A Final Draft Wrapup

April 29, 2009

In the end, three Gators got drafted and four more found jobs as undrafted free agents:

Percy Harvin, 1st round to Minnesota

Louis Murphy, 4th round to Oakland

Cornelius Ingram, 5th round to Philadelphia

Phil Trautwein to St. Louis

Jason Watkins to Houston

James Smith to Cincinnati

Kestahn Moore to Denver

It was a bit disappointing, all things considered. I had heard that Murphy and Ingram each had the potential to go as high as the second round. I never expected to see them have to wait until the fourth and fifth rounds to go.

In Murphy’s case, it may not have a happy ending. The Raiders at this point are a black hole for talent, though he does get to have JaMarcus Russell put football-shaped holes in his hands on Sundays. He’ll be a great addition to Oakland’s track team, along with Darrius Heyward-Bey, but whether Oakland will find football success is beyond me. Incidentally, I don’t think Heyward-Bey is any better than Murphy is, but the inanity surrounding 40 times at the combine made him a No. 1 pick. Go figure.

In Ingram’s case, it is probably a blessing in disguise. Philly had the best draft in my estimation, and with Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Ingram, no one upgraded their offense more. He did say in an interview that the Eagles would have taken him earlier if they had a third or fourth round pick, so that makes him (and me) feel better. Regardless, he’s going to be on one of the NFL’s best offenses within two years thanks to McNabb, Westbrook, Jackson, and his fellow draftmates.

It seems odd to me that neither of the tackles got drafted. I know that Trautwein and Watkins weren’t going to be franchise cornerstones, but I would have thought they’d be worth a late round pick. It seemse like the NFL hasn’t been liking Florida offensive linemen lately, though that will probably change whenever the Pouncey brothers enter their names in.

I am glad to see Moore get picked up by Denver. He has no shot at playing running back there, as Denver now has about 15 of them on the roster, but he could make it as a blocker and a special teams guy. Last season had to be tough for him, having lost his feature back role to a couple of freshmen. However, he apparently never complained and kept on picking up blitz after blitz to buy Tebow time. Say what you want about his running back play, and someone probably already has, but the guy can block and could be in the league for at least a few seasons.

I am also glad to see James Smith get picked up. He’s a former walk on who will be remembered by die hard Gators as the guy who recovered South Carolina’s ill-fated throwback during a kickoff last season. It’s rare that long snappers ever get drafted, so he really never had a shot at hearing his name called over the weekend. However, he probably has a decent shot at making a roster somewhere due to his specialization and demonstrated ability to play well on special teams.

Next year, Florida will have a boatload of guys in the draft. Seniors like Spikes, Tebow, and Cunningham will be there, and underclassmen like Haden, Dunlap, and the Pounceys will probably be there too. Some mock drafts for 2010 are already out there, but I won’t link to any since they’re of no use now. After all, at this time last year, Todd Boeckman and Cullen Harper were no worse than second round picks.

What I do know is that the thin draft is not a sign of weakness, as FSU’s and Miami’s were, but the last echoing effect of the final, uncertain year of the Zook era and the transitional class that Urban Meyer had to throw together at the last minute in 2005. Only five players who we’ll see take the field from that time remain: Dorian Munroe, Jonathan Phillips, David Nelson, and Ryan Stamper in the two-deep plus Cade Holliday on special teams.

Next year is when Meyer’s monster 2006 recruiting class (minus Percy, of course) finally hits the draft. But before that, there is the matter of the fall when those seniors lead Florida to its third title in four years.


Harvin to the Vikings

April 25, 2009

Percy Harvin didn’t fall out of the first round after all.

The Minnesota Vikings picked him up, which isn’t a bad place. They’re close to contending, but the black hole at quarterback looms large. Harvin and Peterson make two of a great Big Three, but they won’t go over the top without something better than Tavares Jackson under center.

Cornelius Ingram is probably the next Gator off the board.

Meanwhile, my Bucs didn’t just fall for Josh Freeman, but they traded up to get him. Raheem Morris coached at K-State so that’s why he likes Freeman, but that’s only going to make it messier when he doesn’t work out.


Quoth Alabama’s New QB

April 21, 2009

So says Greg McElroy:

“I mean, what have we done? We haven’t won a championship. In the three years I’ve been here all we’ve won is the PetroSun Independence Bowl. We haven’t won anything… If you talk to most of our fans, without an SEC championship or national championship the season can’t be deemed a complete success.”

You’re welcome Bama fans. That is all.

(H/T: RBR)


A Follow Up on Tim Tebow’s Throwing Motion

April 21, 2009

Last week I put up a post about why people say Tim Tebow has a slow release. It used frame-by-frame analysis from the telecast of the national title game. I lamented the fact that I don’t have professional, high speed video equipment to make more precise judgments.

Little did I know, someone who was reading does.

I got an email from Bryan Conrad, an engineer at a biomechanics lab in Gainesville. Among many other things, his lab studies sports-related topics such as golf swings and quarterback throwing motions. He had some insights from that side of the business and graciously allowed me to reprint them here.

I am an engineer in a motion analysis lab at UF and one very small part of my job is to evaluate the throwing mechanics of QBs (most of the time we study orthopaedic diseases and injuries).

Our lab has the ability to film any type of motion with 14 high speed video cameras. This allows us to capture motion from a true 3D perspective and at a frame rate of up to 500 images/second. This is the same type of equipment that is used to measure Tiger Woods golf swing for video games or used to animate computer generated graphics in movies like The Matrix.

When I first started analyzing QB’s motion, one of the first questions that a QB coach asked me was, “could I measure the release time of QBs?”  From what I can tell this is a parameter that many people discuss but few people actually measure. I applaud your effort to quantify this measurement during game play using TV film.

Three years ago I established a protocol so that we could try do the same thing in our lab. What we came up with was a scenario where we have the QB stand in the lab in a ready position (both hands on the ball, similar to image1 from your sequences) and asked the athlete to throw the ball as soon as he heard an audible signal emitted from our computer.

Since we have a controlled environment and very good temporal resolution of our cameras, we were able to break down the motion into two components which we call Reaction Time and Release Time.  Reaction time is the time from when the sound goes off until the first movement from the QB (when the non-throwing hand separates from the ball).  Release time is from the first movement until the ball leaves the hand.  What we found surprised me a little.  The reaction time is typically around 500ms and often times longer than the actual release time!  Admittedly, our lab setting is not the same as the game environment and responding to an audible cue is quite different than decision making process required on the field.

I agree that Tebow has a less compact motion than Bradford (as your recent article on Mullen suggests, this might change under Loeffler). However, I believe that he might be capable of faster release time than what you have measured.

I then asked him about the issues that Rocky Top Talk‘s hooper brought up in regards to how differing throwing motions could affect the reaction times of defenders. Having grown up a John Elway fan, he’d seen how devastating a top shelf pump fake can be.

We weren’t quite sure how to go about measuring defenders’ reaction times. Bryan said the lab hadn’t tested that before, but he had some ideas on how to do it:

One of the things that we have considered studying is reaction time when the athlete must make a decision. I have always thought about it in terms of the passer. For instance instead of always throwing as soon as the signal is given, we could have two signals, one for ‘go’ one for ‘no go’. They would be triggered randomly and the passer would have to decide whether the ‘go’ signal was given and then begin the throwing motion.

Even better would be if we could use visual signals instead of audible signals, since that would be representative of a game situation. I suppose this kind of test could be applied to defensive players as well, perhaps have them run in one direction and then give the signal, depending on what signal is given, they would have to break to either the right or left.  We could then measure their reaction time and acceleration out of the break (maybe some guys have a slower reaction but compensate with quick acceleration and vice versa).

That sounds like a pretty good method to me, given the constraints that lab conditions enforce.

Big thanks to Bryan for providing some insight on how the pros take a look at quarterbacking mechanics. The bit about reaction time was particularly good. Hopefully this gives you an idea of the process and considerations that coaches and engineers alike go through when trying to improve their signal callers.


Orange and Blue Game Wrapup

April 20, 2009

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Orange and Blue Game. That’s one of the few sucky things about living in Charlotte (besides all the ACC fans): I can’t just go to Gainesville whenever I want.

Anyway, my parents and brother did make the game. Rather than give a rundown of all the media coverage of the game, I’ll instead tell you what they told me.

My brother was very disappointed that Tim Tebow didn’t do any downfield throwing. He said Timmy mostly was tossing swing passes, though he did run around a bit. That is, of course, until he got tagged by a defender. Ultimately though, this day wasn’t really about him.

It was John Brantley’s day. Urban Meyer has raved about Brantley’s performance in recent weeks, and for the most part he came through. My parents said his favorite target was Frankie Hammond, who had no trouble getting behind the reserve DBs according to my brother.

They also said that Tebow was conversing with Meyer the whole time while Brantley was playing, almost as though he was an assistant coach. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, and there’s precendent for it. Meyer made Chris Leak a big part of game planning in 2006, even letting Leak script the first 10 or 15 plays of the national title game himself.

My brother said one thing that stood out to him that few of the media reports mentioned was that there were some issues with shotgun snaps. Redshirt freshman Sam Robey is said to have won the starting center role not so much because he outplayed Maurkice Pouncey (because he didn’t), but because he played well enough to move Maurkice back to guard where the coaches want him. Robey apparently had issues with snapping it right into Tebow’s hands, but theoretically an off season’s worth of practice ought to straighten that out by the fall.

Walk on RB Christopher Scott ran hard and was productive, they said. Whether he’ll play much in the fall remains to be seen, but think about this for a second. The Gators now have a walk on who is behind three or four (depending on incoming freshman Mike Gillislee) other guys who is able to be a productive back against the defense. Compare that to the situation in 2005-06 (run it Wynnside!) and be grateful. Oh, and Chris Rainey still has the best moves on the team.

With all of the defensive starters injured or taking the day off, the offense was able to move nicely. Even so, there were still starter-caliber guys like Dorian Munroe available and playing. My guess is the backups are probably still a top-50 defense in the country, so it does at least give an indication that the offense progressed through the spring.

My parents are going to Meyer’s upcoming speaking engagement in Orlando, so if he says anything interesting I’ll pass it along.


The Speed of Tebow’s Release

April 17, 2009

One of the major complaints about Tim Tebow by those who say he won’t make it in the NFL is that he has a slow release. This critique is related to the charge that he has poor mechanics.

I am not a trained coach, but I believe I can show you at least what armchair NFL GMs see in him that causes the real scouts to fret. I will compare him to Sam Bradford, a guy who was said to be a surefire top-five pick in the draft if he had come out.

All times that I quote here came from studying the national title game frame-by-frame in Avidemux. It’s not as precise as professional video gear, but it’s close enough for these purposes and any error will be consistent throughout.

Here is a sequence showing Bradford’s throwing motion. Pay close attention to the second frame, as that is where the biggest difference between the two guys comes from.

bradford1bradford2bradford3bradford4

Bradford has a compact throwing motion, which is what NFL scouts are looking for.

In the first frame, he is holding the ball in the classic quarterback stance. Frame two shows the farthest out his arm goes in his windup. You can see that the ball is close to his body and his arm is about at a right angle.

The final two frames finish out his motion. This throw, which is representative of his standard throws, takes about 467 milliseconds to complete.

Here is a sequence of Tebow’s motion.

tebow1tebow2tebow3tebow4

In the first frame, Tebow is in the same starting position as Bradford was in. The second frame shows a very different story however. The ball is far away from his body, and his arm is almost fully extended.

The final two frames finish out his motion. This was the most extreme example of Tebow’s long windup I could find, and it took 734 milliseconds to complete. That time is 267 milliseconds longer than Bradford’s throw.

Not every one of Tebow’s throws take this long, but it illustrates the perils of having a longer motion. Even moreso in the NFL than in college, a fraction of a second can be the difference between a catch and a tipped ball, and a tipped ball and an interception. The throw above was Tebow’s first interception of the national title game, a pass that was picked off by a safety reading his eyes and jumping in front of a receiver.

As I said though, this was the longest delivery I could find for him. I chose it because it makes for the clearest pictures. To find out a rough approximation of how much longer Tebow’s motion is than Bradford’s is, I took a sample of ten normal passes apiece and timed their motions. I did not include passes where the players were being hit, throwing on the run, or shovel passes.

I found that Tebow’s average time across the ten passes was 557 milliseconds, with all but one pass taking a half second or more. Bradford’s average release was 487 milliseconds, with the most common time being 467 milliseconds. The difference in average was not great at just 70 milliseconds.

As I said though, my ability to time their motions is not exact, and certainly Bradford’s motion looks a lot quicker than Tebow’s does. Tebow has a habit of bringing the ball down near his waist during his windup, while Bradford generally brings the ball straight back from his neutral stance.

Simple physics says it takes more time to move an object along a longer path, so Tebow’s release is labeled “slow.” It is not a huge difference, but just think back to Michael Crabtree’s catch that beat Texas. If the ball came a tenth of a second later, the defensive back coming to help may have gotten a finger on it.

Florida’s new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has been working with Tebow this spring to shorten up the motion. He is also working on getting Tebow to have a “10 o’clock release point,” as opposed to the sidearm-like delivery you can kind of see in his fourth frame. Bradford’s fourth frame shows what I would assume to be a 2 o’clock release point (since he’s right handed and Tebow’s a southpaw).

Tim Tebow is one of the most driven people I’ve ever seen though, so the effort will be there. He has almost a full year from today to prove to the Mel Kipers of the world that he can be something other than an H-back in the pros. Shortening up his delivery and fixing his release point will go a long way to that end.


Clarifying What a “Spread Offense” Entails

April 15, 2009

While reading the excellent interview Bruins Nation had with Rick Neuheisel, I came upon the final question of part one. It basically was, “Hey Rick, what do you think of the spread offense?”

Neuheisel ends up giving a fairly long and winding explanation of why he chooses a pro style offense rather than a spread scheme. I’m going to chop it up into mincemeat for a second to illustrate a point:

“The key to the spread offense, and the reason why its successful, is that it adds an extra player. It diminishes the need for great offensive linemen, because you’ve got a little longer because you are always in the gun…

“The problem at UCLA is that you have to beat the Trojans. And it’s also the benefit at UCLA, because when you beat them, you’re going to be among the nation’s elite. So you have to be a physical offense...

“I was the benefactor of a type of spread offense, even though it was an option offense, it’s the same math in terms of the quarterback’s [being] a runner…

There were some components of the spread offense in what we did last year. We got into the old wildcat stuff…”

The picture of the spread offense that Neuheisel paints is one that involves a running quarterback, the shotgun as the exclusive setup, an offense that isn’t physical, and the wildcat formation.

Basically what he described is the Rich Rodriguez/Urban Meyer style offense (except for the part about the spread not being physical). However, that’s not necessarily what a spread offense is.

I know Neuheisel is a bright guy, and I wasn’t there when the interview was conducted. Maybe something about the session led him to think of the spread in those terms. However, that’s an awfully narrow definition of a very broad concept.

The term “spread” dates back at least to 1952, and I’m sure it’s been around longer than that. The spread isn’t an offense; it’s a formation and a philosophy.

For the record, this is a spread formation:

Spread_medium

This is not:

Notspread_medium

That’s all there is to it. There is no other distinction between spread and non-spread. A spread formation uses most of the horizontal space on the field and a non-spread formation does not. Nearly every offense uses some spread formations, and many spread-based offenses use some non-spread formations.

The idea behind a spread-based offense is to make the defense cover the entire field. Contrary to what Neuheisel may have made it sound like, a spread formation is an excellent choice for physical running up the middle. That’s because with the defense spread out, there are fewer guys in the middle of the field to try to stop the ball carrier.

That fact is also why many spread teams prefer to have a mobile quarterback. Fewer guys near the line of scrimmage makes for fewer people hanging around to stop a runner behind center. Having a running triggerman is not a requirement though.

For instance, the first neo-spread team in the SEC was Hal Mumme’s Kentucky, and we never saw Tim Couch take off and run much. That branch of spread offense is continued today by Mumme’s former assistant Mike Leach at Texas Tech. You also have teams like Ohio State’s 2006 team which ran a fair bit of spread with Troy Smith rarely participating in designed runs.

The shotgun isn’t even a requirement as Neuheisel made it sound like. Sam Bradford operated from under center a fair bit in Oklahoma’s spread last season. In addition, Paul Johnson’s offense keeps the quarterback under center almost exclusively even though his base flexbone set is is a spread formation.

Finally, the wildcat is a formation and offensive package but it doesn’t have to be run from a spread set or spread offense. Not all spread teams use it either.

No two teams run the exact same spread offense, as every coach has his own take on it. It also must be tailored to personnel. If you want details, there’s a wealth of information on many spread topics at the blog Smart Football (start here, here, and here).

If I wasn’t clear before, let me be so now: I don’t think Rick Neuheisel is unaware of all this. He knows far more about offensive football than I do and he could probably explain it a lot better than I can.

It just disappointed me about the way he used “spread” to mean a lot fo specific things when it doesn’t necessarily. It’s like saying that having a quarterback under center in the I-formation means you’re in a pro style offense, except that the heyday of the Nebraska option was largely done from the I.

In short, just remember that there is no one “spread offense.” There are as many spread offenses as there are teams that run them, and every one has something that makes it unique.


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