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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Commentary on Football Evolution

It's amazing to watch football, the ultimate team sport, evolve.

I love the pro game, and the college game has always come second to me,
a tool for the draft and scouting, and a surrogate because it's still
Saturday. I've said many times (and I'm neither first nor last by a
hefty margin) that the college game has started to color the pro game
the last few years, and it's far from over.

Which is something I wanted to ruminate on for a bit.

Now, from around '99, I really started to get into scheme. Sure, the
95-98 team for Carolina was interesting because it had the 3-4, and any
zone blitz team is going to draw your attention to a blackboard the way
that the 4-3 teams of the time just couldn't. And there's nothing that
interesting about diagramming a Tampa-2 scheme, noting its favorite
alteration is Cover-1 Robber and then being done.

But that's the thing. The years of there being 3 basic offenses, with
either essentially the same playbook or the exact same playbook. The
WCO that Mike Holmgren used was the one Steve Mariucci did. That was
what Mike Shanahan used. It was what Gil Haskell used here in '98, and
in '99 the only changes were how it was run (that it was the same book
in the disaster of '01 is why it matters more what you do with it).

Diving into George Seifert's massive 800 page defensive playbook was
magical. Knowing that it had ten iterations across the league, all
essentially unchanged, was cool to me. I felt like I understood it.
The last vestige of that for me was Rob Chudzinski, who helped cause the
mess of bringing Saturday into Sunday by helping draft a read option QB
and then installing what Cam Newton had learned. It set the stage for
the rest of it, in my opinion (though Cam never really went no-huddle,
or full on spread). That set the stage for what happened in '12, what
happened in bringing Chip Kelly into the league.

But to that end, Chudzinski's Coryell stuff was great - it's a fun
system, logical. But now, three years into running it, now with Mike
Shula, it's changed significantly in that the verbiage has been altered.
Shula will mold it to see fit. These changes, like the more recent WCO
ones, like every team that individually adds a pistol package or a read
option package, will alter what that looks like. Every team that
decides that "Queen Right orbit, Jet Right, 525 F post swing" is too
wordy, or that "Brown Right F Short 2 Jet Flanker Drive" is too wordy,
and all of a sudden for this team, they call it Jetpack, but this other
coach calls the same thing Rosebud. I dunno.

I'll miss that. But, that's immaterial to the game, really. The end
result is, the constant evolution to the game is part of the fun. And
I'm embracing it. The college game isn't just changing the pro game.
It's making it better.

Which is worlds ahead of sports like baseball, where the designated
hitter is still controversial, decades later.

Over time the game has changed. My tastes have changed - and have been
influenced by what my team was doing, when it was going well or when it
adopted what was hot. I always thought of myself as traditional, and
when the college game started to change things, I wanted to be cynical.
This is the NFL - there's no real such thing as "traditional". Those
who fail to adapt, fail. "Tradition" isn't something that's tangible.
It doesn't work because it worked that other time. It succeeds or fails
on its own merit. And for every thought of the NFL running I-formation
football, there are memories of Thurman Thomas running the shotgun draw
and Jim Kelly running the no-huddle on most downs. Those memories?
Those are 25 years old now. Is that tradition, too? Does it matter?


I look forward to what the future holds for the NFL. I love this
crazy, physical, cerebral, controlled chaos.
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