Coaches film and the offensive line

Happy Fourth of July to all! Let’s keep in mind the kind of strength of character and belief in liberty that led to the historic adoption of the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest statements of the right to personal freedom in all of history, and the sacrifices that have been made to keep it free.

Let’s also keep this one safe, folks, especially if you’re in Colorado. My heart goes out to all of the folks who have been evacuated or have lost their homes. I went through it once, and it’s an incredibly hard experience to overcome. Let’s leave fireworks to the professionals this year.

A surprising amount has been written of late regarding the availability of what’s being called ‘All-22’ or simply, ‘coaches film’. I’m prejudiced, I grant you, but I’m also strongly in favor of its availability. Refusing to let fans see it has always struck me as either a technological glitch or just foolishness on a large scale. There was a minor fuss before NFL Rewind became wildly popular, and I didn’t understand that one at the time, either.

The concern that some have expressed with All-22 film is the identical concern that the same writers who are worried about releasing coaches film should have with broadcast film. A lot of sites, including our own, use film to illustrate various concepts, to show our readers what the team either is doing or could doing, and to try to educate them on the game that all of us love without boring them to tears. Game screenshots and play diagrams certainly help. All-22 film will permit those more easily, as the medium is more accessible to creating illustrations.

There are writers with issues regarding fans who watch, examine and attempt to break down film: fans who do so are viewed with suspicion by some writers. It’s not completely without reason - Charley Casserly, who has been around the game all his life, reportedly takes an extra 1.5 hours of training a week to help him make use of the new film. There’s zero doubt in my mind that some fans are going to get things wrong when they try to explain what happened on a certain play.

I’ve used the example in the past of Bill Polian, back in his own heyday, who commented that when a play goes wrong he finds out what the call was, what the route(s) were, what the pattern was, what the receiver thought he was doing, and what the quarterback thought he was doing. After all of that, he’d talk to the coach who called the play. Then, and only then, did he think that he knew what happened. As fans, we don’t have that kind of access. Therefore, with far less information available to the fans, mistakes are going to happen.

So? In what world are mistakes not going to happen?

I read Matt Bowen’s work constantly, because he’s one of the writers who tries to break down what happens in games while also having the skill to communicate it to the fan. In generally different ways, I try to do the same - my own experience is that the frame of reference that can come from a comprehension of the history of various plays and concepts gives the fan a greater overall appreciation for the game. When a reader offers me their time to learn from an article, I want to give them at least one thing to think about and to take away;  something that they can grasp and use. Coaches film is just one more tool in accomplishing that.

If the folks who are worried about fans and writers getting things wrong are serious about that, they are welcome to write intelligent articles that use All-22 film to show folks how ‘X’ should be done. We do it on IAOFM and we’re hardly alone. A few years back, a fellow who claimed to be a professional newpaper writer told me that it wasn’t the function of the newspapers and websites to educate the people. I pointed out that Ben Franklin, one of the country’s first newspapermen (at the time, they were often in the form of pamphlets, as well) stated that it was the obligation of a printer to educate. As far as I’m concerned, that hasn’t changed. Every tool that helps us educate people to enjoy the game more - whether that’s regarding humor or theory, practical information or biography - is a good one. If it helps the fans, we want to offer it.

All-22 film is a new tool for most of us. It will be used, misused, enjoyed and ignored, and it will, over time, be just one more part of the evolution of the game. In a fairly short relative time, people won’t be able to imagine why there was a disagreement regarding its availability or use. The newness will wear off, the applications will evolve, and it will be a normal part of football viewing and analysis. There's already software that anyone can purchase which can produce movies of certain plays and patterns, with players at the various positions demonstrating what exactly is needed for the called play to work. It’s a remarkable option and I’d expect that All-22 will eventually replace it with the same (or better) capabilities, using the actual players and situations when desired.

I imagine that eventually fans will be able to search for plays with X formation and Y pattern, whether run or pass, from a given team and/or year. You want to see the off-tackle runs of the Denver Broncos in 2012? You plug it into the search function and watch them in slow or regular motion. You’ll eventually be able to zoom in and out on something as small as whether the left guard has his heel raised on pass plays or turns a toe out on runs to his side. When it comes down to it, why shouldn’t the fans see those things?

For example, at 14:12 of the first quarter of the Broncos' playoff victory over the Steelers, TE Heath Miller was split out to the right (from the offensive perspective) on third and three. Most commonly, that’s considered a passing down. I noticed that he had the toes of his right foot cocked slightly to the outside and was leaning very slightly that way. Predictably, he did so just before firing out in that direction, running to the flat for a completion and a first down. On the replay, which came from behind Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, you could see his tell clearly.

Those are the kinds of things that fans and players can learn from. You can bet that head coach Mike Tomlin had a chat with him about that in their team meeting.

Tells are as much of a key in football as they are in poker, and the stakes are frequently higher. They may signal a particular play or where a receiver or blocker is going to go. Fans will be able to look for them, and they’ll be published on the various sites (and, many of them will be wrong). If they’re accurate, the teams will know about it too, and will have the chance to teach the player better before it costs them another play or game. Many coaches already find them routinely when preparing their team for the next week’s game. Now, the rest of the community’s eyes will also be on the players. So?

Some players and coaches may well hate the scrutiny. Some will be falsely accused of various errors - a receiver may be wide open, for example, but that doesn’t mean that he will be part of the QB’s progression of reads, so it’s often immaterial from the quarterback or offensive coordinator’s point of view. And, some sources will mention that fact and teach the fans how to tell the difference. The fans will learn it and enjoy the game more. The final outcome?

People who love the game are going to have the chance to learn more about it. Right now, I happen to be studying three coaching texts on the offensive line. That’s not a shock to anyone who’s read my material, since I’m an out-of-the-closet trench-head. I want to know exactly what movement each player might make, why, when, how to execute it properly, and how to defeat it. If this tool helps me do that better, that’s a positive.

A simple example: for an offensive lineman to establish a good base with a three-point stance, the lineman (let’s say the right guard, for simplicity’s sake) has to have his feet just wider than shoulder width, with his weight on the inside of his feet. This is nearly identical to the theory of the sanchin form in karate, as this video demonstrates. The three battles sanchin describes - body, mind, spirit - are equally important in a football player. By the way, this next video is a beautiful performance of the sanchin ‘kata’, or ‘form’ and shows clearly the core muscle power this technique can create for the practitioner. Some players practice karate in the offseason for just that reason.

In that same three-point stance, the right guard must have his left hand down and his right elbow snuggly to his side. His heels MUST be flat and his head up - the screws that hold his facemask in place should face straight ahead, as should his eyes. He should be able to lift his down hand without that affecting his balance.

The knees should be a little ahead of the toes and the hips flexed, as are the ankles. the thighs are parallel with the ground. The down hand is positioned inches ahead of the shoulders and the open hand, with its elbow pressed to the side, should lie open on the knee with the fingers open and the thumb pointed up and forward. The shoulders should be square to the line of scrimmage and parallel to the ground. The distancing between one player and the next  - which is called the ‘split’ - will vary by the players and the type of play, and that will also be clearly visible.

You can see every one of those, with a little practice, on coaches film. It’s usually harder with broadcast film, although there will be some shots that make it even easier to see certain details, thanks to the zoom-in feature - it’s just not as predictable. When I want to examine the play of X player, I want to know what the requirements of his position might be, how he’s being used, what his responsibilities are, and whether he’s using the fundamentals to achieve them. Last year, linebacker D.J. Williams, and eight-year veteran, was singled out by then-defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as needing further work on his fundamentals. I can say from experience that in any area, you always go back to them. You always make sure they’re perfect - the rest of your skills are dependent on it. And, you can often see them far more clearly on All-22 film. Of course fans want to see it. It’s a product. It’s saleable, and there’s a substantial demand. We don’t refuse to sell steak knives because someone will inevitably cut themselves. It’s up to the people who buy the product to make the best use of it possible. That is, ironically, part of freedom. It’s a good day to mention it.

In a short time, the fuss will die off, the newness will wear away, and we’ll be developing more and better ways to use the film. It’s the normal way of life. Some people always have a reason not to see things change. Others welcome the experience, and envision how they can use change to improve their lives, hobbies, and professions. This will be no different.

I’m looking forward to it. Have a safe and happy Fourth, my friends.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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