Nothing gets taken out of context more quickly than football in May. Throw 80-plus bodies on the practice field in the spring sunshine and assumptions are made by those on the outside looking in.
The starting quarterback has a bad day throwing the ball, and suddenly he’s a bum. The team’s top receiver bobbles a few passes and he’s Mr. Butterfingers. A cornerback bites on a fake, gets beat deep and he can’t cover a soul.
The same holds true for what coaches do with the offense or defense. These spring football practices are a time to experiment, test and evaluate. There are coaches that will spend a week working on a certain package of plays or defenses and then never return to that page of the playbook during the season.
Much was made after the Chiefs OTA practice on Monday about the Chiefs running Wildcat plays on offense. For the most part, the calls had rookie RB/WR Dexter McCluster taking direct snaps from center. He threw a couple of passes, ran what looked like the veer-option, handed off on an end-around run by a wide receiver and several times took the snap and took off running.
OK, so we should assume that the Chiefs will be one of those teams throwing Wildcat-type plays into every game plan, right?
When asked by the media about the Wildcat plays being run in Monday’s session, head coach Todd Haley said: “We might have to take the cameras away now that we’re telling secrets. Some of it’s bluffs, some of it’s not.”
Haley went on to give a plausible coach-speak explanation of why the coaching staff was looking at the Wildcat during the practice:
“This is the time of year to kind of check out what each guys’ skills are. We have a number of guys on the team that have been involved in that type of offense before, so again, this is the time of year you check some of that out and see who can do what and see who is comfortable doing what and go from there.”
So where will the Chiefs go from here with the Wildcat? Is it bluff, or not?
My bet is bluff. First and foremost, if Haley and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis saw the Wildcat with McCluster as a big part of their offensive package in 2010 they would have never shown it during a practice where the media was able to watch. There are plenty of OTA sessions this spring where the Chiefs work without the prying eyes of the scribblers, yakkers and hairdos. Let’s remember the Parcellsian background of both the head coach and coordinator; for them to expose those plays in that practice wasn’t just an accident.
Second, the Wildcat is the most over-rated offensive innovation to come down the NFL pike in some time. The key for any offense to make these plays work is the element of surprise. Ask Mike Vrabel. He was on the field in Foxboro on September 21, 2008 at outside linebacker for the Patriots when they played Miami. The Dolphins did not invent the Wildcat, but they were the first NFL team to spring it on an opponent in a planned attack.
That came against New England and Vrabel and Miami was so effective they pulled off the upset victory.
“We didn’t know what was happening,” Vrabel said. “It was something that we as players and coaches were totally unprepared for. It caught us by surprise. We certainly hadn’t worked on it. They continued to hurt us during that game with those plays.
“The element of surprise was what made it effective. We were better the next time we saw it.”
Once the surprise element is gone, why is the Wildcat still successful? It’s either a running play or a passing play; it hasn’t revolutionized offense. Haley has said before it’s a matter of the talent participating in the Wildcat plays.
“You have some big time athletes that are handling the football and if they are confident enough to handle the football, that’s the key to it,” Haley said. “You have some big-time running backs – that’s not their thing. They’ve got to run the cadence, handle shot gun snaps, quick decisions.
“When you get a big-time athlete that is able to make multiple decisions and run the team, it’s a great challenge. There are two or three options generally on those plays, run, run to run and run to pass. There are formational issues. How do you cover the quarterback if he’s in there? There’s a lot to be figured out in a short period of time.”
Wildcat plays work when talented players are running them, just as talented players make all plays work. But as Haley pointed out, a player being asked to do something that he normally does not do has to be comfortable with the task or have experience getting it done. McCluster ran some Wildcat at Mississippi last year; otherwise there are no obvious wildcatters on the offensive roster at running back or even wide receiver.
The mere idea of the Wildcat can be as effective in messing with an opponent’s head as actually running the plays. It forces coordinators and defensive coaching staffs to devout prep time to the Wildcat and valuable practice snaps as well.
Do not discount the fact that it took all of about 24 hours for word that the Chiefs practiced the Wildcat during an OTA session to spread down the NFL grapevine. I guarantee word landed first on the desks of the defensive coordinators in Oakland, Denver and San Diego. Those teams will spend time in the weeks before their summer vacation projecting McCluster running the Wildcat.
They too will overreact to football in May.
GRAB THE LONG JOHNS, THE SUPER BOWL IS HEADED FOR THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY
As expected, the NFL owners voted Tuesday afternoon to award Super Bowl 48 in February 2014 to New Jersey/New York to be played at the new Meadowlands Stadium.
And as expected, the vote has opened the door for a host of other cold-weather cities without domed stadiums to make noise about getting the championship game. New England owner Robert Kraft, Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie, Washington owner Daniel Snyder and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh all think their cities and stadiums should be next.
It took four votes for the 32 owners to decide on the Meadowlands, as the cold-weather site could not attract 24 votes to make selection automatic. Other bidders were Tampa/St. Petersburg and South Florida (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.) After two votes, South Florida was eliminated. A third vote couldn’t produce 24 votes, so from there it went to a simple majority. No vote total was announced by the league, but New Jersey/New York got at least 17 votes to get the bid.
One other item from the league meetings in suburban Dallas: owners did not vote on extending the new rules for overtime in the playoffs to the regular season as well. There was discussion about the rule, but apparently a significant number of teams want to see how it works out in the post-season before making it the law of the land for every game.
SPEAKING OF THE MEADOWLANDS, HERE’S A JERSEY BOY THAT LIVES IN K.C.
Bruce Jankowski spent two seasons with the Chiefs, after a very good college career with Ohio State. Hank Stram drafted him in the 10th-round of the 1971 NFL Draft. The New Jersey native played in nine games with two starts in 1971-72. He caught two passes for 24 yards.
Jankowski went on and played in the World Football League in 1974 down in Shreveport. That’s when he hung up the spikes and went on to live the rest of his life. It wasn’t back in New Jersey; he fell in love with Kansas City, living here, raising his family and now retired and living in Leawood.
The Bergen Record newspaper ran a story with Jankowski this week. Here’s the link. It’s worth the read.
NFL PERSONNEL FILE/TUESDAY, MAY 25
- BRONCOS – signed 7th–round draft choice LB/DE Jammie Kirlew out of Indiana.
- CHARGERS – S Kevin Ellison was arrested in San Diego and discovered with 100 Vicodin pain killers in his vehicle. The 6th-round choice in ‘09 out of Southern Cal faces criminal charges of possession of a controlled substance. He was released on $10,000 bail.
- EAGLES – released P Durant Brooks, a 6th-round draft choice of the Redskins in ‘08 out of Georgia Tech. He also spent time with the Packers.
- JAGUARS – newly acquired G Justin Smiley passed his physical on Tuesday, completing a Monday trade with the Dolphins for a conditional 7th-round choice in the 2011 NFL Draft – he also agreed to a re-structured contract; released first-year RB Allen Patrick, who was on the Jacksonville practice squad last year.
- PATRIOTS – signed 3rd-round draft choice WR Taylor Price to 4-year contract for $2,494,000 million, with a $704,600 signing bonus.
- SAINTS – former WR Joe Horn will be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame this year – originally a draft choice of the Chiefs in 1995, Horn spent seven years in New Orleans, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl; undrafted rookie free agent Harry Coleman was arrested last weekend in New Orleans on a simple battery charge.
- STEELERS – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that he would have a ruling on the status of suspended Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger “within the next week.” Roethlisberger was forced to undergo psychological evaluation before he can return to the team and take part in off-season work.
- TITANS – released WR/KR Mark Jones, who was coming off surgery on a nerve in his neck, as well as a hamstring pull – he signed with Tennessee as a UFA in ‘09.