There is a great scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (with Steve Martin and John Candy) where they are finally in a rental car and headed home down the highway… just before the following cut-scene, a helpful couple is shouting at them “You’re going the wrong way!” — to which Steve Martin and John Candy look at each other and say “How do they know we’re going the wrong way — they don’t know where we’re going?”
Ahh yes. This is exactly how most rookies must feel the first couple of days of training camp, their first preseason action, and certainly their first game or more in the NFL. You think you’re doing fine and BAM – you’re flat on you’re back while the other team is celebrating a TD going what the hell just happened?!? The speed of the game, and the complexity, makes it easy to get lost and a challenge to adjust from the college game, much less do it well.
This line of thought got started when I saw this article about the times colleges post for players, and the times they end up with for things such as the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. Bench press numbers are also of huge concern, as are wonderlick scores. Guys like Haden are “dropping” and guys like Taylor Mays are “shooting up the boards”.
When I read this piece after listening to combine blather for a few days, a classic scene from Joe vs the Volcano popped into my head:
The classic “He can get the job, but can he do the job?” — This is how I imagine the Millen years going…
Millen: He can run the speed!
Scouting Staff: But can he play the speed?
Millen: He can bench the load!
Scouting Staff: But can he shed the guard?
On and on and on….
ALL of the players in the NFL are phenomenal athletes by any reasonable standard. But it takes more than freakish athletic skill to play football. Instinct, ability to learn, feel for the game, technique, drive, confidence — they all play pivotal roles in the success or failure of players as they transition to and attempt to remain in the NFL.
Taylor Mays may run .2 seconds faster in a straight line than Haden — but on the field, Haden appears to have a better feel for where the WR are going, and is able to play at his full speed where Mays looks like he is thinking too much. Jerome Felton after his rookie year said he couldn’t wait for the off-season to get more conditioning in because the game had finally started to slow down for him. “I wasn’t hitting like I knew I could, or blocking like I knew I could, because I wasn’t sure I was where I was supposed to be.”
When the speed is too fast and the confidence not there, it is impossible to run your fastest and hit your hardest. It takes experience, and an innate ability to go full out to the right spot. Guys who just make plays are guys who through talent and coaching have gotten a feel for what is happening, and can get there earlier not because their “straight line” speed is faster — but because their “playing speed” is faster.
Sure, he can GET the job, but can he DO the job? Sure, he can BE the pick, but can he PLAY the position? A WR who is a tall speedster with hands like a rock is pretty useless to an NFL team. A guy who can bench 40-50 reps but doesn’t know who to hit when and how when he is trying to penetrate the backfield is useless to an NFL team. It takes physical and game skill. Physical skills get you looked at. It is evaluating who can make the jump that earns scouts and GM’s their paychecks. Having all the speed in the world doesn’t matter if you’re running in the wrong direction…
Good teams go beyond the stopwatch — they have scouted, done their homework, and are just looking for commitment, medicals, and the interview at the combine. Others…not so much. Results should not be over nor under stated.
McCoy and Suh both showed great ability in college — but at the combine, Suh showed off his intensity and drive to be the best at everything football related — whether that was the vertical jump, a shuttle run, or the bench press. He showed he had the athleticism to match his production — and that he may still have potential over his domination in college. McCoy, to me, showed that in any year without Suh he would be raved about by the media constantly. But Suh’s shadow is large. Okung did OK — but to me, right now, Suh is BATFAN and if St. Louis does what is currently projected and takes a QB (most likely Bradford) then the choice is obvious to me minus a Half-Ricky trade +: you always want BATFAN in your corner…
Right now is looks like Suh and McCoy can not only get the job, but there is a really good chance they can do the job, too. Mayhew and Company did their homework last for last year’s draft – so I have no reason to think they haven’t done the same this year — only with a year of experience under their belts, lets see if they can do even better!