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.