More on LBs

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Great thoughts on LBs — both from Andy and in the comments.  Another thing jumped out at me from the terrific Greg Bedard article on AJ Hawk.  Bedard writes: “Moss said Hawk can start by just playing the game. Too often, Hawk focuses solely on his own responsibility during each play, and doesn’t see some of the opponent’s weaknesses that would allow him to burst through the line and make a play.”

Then he quotes Moss: “He’s extremely focused on being assignment-correct at this time,” Moss said. “And that’s probably affecting his ability to let loose and make some plays. So as a coach, I’m obviously trying to find that medium between, ‘Hey, you need to get your assignment done, but you also have to be a football player. Your talent level and your ability and the positions we’re putting you in, go out there and make some plays.’ ”

I think Moss is struggling with one of the permanent dilemmas of coaching.  When do you force a player to fill a role in a scheme and when do you let his instincts take over?  With a player like Troy Polamalu, to take the most obvious example, it would be ridiculous for a coach to insist that he stick to the scheme.  Such strict adherence to a scheme can be far too restrictive and would doubtless keep Polamalu from making many of the incredible plays he makes by doing his own thing.

I think when you draft a player with the 5th overall pick — especially a linebacker — you do so with the assumption that he’s that kind of instinctive player.   I thought that of Hawk from watching him regularly when he was at Ohio State and many draft scouts used the word “instinctive” to describe him in their pre-draft assessments.

So was everyone wrong?  Is Hawk not the instinctive player we all thought?  Or is he, as Moss suggests, too worried about being “assignment correct?”

We don’t really know, of course.  But if Mike McCarthy’s private discussions with his players are anything like the comments he makes to reporters, we might have some hints.  Nearly every time McCarthy analyzes the defense he talks about assignments and players staying in gaps.  This is important, obviously, and in some ways gap control is the key to defensive football.  But I wonder — again based only on his public comments — if McCarthy might spend too much time talking about sticking to the scheme and finishing assignments.  (In his day-after press conference Monday, McCarthy was asked where his defensive game plan went awry.  The first thing he said?  Missed assignments and failure to close gaps.)

Or maybe he (and Bob Sanders) fails to tailor his coaching to individual players.  Brady Poppinga, if he continues to play, should be reminded before every play to keep his assignment.  He might blow assignments, fall for play action, overpursue and miss coverage more than anyone on the defense.  Hawk, on the other hand, usually seems to be in the right spot.  His problem is that he arrives there half a step late.  How many times can you remember plays when Hawk barely catches the jersey of a running back busting through the defensive line — just a half a beat too late.  That’s something that he might be able to improve upon if he “just plays”  — and worries less about sticking strictly to his assignments.

Anyway, I’d like to see more Desmond Bishop.  He seems very instinctive.  Lets’ see if he can make plays and avoid blown assignments.

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3 Responses to “More on LBs”

  1. Dude Says:

    Interesting that they are so woried about the assignments for the linebackers but they let Woodson and Harris just ‘do their thing’ letting their talent take over.

  2. Greg Says:

    I think you raise a good point on coaching. It seems hard for me to believe that this year Hawk and Barnett (before he got hurt) and Poppinga could all fall off so much at the same time. Maybe the preparation and the scheme stinks and not the players. Hawk was solid the last two years, barnett was pro bowl material… could they all have fallen off at the same time? Doubt it.

  3. DaveK Says:

    I think it makes it much easier to play instinctively when the front four are holding the line and making plays. It is harder to be effective as a LB when you dodging lineman and getting caught up in the wash of lineman who can’t hold their ground. Not that I think this group played well this year but the main difference from last year to this year may be not coaching but a defensive line that got pushed around too much.

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