about these coaches firing even though most of them will have another job coaching before the end of the week.

Well, there is another period of time in the NFL that most fans don’t care about. It’s a time that most who follow the NFL just gloss over as ‘part of the business’ but what business can you name, fires 42% of their workforce…yearly? Yes that’s 42% and yes that’s YEARLY!

It’s NFL roster cut time or as it should be known as, “The Dream Killer!”

The Tuesday following the third preseason game teams must reduce their roster from 90 to 75 and a week later they whittle that number to 53. That means in a week’s time, 1,184 players will be told that they need to look for other employment. 320 of the fired players will find work on the practice squads of an NFL team but the remaining 864 players will most likely be filling out employment applications, working out, and hoping for a call, because of course players don’t have guaranteed contracts and therefore, no parachute when they are told that their services are no longer needed.

Many think that the journey isn’t over but simply on hold. They will train hard and take another shot next season. There’s only one problem with that theory, more competition. Every year the NFL welcomes 224 new players via the NFL draft and approximately another 750 undrafted free agents. So now, the 864 players trying to get another shot at their dream job, will be joined by another 900-plus players with the exact same dream.

The NFL has earned its “Not For Long” acronym. The average career of a player in the league is 3.3 years while coaches can coach until they die. Coaches can keep trying, studying, and getting better because our capacity to learn doesn’t decrease with time as long as our desire to do so stays strong. However, each year that passes for a player they are being joined by another person just like them, only younger and more athletic.

It’s almost laughable when TV personalities are singing the sob stories of coaches uprooting their families (which many rarely do). They also make sure to mention that the assistant coach doesn’t make as much as the head coach and that’s true. The six-figure salaries of assistant coaches are much less than the seven-figure salaries of their bosses but they are still not in the poor house.

Football players have more and more options available these days if they are willing to travel. The CFL is still the next best option for guys who still want to play, but there are professional American football leagues that have sprung up all over the world in the past 10-15 years. The advantage of coaching is that opportunities are available here in the US. Coaches can coach in college or at some high schools that pay a substantial amount of money to their football coach. Football coaches have a network and their fraternity can lend a hand to a fellow coach looking for a soft landing when they are let go. It doesn’t matter how many other players in the NFL a potential player knows, they can’t help each other get a roster spot because they don’t make personnel decisions.

It’s never good to see anyone lose his or her job, and it’s okay to feel bad for a coach who gets the pink slip but when kept in perspective, it’s not the end of the road. For many of the players who are cut on Tuesday and beyond, they will have to come to grips with the reality of their situation. At 22 (or somewhere around there), the dream they’ve worked diligently to achieve is over and now they must find a new purpose for their life, a new goal to chase, and a new dream.

Black Monday…HA!

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Luck vs Newton

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Quarterback is the undisputed premiere position in the National Football League. Quarterbacks “move the needle” and if your team is without what is considered a franchise quarterback, then you have little to no chance for success. When considering the type of quarterback necessary for success in the NFL, many looked at Peyton Manning as the prototype. While Manning has established himself as one of the most effective quarterbacks ever, it has not equated to multiple championships.

Today’s NFL is bigger, faster, stronger, and more intelligent. With more complex and athletic defenses, the need for a quarterback with the ability to escape the pocket and break tackles has put a new value on quarterbacks with athletic skills. Ask most of the mainstream NFL analyst who the new prototype QB is and they will, without hesitation, say Andrew Luck. Luck is considered to be Peyton Manning with athleticism. He has the intelligence (Stanford educated) to perform mentally and the athleticism to be a weapon when he decides to pull the ball down.

The reality is while many drool over Luck and his talents they dismiss the real new prototype quarterback as gimmick.

Like Luck, Cam Newton was the number one overall pick. He was chosen the season before Luck declared but many believe that if Luck would have put his name in the hat he would have been chosen over Newton. Besides, many believed Blaine Gabbert was a better quarterback prospect than Newton anyway (take a moment to process that).

Newton has everything that you want in a quarterback and yet, some would lead you to believe that Luck is the gold standard for the new breed of quarterbacks. While Luck has posted great numbers in his first two seasons, many would not believe that they were not greater than Newton’s numbers in his first two seasons.

When comparing their first two seasons, Luck compiled slightly more passing yards (8,196 to Cam’s 7,920) and touchdown passes (46 to 40) while throwing less interceptions (27 to 29). Newton’s completion percentage is higher (58.8% to Luck’s 57%), he’s been sacked less (71 to 73), and he’s fumbled less (15 to 16). All of these numbers come out as a wash. If you were to take the stats, put them in a bag and shake them up, you never be able to decipher the Luck stats from Newton’s numbers.

So why do people speak about Luck as if he has arrived and about Newton as if he still has something to prove? Where is the separation? It must be wins. Not only is the NFC a more superior conference, the NFC South is a tough division. The AFC south is considered by many to be the worse division in the NFL; so do we really want to use win/loss record as a barometer?

So where’s the separation? It’s in their running ability. While their passing stats don’t give a clear definition of greatest, the rushing stats separate the two and pushes Newton far ahead of Luck. Newton’s rushing yards doubles up Luck’s (1,447 yds to 632 yds) and his rushing touchdowns are nearly two and a half times as many as Luck’s (22 to 9), his longest rush is 72 yards, which is 43 yards longer than any Luck run in the NFL, and his yards per carry is still higher than Luck’s (5.7 to 5.1).

So, why do people speak about Luck as if he has arrived and about Newton as if he still has something to prove?

Is it because Luck says “gee” and “shucks”, while Newton shows pride in what he accomplished? Is it because Newton is a media poster child and Luck seems to run from the spotlight? Luck wears his hat forward; Newton turns his hat to the back. Luck went to a top academic school and Cam went to an SEC school. Luck runs to the sideline after touchdowns and Newton does his Superman celebration after touchdowns. Luck is Midwest and Newton is Hollywood. Luck is scruffy with a beard and Newton is clean cut with a bright smile. Luck is country music and Cam is hip hop! The management identifies with Luck while the workers identify with Newton.

None of those things actually have a bearing on the way they play but it definitely makes people think of the two differently.

Maybe you should ask yourself. Do I really have it right if the stats don’t support the argument?

Questions? Comments?

Twitter: @geneclemons

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

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Preseason Receiver Races Still Comes Down to an Arms Race

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
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Everybody knows that the NFL means ‘not for long’ and that is definitely true for a wide

(Left) Greg Carr, (Right) Larry Brackins, Wide Receivers, Orlando Predators

receiver. While viewing the Arena Football League’s Eastern Conference Championship, you could watch two NFL caliber receivers playing for the Orlando Predators in Greg Carr and Larry Brackins. It’s very likely that the reason they are not on an NFL roster has nothing to do with their abilities, but more with the person charged with getting them the ball.

If you are an NFL receiver trying to make a team, there are two absolutes if you want to stick on a squad; the first is playing time, the second, and maybe even more important, is an accurate quarterback. It does not matter how technically proficient you are at the position, your ability to stretch the field means nothing. You can have the best hands in the business but if the quarterback throwing you the ball does not have the ability to get you the ball, you will never show enough to make a team.

Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

In the 49ers/Ravens preseason game this past Thursday Anquan Boldin played sparingly while Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd were given the night off. For a receiver hoping to make the team, this first preseason game could have served as their best opportunity to show what they could do ‘in-game’. San Francisco is known primarily as a run-first team, which means not as many opportunities for hopeful pass catchers. Colin Kaepernick only attempted one pass before he turned the offense over to the backup quarterbacks.

This is when who’s throwing you the ball really matters. Former Jacksonville Jaguars flame out, Blaine Gabbert, was looking to take his first step in career rehabilitation and unfortunately continued to play like he did when he was with the Jaguars. By the time he was finished for the day, Gabbert only completed three of 11 passes for 20 yards. He was also sacked one time. That means there were nine lost opportunities for receivers to impress coaches and fans. Josh Johnson replaced Gabbert and completed six of eight attempts for 63 yards and one sack which meant, when he entered the game, he was able to double the completions and triple the yardage of Gabbert.

Kellen Moore, Quarterback, Detroit Lions

While most viewers watched Johnny Manziel look spectacularly ordinary, the other side featured a far more compelling quarterback competition. The Detroit Lions Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore were battling to backup Matt Stafford. It’s a competition that I’m sure their receivers should be over. Orlovsky was wildly inconsistent completing only 12 of 23 attempts for less than 100 yards. When Moore came in, he immediately reminded you why he was so successful at Boise State. He was poised and in command which allowed him to complete 11 of 13 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. That means Orlovsky completed only one more pass on 10 extra attempts.

Receiver is the only position in the NFL that is predicated on how well another person plays. The best receivers in the league will put up pedestrian numbers when they have pedestrian quarterbacks throwing to them. So when you are looking at your team’s receiver competition pay close attention to the person throwing them the ball. It will make all of the difference.

Questions? Comments”

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

 

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Pro Football Hall of Fame Reform

Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst 
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The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a sacred place. It’s full of the majesty and fan fair that you would expect from the keeper of the NFL’s history. It is full of the greats who have shaped the game and left an indelible mark during their time in the pads and cleats.

This past weekend seven new white lights were forever illuminated as Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan, and Aeneas Williams officially took their place alongside the game’s greats. Here’s the million dollar question; as you read through those names, did you think hall of famer? Every sport’s hall of fame is full of undoubted legends, but there are also some admissions that raise eyebrows.

It’s not the aim of this column to discuss which inductees deserve their post, it is simply a suggestion to improve the process, help to eliminate doubt, and ensure that obvious hall of famers like Claude Humphrey and Ray Guy don’t have to wait years to finally hear their names called. It’s completely unfair to the player, who can’t truly be appreciated by the fans in his era. It’s unfair to fans today that may not have knowledge of players from earlier eras. It’s unfair to the hall because they have to re-educate the public on the inductees’ accomplishments instead of the public becoming nostalgic when hearing the name of the inductee.

The new philosophy for hall induction should be…

“If you are not a first ballot hall of famer, you are not a hall of famer!”

 

Of course it would take some time to catch up with years of backlog due to dilapidated thinking when considering nominees for induction, but once you do here are the particulars:

1. If a nominee is not elected in their first year of eligibility, then they are not elected.

What is there to think about? Nominees can’t improve their statistics once they retire. There is no way to create more impact or memorable moments from the stands or their favorite recliner. Every time Brett Favre made the decision to retire, he did so knowing that five years later he was going to be inducted into the hall. Nothing he has done since leaving the game has changed that. The only thing his indecisiveness was successful in doing was changing his induction date.

 

2. There is no limit to the number of players inducted each year.

If there are 15 nominees that are deserving of the hall of fame, then they should not have

Former Bengals great Ken Riley should already be in the Hall of Fame

to wait. At the current rate, some of those 15 nominees would have to wait for over 10 years, once they are eligible, to finally be recognized.  If 15 years passed, now they are being greeted by a completely different generation of fans.

3. There is no mandatory number of inducted players each year.

If there are no players truly worthy of the hall, then no players should go in. A mandatory number of elected nominees could dilute the prestige of the hall. The city of Canton would probably not be in favor of this because if there are no new inductees then there is no need to travel to Canton. But when there are, even more fans would attend because they would understand the sacred nature of the hall and the rare opportunity they have to witness history.

4. Voters must eliminate bias created by a nominee’s positive or negative off-the-field actions and their vote is based solely on the on-field performance.

There is no way that Michael Irvin or Chris Carter were not deserving of induction the first time they were on the ballot. Both hall of fame receivers were penalized because of their off-the-field issues. To try and sell fans that saw those two players perform the idea that they were not worthy of induction is dishonest and to not admit that it was done because of things those players did off the field is an insult to a football fan’s intelligence.

In addition, positional bias should be eliminated. As Guy stated in his induction speech, the hall of fame is now complete because a punter is finally in the hall. Priority should not be given to glamour positions just because they are the sexy selections. If the player’s performance merits enshrinement then that should be the deciding factor regardless of position (including kickers and punters).

Every year, players are inducted and vow to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame the best hall of them all. Newly enshrined Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, echoed that sentiment and said it was a part of his new mission. Instead of simply focusing on the cosmetics of the facilities and operation of the festivities, they should take time to focus on the process of selection. Make the hall of fame what it truly should be, a place where transcendent legends are celebrated.

Questions? Comments?

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

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The Jets May be the Leader of the New Era

Written by Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst

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Football analysts and guys in the know will wax poetically about the importance of the quarterback. Many college and NFL coaches hitch their futures to what they consider to be a ‘franchise quarterback’ and for good reason. The quarterback controls the offense and has a chance to affect the game, positively or negatively, with every play.

With that in mind, it’s baffling that there is a lack of quality backups in the NFL. Money is obviously a major factor but how can you not give greater support to the most important position in football. The most unintelligent cliché in all of football has to be, “If you have two starting quarterbacks, then you don’t have one.” How does that make sense? If the Colts would have kept Peyton Manning and drafted Andrew Luck does that mean that they would cease to have a starting quarterback?

Matthew Stafford, QB Detroit Lions. Photo Courtesy - www.thepigskinreport.com

NFL teams don’t even seem to choose backups that have similar qualities as their starter. This would allow them to keep their original game plan in tact regardless of the man under center. Instead you sometimes see opposites. In Detroit, Matthew Stafford is decently athletic and possesses a cannon for an arm, as a result the Lions’ offensive philosophy in drafting and game plans has been to stretch the field vertically. Insert Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, and now Eric Ebron, that’s three guys with the ability to perfectly pair with Stafford’s downfield throwing ability. However, if Stafford is injured that leaves the Lions with Dan Orlovsky, Kellen Moore, and James Franklin to spearhead the high-powered vertical offense. That’s not a similar level of arm talent running off the bench.

Geno Smith, QB New York Jets. Photo Courtesy - Al Bello/Getty Images

Surprisingly, there is only one team in the NFL that has seemed to get this idea and have in place a quarterback succession that allows them to be consistent regardless of the man calling signals. The New York Jets have positioned themselves to be the pied piper of the NFL when it comes to quarterback situations.

Here’s the Jets QB Depth Chart:

Geno Smith 6’3” 221lbs

Michael Vick 6’0” 215lbs

Tajh Boyd 6’1” 222lbs

Physically, they are all similar. Athletically, they are all similar. Mentally, they play the same type of game. They all have very live arms and they all can seriously hurt you with their running ability.

Did the Jets “Forrest Gump” into this situation or was it calculated? They drafted a

Rookie QB Tajh Boyd, New York Jets. Photo Courtesy - www.topbet.eu

quarterback to be the starter last season, in the offseason they brought in a veteran to mentor and push their starter, and in the draft, they was able to add another quality quarterback with similar attributes. Because of these moves, the Jets have made it possible to absorb a quarterback injury at the position; they’ve also made it possible to keep the paychecks of their quarterbacks reasonable.

It has long been my belief that the philosophy surrounding quarterbacks in the NFL is

flawed. Why wouldn’t more teams have two or more quarterbacks that they truly believe in, and that were capable of running the same offense effectively because they possess similar traits?

New Seattle Seahawks QB Terrelle Pryor. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for teams with special quarterback needs. The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers both should make serious plays for Terrelle Pryor in the offseason. He would be a perfect backup for their quarterback situations. He’s a big, strong, and ultra athletic quarterback who has the arm talent to make all the throws. Imagine battling Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick and knocking them out of the game only to see Pryor trot on the field. That would be demoralizing.

The Cleveland Browns should definitely keep Connor Shaw as the third quarterback. When Johnny Manziel rises to the starting spot he will definitely run one too

many times and when he is hurt, Shaw will be able to step in and do similar things as

Browns QB Connor Shaw. Photo Courtesy - Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

Manziel. Shaw was the second most productive quarterback in the SEC during the Manziel years. Both of them will learn the offense together and be able to help each other grow in the position.

Boyd going to the Jets and Aaron Murray being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs were the only two teams that drafted a quarterback with similar traits as their incumbents. Teams should stop looking to the New England Patriots scrap heap to find their next quarterback and actually make their front offices do their job.

The idea that there are not enough good quarterbacks in the NFL is laughable, especially when you have your pick of every quarterback playing football. The new belief should be that there are not enough good NFL front office personnel.

Questions? Comments?

Email – gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter – @geneclemons
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Worthy Ideas from Across the Pond

by Gene Clemons – FBGP Recruiting Analyst

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For years now NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has looked for ways to grow the game. He has repeatedly made it known of his desire to have a team in England. I agree that Goodell

2013 NFL International Series: Minnesota Vikings vs Pittsburgh Steelers; Photograph: Jed Leicester/Action Images

should look to England for a way to grow the game, but his error is in believing that a franchise across the pond would bring the league newfound prosperity. In fact, there are so many untapped markets here in North America.

The question is how do you expand the game without saturating the league? How do you keep franchises from becoming irrelevant? How do you add more teams and add more excitement to a game that seems to be at the height of its power? You answer all of these questions and more with two words: promotion and relegation. For those of you that don’t know what those two words refer to stay tuned for those of you rolling your eyes at the idea, finish rolling them and then stay tuned.

Photo Courtesy: Sportzwiki.com

Goodell should look at England’s Premier League, a league that has enjoyed as much or maybe even more success than the NFL. It is the top soccer league in the world and has some of the most valuable and recognizable franchises on the globe. They have been able to use promotion and relegation to not only force every team to remain competitive but to instill hope and promise at every level of their game. Promotion and relegation keeps the league from becoming stale. So without going into extreme amounts of detail about the Premier league’s promotion and relegation system this is going to detail an idea for expansion and the implementation of a promotion and relegation system in the NFL.

Expansion is easier than many believe it is. There are so many cities that a franchise would work in; places where football would be embraced or is already being embraced. The NFL should create another conference, it can be called the Federal Football Conference (FFC) and while it will be a part of the NFL it would operate as a completely separate league with its own playoff and champion. The FFC would be a 12-16 team conference and the top four teams would be promoted to the AFC and NFC for the next season.

At first thought I myself laughed at the notion but then I began to think, would I notice if Jacksonville, Detroit, Buffalo, or Oakland were replaced by another ball club? If those teams are going to be non-factors every year then why not give another team a try?

These are just some of the cities I believe that an NFL team could thrive in:

Los Angeles, San Jose, Portland, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, San Antonio, Memphis, Louisville, Milwaukee, Mexico City, Mesa, Chicago, Virginia Beach, Reno, and Wichita.

Promotion would give these teams hope because they have a chance to be in the NFL’s top two conferences.

Relegation is equally beneficial to franchises and fans alike. It eliminates teams from tanking. Even when they know they have no chance of making the playoffs, teams must continue to fight. They fight for their right to remain in the top two conferences because the two worse records in the AFC and NFC will be relegated to the FFC the next season. This would give the NFL a quality product throughout the year and force teams to make moves to remain competitive and winning. Put the owner’s bottom line in jeopardy and you can be assured that they will respond by doing everything in their power to field a winning squad.

Relegation would assure that the teams who really need it get the help they deserve in the draft. The Indianapolis Colts tanked the 2011 season when Peyton Manning was out for the season with an injury. They never had a viable backup in place to be able to hold things together if Manning did get injured. When they knew that Manning was out for the season, they made no attempt to bring in a quarterback that could serve as a starter in the NFL (and a retired Kerry Collins doesn’t tickle the imagination).

Andrew Luck - Indianapolis Colts; Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

They knew that if they lost big that it would put them in a position to draft Andrew Luck and they would have Peyton Manning’s successor. By doing that, they wasted a year of the careers of the other players on the roster to serve their future need. It also gave them the power to push aside a legend like Manning and unceremoniously fire head coach Jim Caldwell and general manager Chris Polian. They could have traded that pick and used the multitude of picks received to continue to put pieces around Manning.

The threat of relegation would have allowed Andrew Luck to go to a team that really needed him like the Cleveland Browns. Instead, a team that didn’t need a quarterback was gifted another franchise quarterback and a legend was forced to go elsewhere to continue his legendary career. If the Colts had put together a tank job like they did in 2011 they would have been relegated to the FFC. Is a number one overall pick worth spending a year or more in a sub conference, even if that pick is Andrew Luck?

Now I won’t profess to know all of the monetary implications of things but, I know that 12-16 more teams would mean 12-16 more stadiums with fans in them. It would mean an opportunity for another television rights contract. It would mean more advertising dollars and more revenue streams.

More importantly, we would never have to hear the radio debates that permeate cities of unsuccessful teams throughout the US. “Should we tank to build for the future?”

Questions? Comments?

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

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The Death of the Tight End

Written by Gene Clemons – FBGP Recruiting Analyst 

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“In sum, I conclude that Mr. Graham was at the position of tight end for purposes of Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) when, at the snap, he was aligned adjacent to or “arm’s-length” from the nearest offensive lineman and also when he was aligned in the slot, at least if such alignment brought him within four yards of such lineman. Since Mr. Graham was so aligned for a majority of plays during the 2013 League Year, the NFLPA’s request for “a declaration that the correct tender for Mr. Graham is at the wide receiver position” is denied.”

And with that ruling, system arbitrator, Stephen Burbank ensured that no pass-catching tight end would ever take pride in being called a tight end again. He solidified the thought that the NFL is steps ahead of the NFLPA. He proved that tight ends are asked to do the most while being protected the least. He has hopefully opened up the eyes of every pass catcher who is asked to block occasionally to watch how they refer to themselves in public, to ask to be included in the proper meeting rooms, and to be coached by the proper coach.

“The evidence supports findings that (1) since the early 1960s, Clubs have deployed tight ends in multiple locations, (2) during the same period many tight ends have often lined up in a flexed position more than two yards from the offensive tackle, and (3) tight ends often line up in the slot.”

(photo courtesy: Next Impulse Sports)

The ultimate 1960’s tight end Mike Ditka was the first tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is also credited with being the model for the modern day tight end. In his 12 year career, Ditka amassed 427 receptions, 5,812 yards, and 43 touchdowns. In only four seasons in the NFL, Jimmy Graham has amassed 301 receptions, 3,863 yards, and 41 touchdowns. Clearly the tight end is being used much more as a pass catcher these days. Ditka was a supplementary piece in his offense while Graham is a primary target in his offense. If you are a primary target, why would you not be paid primary target money?

The wide receiver franchise designation should really be a primary target franchise designation. Saying Jimmy Graham operates like a traditional tight end is an insult to our intelligence and a clear attempt to continue to underpay the  players in a league that is the roughest, most dangerous, and produces the shortest careers.

(photo courtesy: TD Daily)

Attention all pass-catching tight ends! If you have not already, these are some immediate changes you should make:

 

 

 

1. Change your profile. Make sure it says, “Pass Catcher”

2. High school pass-catching tight ends should have their coach make their position “Athlete” for recruiting purposes.

3. Make sure you workout with the receivers during conditioning.

4. Get a copy of the receivers’ playbook.

5. Workout as a receiver at the NFL Combine.

Of course all of this means that you have to deny the fact that you play the most unique position on the field. No other position in football asks you to have mastery of two completely different skill sets. The ideal tight end would have the ability to block like offensive linemen while running routes and catching passes like wide receivers. Even within the position it is acknowledged that it is not an easy double to master. There are only a few complete tight ends. Most at the position are known as pass-catching or run-blocking.

It is in those designations that I point to why Jimmy Graham should have been awarded the wide receiver franchise tag. It is not simply because he spent more time split like a receiver than in line. I point to the amount of time he spent in the game as a blocker. Even most pass catching tight ends are asked to block. Most just recognize that it is not the best of their skills. Jimmy Graham is noticeably absent from the field most of the time when there is a run play and to me, that is a clear cut sign that his worth is more as a receiver than just as a tight end.

A legitimate complete tight end has more value to a team than a wide receiver because it gives the offense a chance to not be schemed by personnel. It’s why a healthy Rob Gronkowski is more valuable than Jimmy Graham because he gives you a tight end that can block and catch. Play action is more dangerous with “Gronk” for that reason and therefore makes him more of a dynamic offensive weapon. But, even with that being said a tight end in the mold of Gronkowski is better off not referring to himself as a tight end because he limits his earning potential by doing so. At the end of the day, this is a business and each player is their own corporation and this decision was a definite stock hit to the Jimmy Graham corp. Eric Ebron was recently quoted saying that he was being used everywhere.

Beware young pass catcher, beware!

Questions? Comments?

Email: gclemons@footballgameplan.com

Twitter: @geneclemons

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