Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A moment of appreciation for Adam Carriker and Sav Rocca

I've never made any bones about the fact that I tend to pick out favorite players, and if you read my blog over the years of follow me on Twitter you know I tend to enjoy watching the role players and quiet contributors. The Redskins made a routine and unsurprising round of cuts today. I thought I would put in a quick word because two of the names on the list, Adam Carriker and Sav Rocca, happen to be enshrined in the Hall of Not That Remarkable Players that Dave Spends A Lot of Time Talking About Anyway.

Carriker has been injured for nearly all of the last two years, so it is easy to forget about him. Especially since back when he was contributing he was doing so in non-flashy ways that don't get you onto highlight reels. Also, his efforts were largely rendered moot by the failures of the unit around him. His first year on the team was 2010, and of course that was the same year that Mike Shanahan arrived with a dictate to switch to a 3-4 defense. This was done without regard to the personnel on the roster at the time and led to what can only be called a catastrophic collapse.

The most visible culprits were nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu and right end Kedric Golston, who proved incapable of even being competitive. I will excerpt from my post-mortem at the end of the 2010 season:

Play after play, the defensive line would basically swing open like a door, with Ma’ake and Golston being picked up and carried downfield, thus opening up running room and cutting off the linebackers’ pursuit angles.
The pivot that the door swung around, though, was Adam Carriker – the only member of the defensive line to play effectively for the full season. Unfortunately, Carriker got screwed by that pesky “quintessential team sport” aspect of football. When he stood up his blockers on the line – his job as a 3-4 DE – the fact that his colleagues were getting blown away rendered his efforts moot. Carriker is an exceptionally strong player, and was often able to penetrate into the backfield. Once he got there, though, he often lacked the quickness or athleticism to make a play on the runner or quarterback. Of course it would have been easier if the other linemen had been holding the line and not making it so easy for opponents to escape such penetration. It is not a coincidence that once Anthony Bryant and Vonnie Holliday started getting significant playing time in the final few weeks that Carriker finally started providing some real, measurable production. It helps a lot when the running back can’t just cut away from you and take advantage of the yards and yards of open space opened up where the other two thirds of the defensive line used to be.
(For the record, Golston went on to improve with more time in the system. Kemoeatu was not given a second chance.)

Carriker is now nearly 30, too expensive, and coming off two lost years due to injury. Cutting him was an utterly sensible move. But as he leaves its worth pointing out that he put in some solid, under-appreciated work at a difficult time.

As for Sav Rocca, if you know me at all you know that I get a little too excited about punting (this is presumably because I am extremely boring and need a hobby). That means the long years of totally incapable punting were tough for me. I would sometimes clock the punt hang times for my game breakdowns (hang time is as important as distance, or perhaps more so), and I spent 2010 pulling my hair out as Sam Paulescu, Josh Bidwell, and an injured Hunter Smith consistently struggled to get much past 3.5 seconds.

So I was pretty pleased in the summer of 2011 when the Redskins brought in Sav Rocca, who had had many solid years with Philadelphia. There was also the simple entertainment factor of his weighing 263 pounds and being a former Aussie rules football player who was not at all shy about making contact. For one year and one year only, Rocca gave me the joy of watching competent punting by my home team. He then struggled through two difficult years of injuries and being 40. Clearly his body had broken down to the point that he just could not be counted on to execute the kicks, and he became most known for his poorly timed shanks.  But I still have a soft spot for him for giving me that one season of relief after years in the punting desert.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rumors, reporting, Burgundy Blog, and the Jay Gruden hire

Permit me to indulge in a little speechifying over the reaction to Burgundy Blog's role last night in the rumors of Jay Gruden's impending hire.

It is wrong to say the journalists who started reporting the hire Monday morning were slow, or late to the story, or that BB beat them to it. It is absolutely wrong to suggest that reporters should credit or source BB for "getting the scoop."

BB did not engage in reporting, he repeated a rumor he heard from a Twitter follower. An interesting and relatively solid-looking rumor, but a rumor nonetheless. The "source," which should not really be called that, was not a person with direct knowledge of the situation. The fact that it turned out to be true does not make it any less of a rumor.

Journalists have to engage in the process of journalism, meaning multiple sources, assessing said source's credibility, and so forth. That takes more time than a retweet. Any journalists who "reported" an impending hire based on a tweet from a follower, if it turned out to be wrong, would be mocked by us and disciplined by his employers. His professional reputation would be permanently damaged. If a blogger on Twitter relays something he heard and it's wrong, we shrug it off and move on.

This is not to suggest that BB was in any way wrong in what he did. The fact that he is not a journalist is precisely why it was okay for him to share what he learned from some teenager who happens to both follow him on Twitter and know the Gruden family. We on Twitter are all just a bunch of people talking, and passing on a rumor your heard on Twitter is not inherently different from telling your friends at the bar. But it's not news.

It was fairly interesting to watch this process to play out, and a nice illustration of how Twitter and the internet are changing the way we all follow sports (or whatever topic we're interested in). Twitter has blurred the lines between reporter and audience a bit, but it has not erased them. And I think it was a useful reminder of the distinction.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kirk Cousins promotes Robert Griffin III to GM

A week old and, I thought, fairly innocuous quote from Kirk Cousins suddenly got some more play on Twitter this afternoon, at the national level:

This has quite easily played into the narrative of the Redskins as a circus. However, while that narrative is obviously justified, not everything can or should be taken as evidence of it.

As I wrote shortly before the end of the season, although I think it is a little more complicated than this and there is certainly blame to go around, I broadly agree with Silva's perspective on the whole Snyder-Shanahan soap opera:

That said, it can become too easy to interpret everything said by or about this team in the most negative possible light. There a few important points worth remembering when considering the meaning of what Cousins said:

- All NFL franchises have some degree of ownership involvement in major decisions like coaching hires. Dan Snyder's involvement in football operations has been excessive and destructive over his tenure, but that doesn't mean the ideal amount of owner involvement is zero. This is a business with an owner, and the owner cannot divorce himself entirely from decisions that set the course of his franchise for years to come.

- There is, in fact, some room for input from Robert Griffin III. Again, forget this is a football team and think of any other business undergoing a major restructuring. The preferences of your most important employee - how he is most comfortable working and how he thinks he is most likely to succeed - shouldn't drive the decision but absolutely should be taken into account at some level.

And most importantly:

- Since when is the backup quarterback considered an authoritative source on the details of a coaching search?

To wit:

Given this franchise's recent history it is very possible Griffin's star status is giving him too much influence, or that Dan Snyder's personal whims are preventing solid football decisions from being made. I am legitimately concerned that one or both of those things may be the case. However we do not know whether this team restructuring, featuring an empowered (as he tells us, anyway) Bruce Allen, is addressing those historical problems. And Kirk Cousins' offhand comment tells us nothing about it either way.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bruce Allen: the Redskins last, best hope (since the previous last, best hope)

[Apologies as usual for the weird formatting. Blogspot is just f-ing terrible.]

As I wrote a few weeks ago when this whole shitstorm broke, what was so depressing about the revelation that Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder's relationship had soured so badly was the confirmation that the Celebrity Coach model can't work in DC. I'm not a fan of such a model on it's merits, but it seemed like the last option for allowing a football operation to take place without Dan Snyder's interference. With Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan, the egos were just too big to peacefully coexist with the owner. He and Joe Gibbs seemed to get along, but that was mostly a case of hero worship. Hiring a more obscure coach to see if you could uncover hidden talent is a non-starter because without a strong football structure over him an unknown coach will be destroyed by the whims of ownership (Hi Jim!). My preference all along (everyone's preference, really) has been the Strong GM model, but it seemed like that is the one option that Dan Snyder would never accept. It would prevent him from either basking in Celebrity Coach’s reflected glory or micromanaging (and therefore undermining) an up-and-comer.

That's why I watched Bruce Allen’s press conference yesterday with great interest. In it he claimed that he was taking on a full GM role. He also said that he would have full control over personnel matters. It is important to remember, of course, that press conferences don’t mean a damn thing. But let’s take him at his word for the moment and discuss what that would mean.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snyder, Shanahan, and finally reaching the point of despair

Yesterday was a bad day. And I think I can say without exaggeration that this is the most hopeless I have ever felt as a Redskins fan. Yes, I know that's saying a lot. What I usually do in a situation like this is to try to argue that the media is forcing an over-wrought narrative, or that fans are oversimplifying, or that the problems, while severe, are fixable. But I don't have it in me this time. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My response to the "fire Mike Shanahan" crowd

Despite the extreme team nature of football, I don't think there is anyone who disagrees that the Redskins' long term fortunes will be largely dictated by whether or not Robert Griffin III plays up to his potential. There are three big factors working in Griffin's favor:

- Further recovery, both physical and mental, from the injury.

- A full offseason of work (do not underestimate how much a young quarterback can be inhibited by spending his second offseason in the league rehabbing rather than learning his craft).

- Having a better roster put around him due to the expiration of the league's ludicrous salary cap penalty and, after one more year, a return to having first round draft picks to play with.

Those are three sound reasons for optimism. The one thing I would not want to do is throw a new variable into the mix, like a coaching overhaul. Don't you think this kid - and he is a kid, despite last year's silly messiah treatment - has enough going through his head already?

Also, this is not the Steve Spurrier era, where it didn't even resemble a professional organization out there. Nor is it the Jim Zorn situation, where a guy was thrown in over his head and constantly undermined by management. This is an accomplished, respected NFL coach who is currently not getting the results he wants.

If Shanahan is fired, who is the replacement? Remember that Dan Snyder still owns this team and we have a pretty good track record on the guy. Only a coach of the stature of Joe Gibbs or Shanahan can stave off the owner's office from involving itself in football decisions and generally undercutting the coach at every turn. That of course limits the options. What reason do we have to assume that, I dunno, let's say Bill Cowher, has a better chance of improving this team than Mike Shanahan?

In my opinion, a disruption of continuity after this season has much better odds of neutralizing this team's bright spots than of sparking a recovery.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The current state of the Redskins in light of a loss to Denver

The Redskins are now 2-5. This is not good. However it is important to remember how scary the situation looked just a few weeks ago. The Redskins are now consistently competitive.

I know it's the fourth year of the Shanahan regime, and it can be frustrating to be satisfied with "competitive" this far in. But of course they got to reset their clock after the franchise went all in on Griffin III. It's unfortunate that two full years were squandered as a result of the misguided attempt to build around Donovan McNabb, but that's also water under the bridge at this point. For all intents and purposes we are only in the second year of this program, and given that it's centerpiece is coming off of major knee surgery I can't be too disappointed in the progress to date.

I don't like continually being optimistic for next year any more than you do, but if you think of 2013 as year two in a rebuild there several reasons for optimism: