Sunday, October 27, 2013

As Good As Fred and Ginger

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Lewis and Clark, Rolls Royce, Bob Hope and Bing Cosby. These are a few of some very famous partnerships. There are so many of these in history, politics, products and entertainment. Partnerships can be such a part of our world that it is hard to think of them as separate. Can you imagine Proctor without Gamble or Smith without Wesson? These partnerships all have something in common: They are successful, and profitable.

Even though these partnerships are not nearly as famous, as I studied about the center position, I am more and more convinced that the center and the quarterback are perfect partners. Besides the quarterback, there is no other player that needs to have as much knowledge of the offensive playbook as the center. There has to be perfect timing between the quarterback and the center (we will get into why later). And he needs to know the defense they are up against so well that he is able identify what they are going to do by the way the enemy lines up. This is necessary in order to successfully block for the quarterback and offense.

As the name implies, centers are positioned in the middle of the offensive line. The line consists of a center, two guards and two tackles. The “line” I am talking about are the big (and I mean BIG) guys that make up the dense part of the line of scrimmage, right in front of the quarterback. The center observes how the defense lines up then gets the information to the rest of the line so they can adjust their blocking if needed. While he is making these observations and adjustments, he is getting ready to snap the ball: The center is the first player to touch the ball on each play. He stands over the ball with one hand on it, listens to the snap count of the quarterback and then shuttles or tosses the ball back to him at the precise time. Immediately his job description changes from ball hiker to blocker, because once the ball begins to move there will be enormous angry defenders blasting over the line, zeroing in on the quarterback in order to sack him behind the line of scrimmage (if unable to get a sack they want to make him nervous enough to start interrupting his rhythm). So, the center’s main priority instantaneously becomes protector of the quarterback. Oh yeah, all this is done in less than 24 seconds.

The typical center in the NFL averages about 6’4” and 303lbs. Believe it or not, they are usually lighter than the other linemen. As big as these players are they are typically not well known public. Since all attention is on the ball and where it ends up, the players that handle the ball are usually better known than those on the line. But lack of popularity in no way means lack of importance. Even though we (meaning typical fans) notice when players with names like Aaron Rogers, Adrian Peterson or Andrew Luck are injured, injuries to the likes of Mike Pouncey, John Sullivan or Max Unger are even more distressing for teams. If these centers get injured it directly effects the play of the quarterback and the running backs. There is great concern within the team and those fans that follow football closely when the center or any of the men on the offensive line get injured.

So go celebrate the unsung partnerships this weekend. When you’re cheering for Russell Wilson, make sure to thank Max Unger. Or if you’re cheering for Ryan Tannehill, give a little plug for Mike Pouncey. It will impress those watching the game with you as well.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


This conversation between my husband and me happened earlier this week:

Me: “I can’t do this. This is so wrong. It just isn’t natural.”
Phillip: “Yes you can, you’re a strong woman. You can face anything.”
Me: “No one warned me that I might have to face this one day…it happened so suddenly. I’m not ready to do it.”
Phillip: “You just need to do it. As they say, ‘Sometimes you just have to rip the band aid off’.”
Me: “I can’t. You need to do it for me.”

Phillip sighs, reaches over to the computer I’m sitting in front of and hits the submit button. And just like that, I drop the second pick in my fantasy draft, Julio Jones, a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. If you ever play fantasy football, you’ll understand the agony of dropping a player that you’re relying on for the season. He suffered a season-ending injury last week and so, as a fantasy team owner, I suffer with him.

It was a timely issue considering I was going to spend some time writing to you about receivers. This is the last group of players who are technically, but not exclusively, responsible for advancing the football by way of catching passes from the QB. You can find these players can under different names like wide receivers, slot receivers, or split ends. These names are derived from where the player lines up on the line of scrimmage. For instance, the tight end (yes, I’m still snickering about the name, and yes, I’m immature) lines up tight against the offensive line (the big men in front of the QB). The split end usually lines up on the opposite side of the tight end but a little farther away from the offensive line. So they are split away from the main part of the “O” line. The wide receiver is lined up even farther away from the offensive line, hence the description of “wide”.

Like every other position, there is much more to it than just catching a ball. Receivers need to run in a certain pre-determined pattern called a “route”. These routes are studied and practiced over and over by the receiver and the quarterback in order that in a game there is no guessing where the receiver will end up on a certain play call. In almost all cases the quarterback will throw the ball before the receiver arrives at the place where the ball will end up. These routes need to be timed perfectly or disaster can happen, like an interception (where a defensive player catches the ball). Over the years there have been many quarterback/wide receiver partnerships that played perfectly together. We have heard of Joe Montana (QB) and Jerry Rice (WR) in the 80’s and today we have Matthew Stafford (QB) and Calvin Johnson (WR) to name very few. When they are not responsible for catching the ball, receivers are needed to be a decoy and/or help block. This means that they run their routes as though they are going to be the one to get the ball in order to fool the defense to go after them. The other option is they block the defender that they are assigned to in order to help the running back find a lane to run through or another receiver to catch the ball.

Receivers are usually among the most lean and quickest players on a team. They need to be in order to do what is demanded of them. Take Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, this quiet, hard working receiver is larger than an average NFL receiver (if there is such a thing in the NFL as average) at 6’5” and 236 lbs ( He runs a 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds (point of reference – I run the forty yard dash in…never, I don’t run), so speed is a highly coveted trait, another skill is the ability to jump vertically (43.5 inch vertical was reported in 2012 – A receiver needs great hands, what does that mean? It means they have to be able to be pliable enough to catch a ball that is thrown at such a velocity that it can easily bounce off the hands and yet they have to be tough enough to hold on as defenders start beating at the ball in order to force a turnover. Running the routes accurately is an absolute since the QB depends on them. And continuing to run for more yards after catching the ball is another skill that teams search for.

These highly skilled and hard working players make up another facet of the offense that gives us so many wonderful plays on the highlight reels. They are acrobatic, fierce, fearless and incredibly tough.

Next time, we start on the offensive line. Happy FB watching!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jane Fonda and the Escape Artists

Here we are in the fifth week of the NFL football season. We are still talking about offensive positions on the field. But I have to ask you a question: When you hear the term “tight end” what do you think of? I will tell you what comes to mind every time I hear of it…never fails. I think of Jane Fonda and my 25 year attempt at having one. A tight end, not a Jane Fonda. I remember starting a work-out regimen with Jane Fonda decades ago, since then it has evolved from Jane to the Firm to Beachbody, not that I am any closer to achieving my own tight end. Although I have consistently and effectively developed a distaste for each workout guru. Since this isn’t about my personal issues but about helping you develop a point of reference during the long, cold months of football season, I will carry on. The position of tight end isn’t about my personal desire for one but about a very crucial position in the offense.

The role of tight end has taken on more and more importance over the years. Most teams will have one of these players on the field although some teams will use two. These players typically line up along the line of scrimmage, next to the tackle (that’s a person not a verb). Tight ends (sorry, I chuckle every time I type that) have to be very skilled at two crucial talents, blocking and catching. They have the extremely difficult task of blocking for the running back (run-blocking), blocking for the quarterback to pass (pass-blocking) or making sure they get open for a pass. They catch the passes in the mid field range for less yards than what the wide receivers usually catch. They need to be skilled at multi-tasking. Many times the catch will come after they have initially blocked a defender. Not only do they need to be a multi-tasker, they also need to be the escape artist for their QB. They are usually the first player that the QB looks for if they are in trouble and need to get rid of the football. A very large amount of third down plays are directed to the tight end as a passing play, which showcases their escape artist talents.

Most tight ends are larger size than running backs but smaller than the other players on the offensive line. Two of the most notable tight ends in the NFL right now are Tony Gonzales and Jimmy Graham. Interestingly enough, both men have their athletic roots in basketball. Tony Gonzales who is 37 years old (remember football-years are like dog-years), 6’5” and 247lbs played collegiate basketball with UC Berkley and also on Miami Heat practice squad ( Jimmy Graham, 6’7” and 265lbs also played basketball for the University of Miami for four years. He stayed after the four years of college to take graduate classes and he played football for a season ( Tony Gonzales was expected to retire after the season ended last year but came back to play one more season after he got the blessing from his children. Jimmy Graham is just beginning his NFL career in New Orleans; this is his 4th season. He graduated the University of Miami with a double major in marketing and management after overcoming a very tough childhood where he suffered neglect, abandonment and physical abuse. He is now one of the best tight ends in the NFL and one of the biggest inspirations to anyone.

So within the offense we have the family matrons (QB’s), the Tasmanian devils (RB’s) and the multi-tasking escape artists. Now isn’t this making more sense? Happy football watching!