Zone blocking & the football season

The NFL season is upon us.  I’m a Packer fan, but one can hardly be in an area with a professional sports team without getting drawn into its orbit.  The Washington Redskins have a new head coach, Mike Shanahan, who is trying to implement an interesting new approach with the offensive line:  Zone blocking.

Offensive linemen, instead of taking on the man in front of them, head to an area and hit the defender who occupies it.

“It’s the difference between a guy lined up six inches off your head that you’re blocking,” said former Broncos guard Mark Schlereth, now a commentator for ESPN, “and pulling and having a full running start at eight yards.”

The result is the beginning of what Shanahan wants: Fatiguing a defense. If, in a zone scheme, offensive linemen are getting out toward the edge, defenders must follow them there.

“It wears you down,” said Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, whose Buffalo Bills at times battled Shanahan’s Broncos for supremacy in the AFC in the 1990s. “It’s a lot of pounding on the body, that zone blocking.”

So against the Cowboys, watch the initial first-quarter handoff to Portis, but dismiss how many yards it gains. Pay attention, instead, to how far the defenders have to run – and how many end up on the ground. Shanahan’s teams have long used a technique known as “cut blocking” in which offensive linemen take out players on the back side of a play – the side away from where the ball is headed.

Say, for instance, Portis’s initial run goes to the right. The Redskins’ offensive linemen on the left side will try to cut off defenders – legally – below the waist, essentially eliminating them from a play and allowing a running back, if he so chooses, to cut back in that direction with one firmly planted foot.

By design, if the zone blocking is carried out correctly on the front side of the play – drawing linebackers with the flow – and the cut block is executed on the back side, a giant running lane can open. The effect can be devastating – and not only on that play.

“As an offensive lineman, if I cut you and get you on the ground, I get to lie on the ground on my fat belly and watch the play,” Schlereth said. “You have to pop up and you have to chase. You’re going to spend a heck of a lot more energy. So in the fourth quarter, when it’s third down and 12 and we have to make a play in the passing game, the odds of you having a lot of pass-rushing energy is not very good.”

via Mike Shanahan brings his well-refined offensive system to the Washington Redskins.

Since local newspapers mainly cover local teams, it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of how other teams are doing. This forum can help us remedy that situation. What are the prospects of your favorite team for this year? (What changes has it put in place? Who are the players to watch? Will this be a “rebuilding”–a.k.a. “losing”–year for your team, or do you expect great things?)

Sooners, the new 2004 National Champions

My alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, should ascend to the 2004 National Football championship, even though they were beaten in the BCS championship game by the University of Southern California.  That team is being forced to forfeit all of their games played by star running back Reggie Bush, due to the valuable  benefits that his coaches lavished on him.

The NCAA threw the book at storied Southern California yesterday with a 2-year bowl ban, 4 years’ probation, loss of scholarships and forfeits of an entire year’s games for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush dating to the Trojans’ 2004 national championship.

USC was penalized for a lack of institutional control in the ruling by the NCAA following its 4-year investigation. The report cited numerous improper benefits for Bush and former basketball player O.J. Mayo, who spent just 1 year with the Trojans.

The coaches who presided over the alleged misdeeds – football's Pete Carroll and basketball’s Tim Floyd – left USC in the past year.

“I’m absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA,” Carroll said in a video statement produced by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, who hired him in January. “I never thought it would come to this . . . I’m extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this right now.”

The penalties include the loss of 30 football scholarships over 3 years and vacating 14 victories in which Bush played from December 2004 through the 2005 season. USC beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game on Jan. 4, 2005, and won 12 games during Bush’s Heisman-winning 2005 season, which ended with a loss to Texas in the 2006 BCS title game.

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said a committee will meet to consider vacating USC’s 2004 championship. While no action would go into effect until USC’s appeals are heard by the NCAA, Hancock said there would be no 2004 champion if USC’s victory is vacated.

The NCAA says Bush received lavish gifts from two fledgling sports marketers hoping to sign him. The men paid for everything from hotel stays and a rent-free home where Bush’s family apparently lived to a limousine and a new suit when he accepted his Heisman in New York in December 2005.

The rulings are a sharp repudiation of the Trojans’ decade of stunning football success under Carroll, who won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships before abruptly returning to the NFL. Floyd resigned last June, shortly after he was accused of giving cash to a middleman who helped steer Mayo to USC.

via USC gets 2-year bowl ban, might forfeit 2004 title | Philadelphia Daily News | 06/11/2010.

Wait a minute:  The Trojans might not be stripped of their championship?  How can a team win the national title while losing all of their games?  The BCS might declare that there was no champion for 2004?  How can that be?  In the final BCS rankings, OU was #2.  If #1 is removed from the picture, everyone moves up.

In all seriousness, I dislike the penalty of forfeiting games that were already played.  If a team violates the rules, punish them now, but don’t try to change history.

The Big 12 as the Big 10

Well, Texas has decided to stay in the Big 12, even though Nebraska and Colorado have fled.  In response, the other five teams from Texas and Oklahoma have decided to stay in, rather than join the PAC-10.  So there will only be ten teams in the Big 12.  (If all of you conferences are realigning, do something about your names, so that at least they are arithmetically accurate!)

One good result:  If there are only ten teams, there won’t be the need for the playoff game between the northern and the southern branches, an extra game that would always damage the record of one of the semi-champions.

As for these projected mega-conferences, I think all conferences should be smaller.  The right number is Eight.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: College Football.

The death of the Big 12

Nebraska has fled the Big 12 for the Big 10!  Missouri may follow.  Now, in even bigger news, the word is that Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and either Baylor or Colorado will join the Pac-10, forming a Western superconference!

So much for the Cornhusker/Sooner rivalry that has always been a big part of my college football memories.  I wonder what new rivalries might emerge.  Does Nebraska, which has been in somewhat of a decline, think it will do better against Michigan and Ohio State? 

The Cornhuskers will make more money.  Big 10 teams get an equal cut of a rich TV deal, reportedly $22 million a year.  Big 12 teams just get $7 million, according to what I heard.  But what kind of TV deal might a Pac-West megaconference bring? And what will happen to the other Big 12 teams, such as my other alma mater, Kansas?

See – Pac-10 ready to make moves; Nebraska’s decision is key.

Big Ten wants to expand

OK, so the Big Ten college conference wants to expand.  Among those schools speculated to be candidates are Nebraska and Missouri.  But why?  How is being in the Big Ten better than being in the Big Twelve?  Or do Nebraska and Missouri think the Big Ten would be an easier conference in which to do well?   Wouldn’t that be a rather humiliating reason?

The prospects of such an expansion–and rumors are flying about many other candidates–just seems to violate reason, regions, and traditions (such as the rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners, from one of my alma maters, and the Nebraska Cornhuskers).

Big Ten expansion roundup – Big Ten Blog – ESPN.

Oklahoma sports

The Oklahoma Sooners, from my alma mater, had a miserable season last year by the standards of  the University of Oklahoma, an 8-5 record.  And yet my home state just dominated the NFL draft.  Not only was OU quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out most of last season because of injury, the number one pick.

Six players from the state of Oklahoma were chosen in the first round. The most players from Oklahoma colleges previously chosen in the first round was four — in 1976 and 1970.  The number 3 and the number 4 were also Sooners.  So three of top four picks were from OU.  If we throw in Oklahoma State University, a Cowboy was number 6.   So four of the top ten picks were from Oklahoma schools.  One other Sooner and one other Cowboy were also taken in the first round.

In addition to Bradford, the state players who have been drafted are:

— OU’s Gerald McCoy (defensive tackle), taken No. 3 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Click to read more.

— OU’s Trent Williams (offensive tackle), taken fourth by the Washington Redskins. Click to read more.

— OSU’s Russell Okung (offensive tackle), taken sixth by the Seattle Seahawks. Click to read more.

— OU’s Jermaine Gresham (tight end), taken at No. 21 by the Cincinnati Bengals. Click to read more.

— OSU’s Dez Bryant (receiver), taken 24th by the Dallas Cowboys. Click to read more.

via Tulsa World: OU’s Bradford taken No. 1 in NFL draft.

In addition to this good showing, Oklahoma’s first professional sports team–no, we won’t count the Sooners in their scandal years–made the NBA playoffs and the first professional playoff game was played on Oklahoma soil. That would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only that, the Thunder, in its second year of existence, had its coach Scott Brooks named coach of the year and Kevin Durant won the league’s scoring title. In its first year of existence, last year, the Thunder only won 23 games, and here they are in the playoffs against the champion Los Angeles Lakers. Here is a nice description of Durant playing Kobe Bryant in the team’s first home playoff victory:

In a move that could have been perceived as naive, daring or dumb, Kevin Durant asked for a fourth-quarter challenge on Thursday that most would rather avoid. At the urging of Oklahoma City assistant coach Ron Adams, Durant signaled to teammate James Harden to make a switch on defense.

Durant wanted to — no, needed to — guard Kobe Bryant during those final 12 minutes in which Bryant has established his reputation as the best closer in the game.

The move startled Bryant, who isn’t used to having his shots contested by a 6-foot-9 forward with seemingly never-ending, elastic arms. Durant helped force Bryant into missing eight of his 10 field goals in the fourth quarter. He blocked one of Bryant’s shots and saved the ball to preserve a four-point lead, then posted up Bryant, spun around him and nailed a baseline runner in a scintillating sequence that secured the Thunder’s 101-96 win over the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.