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A few thoughts from the rehab table:
-For me this is the best time of the year. College football 5 weeks in, the NFL’s 4th weekend is upcoming and playoff baseball is starting. Yes, I said it, playoff baseball! I have my preview of the upcoming playoffs below but wanted to start with one football thought.
-One of the biggest reasons that the NFL is the most popular sport in America is the fact that every year a handfull of teams improve more than anyone expected. This year, we have the 3-0 Bills and Lions and the 2-1 Raiders playing well above what was predicted. Remember that every team has talent, and it’s all about putting that talent together. I think these team’s early successes will give fans hope that this will be the season that their team improves. In the NBA, the same teams are good each year. Dallas winning the championship might not have been predicted at the start of the season, but everyone knew they were going to be a top three team in the West. Same with the MLB. Going into each season, you know the top two teams in each division, and maybe one team a season makes a run at it, like last season with the Giants. But even with the Giants winning it all, you had the Yanks, Red Sox, Braves, Phillies in the playoffs—–all teams that win year in and year out.
Now I’m going to touch on a subject that isn’t brought up on this site at all, baseball. I played baseball as a kid, I coach high school baseball now, and I know it is likely that there are some baseball fans that read this site. I don’t know what draws me to baseball, why I love it so much, just always have. I think Joe Posnanski, award winning columnist, on his blog last night explains baseball best –
“Baseball, like life, revolves around anticlimax. That in many ways is the beauty of it. I realize that’s a hard thing to explain to someone who doesn’t love baseball, no, more than hard, it’s an impossible thing to explain because many people want sports to be more than life, they follow sports to jolt them out of the steady rhythms of the shriek of alarm clocks, the monotony of morning meetings, the rush to get our kids to soccer practice by 4 p.m. They want sports to be bigger than life. What’s the point, otherwise? There is nothing in baseball as jarring as a blind-side hit, as jaw-dropping as a perfect alley-oop, as tense and heart-pounding as a breakaway.
And the hard thing to explain, the impossible thing, is that many of us love baseball not in spite of these failings but because of them.”
Wednesday night’s wild card elimination games were thrilling, the two best regular season games probably since I’ve been alive. I know it’s hard to imagine a baseball game being electric, exciting and so on but if you watched, you would agree. Playoff baseball is 100 times better than the regular season—same with the NBA. Each pitch seems to matter, one mistake can cost you a game, and it’s riveting to watch. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I get that, but try to watch the first game, Yanks v Tigers. Two of the top pitchers in the game will be pitted against each other. One run may win the game.
Now my thoughts on the upcoming playoffs. (BTW, I did write this before the playoffs began!] As always, pitching wins. This was proved that last year with the Giants and it’s been that way forever. But recently, it seems as though the team who is playing the best, or hottest, to start the playoffs continues to play well throughout, though not always winning in the end. So here we go.
Yankees v Tigers
The Tigers have a real shot here to pull off a mild upset because of their eventual Cy Young winner Justin Verlander’s pitching. In a best of five, Verlander will throw two times, possibly giving them two wins. I still think in the end the Yankees have too many bats that can beat you, and win the series in five.
Rays v Rangers
Pitching is close to even, but the Rangers are the better hitting team. Experience from making the World Series last year is big but I have to think the Rays have some mo-jo on their side after coming back to take the wild card from nine games down with a month left. They don’t think they can lose. Maybe they are so exhausted from the run that they have nothing left in the tank, but I don’t think that is the case. It’s remarkable that they contend each year in the toughest division, the AL East, without spending the type of money the Yanks and Red Sox do. I give the edge to the Rays. The Rays pitching will shut down the Rangers, just like the Giants did last season and take the series in four games.
Cardinals v Phillies
Like the Rays, the Cardinals came roaring back in September to claim the wild card spot. Unlike the Rays, I don’t think they get by the division series and the Phillies. The Phillies were the favorite to come out of the NL last season before running into the extremely hot Giants. The Cards don’t have quite the same pitching as the Giants did, plus the Phils have the best rotation in the league with Halladay, Hamels, Lee and Oswalt. Tough to get three wins against that group. The addition of Hunter Pence will help the Phila offense so I’m going with the Phils in four here.
Brewers v Diamondbacks
I personally like the Brewers and what they have done. Two aces on their pitching staff, two huge middle of the order bats and some great role players. The Diamondbacks played in a fairly weak division, and were helped with a major collapse in August by the Giants to take the division. They themselves have great front end starters, some mashers but I think the Brewers are finally going to break through this postseason. I’m going with the Brewers here in five.
Rays v Yankees
In the regular season the Rays tied the series, 9-9 but the last few games the Yanks were running out their Triple A team. Take away CC Sabathia, and the Yanks don’t have anyone else with experience they can count on to take the hill and get a win. Ivan Nova had a great season, but is a rookie and you don’t know how he will throw in the postseason. The Yank bats are clearly superior to the Rays, but in the end, the combo of David Price and James Shields propel the Rays to the World Series in seven games.
Brewers v Phillies
If you like pitching, this could be the series for you. Brewers with two aces, Greinke and Gallardo, plus Marcum, make three great pitchers, and a great backend bullpen. I already mentioned the four studs the Phillies will throw out there. I think a key in the series is seeing if the Phils can hit some good pitching. Last postseason, they couldn’t handle the Giants’ staff. I think this year is different, and they win the series in six.
Phillies v Rays
Before the season started I picked the Phillies and Red Sox in the World Series. Then, after the All Star game where I knew the NL would have the home field advantage, I choose the Phils in 7. Different team in the AL, but same result. The Phillies’ staff is just too good. The Rays remind me of the 2007 Rockies who won something like 22 out of 23 to make the playoffs, then swept through the playoffs, only to be swept by the Red Sox in the series. While I think the Rays won’t get swept, I think the Phillies win in six to take the crown.
Now, some mailbag questions from you guys:
From Zachary Coglietta
Q: Was watching the football game when my Mom walked in and noticed how much the players were sweating. She saw how wet the offensive lineman’s pants were. She then asked if the players lose weight from sweating that much during the game? Well, do you guys lose some weight during the game?
I always love getting this question because it brings back a great memory. In the mid- to late- 90s, the Cowboys were the first team to really have big offensive lineman, averaging over 300 lbs. (I know the Hog OLs of the Redskins were big for their time, but those guys were nowhere close to these Cowboy lines.) Well I always loved watching them play because John Madden would always freeze frame the OL, and circle how much sweat each guy had on their pants. I thought this was the greatest thing. Maybe that was because I was, and still am, a heavy sweater. Who knows. It just always tickled me.
Now back to the question. Every player is different and we don’t typically weigh in before and after games. I can tell you about camp practice when we do weigh in and out. I will lose between 3-4 pounds during each practice, but I drink like crazy during practice so when I weigh in, I’ve already replenished myself. Some guys will lose 10-11 lbs, and have to get an IV each day to replace the fluid lost. One way we can prevent big weight loss during games, and also help with cramping, is to get an IV before the game. While I love to drink during practice, I don’t like drinking much during games. In college my calves and forearms would cramp after games, no matter what I did to try to prevent that. But when I got to the NFL I found that getting a bag or two of IV fluid before a game can help with the post-game cramps. As the season goes on, and it gets cooler, I back off on the bags of IV fluid.
From Brian Graboski
Q: This question was posed using players on my team because we have had three right guards go down with injury and had to bring a guy in week 1 to play.
How hard is it for a new offensive lineman to come in on a week’s notice and play in a system he doesn’t know? Does the center call his own “condensed linemen version” of the play at the line?
“Hard” is putting it nicely. It’s brutal for an offensive lineman to come in on a week’s notice and play. At any other position besides QB, someone can come in and just learn a handful of plays for that week. That isn’t possible on the line, as you need to know everything. The coaches are going into a game with all the offensive plays up, and can’t scale back the playbook to just a few plays because one lineman is new. There are a couple of ways that a lineman can get up to speed in order to play that week.
1) While most offenses look unique to the fans, in fact most are similar in concept. The toughest part of making the transition into a new offense is learning the terminology. A short term solution to that is translating the new plays into your old plays. If your new play is 60 release, then you can translate it to 36 Buster, which is the same play in your old offense. This works in the short term, but then you must learn the new terminology to communicate properly.
2) Communication between linemen plays a major role in having success upfront and communication will not quite be there yet in the first week. Linemen who play together for awhile sometimes don’t even make a call, but rather just a noise, or they may say “hey” or “watch it” or tell you the number of the guy you’re going to, any of which may be enough for both guys to know what to do. Clearly this doesn’t happen the first week of a new lineman in the lineup, so the easiest way to avoid communication errors is having the center, or adjacent lineman, just tell the new guy where to go and what to do. “Slide to 57”, “Cut him off”, etc… Surprisingly this works well and generally defenses don’t pick up on your communication. This form of communication can’t last long because sometimes it can take too much time. When you get to the line of scrimmage, a quick call is made so you can focus on your assignment before the snap count. Having to listen to the center’s call, then look at the defense, then tell another lineman what to do, then focus on your assignment . . .the ball is snapped long before you’re ready. Just takes too long.
From Brett in Eugene
Q: Who would make a better coach? (head coach or offensive coordinator) Former quarterbacks or former centers?
For offensive coordinators, I’d love to say a linemen in general, just not a center, but I’d have to go with a quarterback. A QB is responsible for learning the entire offense including formations, routes, run game, defenses and so on. As a lineman, we need to learn the run game, pass protections, some formations and some defense. If a QB and OL started coaching at the same time, a QB would have a scheme advantage over a lineman because he should know everything that’s going on and have a feel for the passing game. Over time a lineman can learn all those things, but it might take years.
As far as who makes a better head coach, your guess is as good as mine. Successful linemen and quarterbacks are great leaders by nature, but that doesn’t always translate over to being a good communicator and motivator for young men. The best coaches I have been around are the best at both of these major head coach functions. The coach must know when to motivate, and when to back off and let the players motivate themselves. Communication is always a key, together with the ability to relate to the players so they feel like they are able to come talk to the coach as needed. I don’t think it is possible to determine whether an OL or QB would be best in this role.
As always, I welcome comments on my Twitter @GeoffSchwartz74. I also want to thank everyone for sending me questions. There are still some I will get to in the next article. If you want to submit questions for the mailbag, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org