NFL Draft philosophy and the Combine

Pat

With the NFL Combine finishing this week, can we help but talk about the upcoming draft in April? I do love watching the NFL draft to see how each team goes about it. Each team’s draft philosophy. The oldest and most prominent question here is do you draft the best player available, or the best player at the position you need the most? It’s the ‘what came first the chicken or the egg’ question of the NFL draft and has been discussed before every draft I have ever seen. And for both questions, there is no correct answer. But draft philosophy is where the good organizations make their teams better and bad ones make their teams worse.

Let’s face it. Every draft pick is a crap shoot. Some “can’t miss” picks end up dying on the vine. The great pick never makes it in the NFL and you end up paying them big money for a few years to find that out. Then there are the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th round guys that end up being Joe Montana and Tom Brady and take you to the promise land. But it’s not all luck. If you have a solid plan going into the draft and stick with it, you will be a leg up on many teams right off the bat.

I do believe that every team does have to take a look at their weaknesses and make a list of what positions they need to address those weaknesses. Whether it is offensive line or defensive backfield, quarterback or wide receiver, I don’t think you can win with blaring weaknesses. The time between now and Draft day can be very important. Right now is when you can take a close look at the free agents out there and maybe fill a big need before draft day even gets here.

Then I think whatever obvious needs you still have, you address with the first two rounds and then from there on, you draft the best player available at the time. Punters and kickers, if needed, can be taken in the 3rd through 7th rounds. It’s always fun to see how each team goes about it and how their team does the next year. Just before the draft, I will do a blog on who I think did well in free agency and who blew it. Yet another crap shoot.

Masha

The Combine is always interesting to me. It’s a chance for the media to make decisions about the futures of players based on physical performance standards and mental testing. The Combine is a series of physical tests, like bench press, long jump, 40-yard dash, an intelligence test called the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test, and interviews. But there is a real question, in my mind and many sports writers, whether this whole weekend is an actual predictor of future performance.

As a former human resource professional, I have used the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test as a pre-employment assessment tool. The Wonderlic is useful because of the huge database of results it can draw from. The test has been in existence since 1936, so a massive number of individuals have taken the test and because it’s an “old” test, work performance can be compared to test results. It is a timed test that steps the candidate through problems that become increasingly more difficult. The problems are word problems, geometry, arithmetic, logic, and following directions. The score of 20 is supposed to determine an “average” intelligence level. Tom Landry first used the Wonderlic as a part of a barrage of tests his future players took.

So does the Combine testing work? Does it predict great players for the NFL? Let’s look at some results: Justin Ernst established the record for the bench press in 1999. The bench press is supposed to evaluate strength and stamina. You remember Justin Ernst, don’t you? No? That’s because he went undrafted in 1999 and only made the Saints offseason and practice squad. And some Wonderlic scores? Dan Marino scored a 13 (remember, you’re looking for something around a 20…), and things turned out OK for him, I’d say. Ryan Leaf got a 27 (one point behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees…), and as a bitter San Diego Charger fan, I recall he doesn’t have the same type of career as Manning and Brees.

So the Combine is a nice filler in February. We get to see the invited guys run, jump from a standing start, and smile pretty for the camera. But I don’t think it should determine a position in the draft – I’m one for watching how the guy actually played the game in college… prior past performance is a great indicator for future success, or so they say in the HR biz.

Sports Seasons

Masha

I was raised in a city that experiences four seasons. As a result, my sports life also followed four seasons of play. Each season had a main sport with several others that were in playoffs and tracking toward an end. We had baseball and tennis in the summer (I hadn’t been bitten by the golf bug yet), then football in autumn with a splash of World Series, then in winter before my knees turned to mush, we had skiing, which led into spring training and baseball. It was a great yearly cycle. Those were the years when the Australian Open was around Christmastime and the Super Bowl was in January. Yes, I date myself. The sports desert that I was whinging about in an earlier post was instead full of Utah powder (and that’s never a bad thing.) It was a wonderful transition from sport to sport, and by the time one sport was ending, I was ready to say farewell because I had already moved on to the next sport in the cycle.

So when talk starts up about a new football league to “enhance” the NFL with the games held in spring, my mind starts to churn. Do I want football in the spring? In fact, one of our sportscasters said “Which would you rather do, watch Cuddy (Michael Cuddyer with the Colorado Rockies) play in April or watch football?” Umm, I’d love to watch both, I think, but I’d rather watch Cuddy in April. Sorry, I know that’s not the answer he was fishing for, but it’s just the cycle I grew up with. When the NFL draft is over, I’m ready to watch me some baseball. Well, a lot of baseball.

And I’m good with that. I’m not missing football yet, probably won’t start missing it until June. I’ll listen to the trades, how guys are recovering from their ACL surgery, and whatever odd stupid thing the Browns are doing, but I’ll be full fledged into baseball and golf and tennis and the spring/summer sports cycle I’ve lived with all my life. I’m not looking to add an additional sport in the spring. Not sure anyone else is either…

Pat

Many times when my wife is perhaps checking out cycling or FIFA soccer or America’s Cup Yacht racing, I make the joke that the last thing we need is more sports to watch and follow. But it isn’t really a joke. I think of that week-end in September when we have the first game of the NFL season, the MLB races are heating up, the US Open Tennis is going, and the PGA Fedex cup tournament is going on. It’s a wonderful time for sports and I love that weekend but it’s all but impossible to see every game and event you want to see. We don’t need another sport to follow, really. We do not need spring football. They have tried before and you can’t compete with the history and quality of the NFL. A new league is full of the people who couldn’t make the NFL. So you get an inferior product. It just won’t fly. March madness is around the corner, the only basketball we watch. We just don’t like Pro Basketball, but maybe we will continue to try to warm up to hockey. We enjoyed the Olympic Hockey a lot. So if we’re going to add another sport, we may add hockey rather than spring football.

7 Life Lessons We’ve Learned from Olympic Figure Skating

Watching the Olympics on NBC has been interesting. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch the morning coverage along with the highly-edited evening edition, so I’ve gotten to see some sports and competitors that many haven’t. While watching the women’s figure skating short and long programs, with coverage of many more competitors and countries than the evening edition, I’ve been struck by a couple of things.

1. If you fall, get back up and keep going. So many of the competitors, especially in the early groups, give up after a fall. They continue to skate, but look like limp noodles. They’ve beaten themselves by looking like they don’t want to continue. This is similar to #2, but separate for a reason – perseverance in the face of all odds against you is critical to surviving and succeeding in life. Don’t let the ____ get you down.

2. How you approach a fall is as important as a perfect skate. Continuing on after a failure as if nothing has happened leads to success eventually, sometimes immediately. Pressure is an equalizer – some people are way better at performing under it, some collapse. But we all have to learn to manage our performance under pressure. A perfect performance, conference, meeting, or career rarely happens. Falls happen, how you deal with them makes the difference between a winner and a loser.

3. Your choreography should speak to your music. If your steps are technically correct, but don’t match the music, you’re going to look funny and fail to meet the audience’s expectations. Connecting with the underlying emotion of the music in your actions is essential. If you’re just following the technical steps of your career but it’s not what you really want or should be doing, then you’re not going to be happy and will not do a great job. Find your own personal music and dance like a maniac to it – it may mean a change of career, but you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run. Steve Jobs was right.

4. Chronological age doesn’t matter as much as maturity. Several 15 year olds are competing in the women’s figure skating competition. Yulia Lipnitskaya, the 15-year-old Russian, is clearly emotionally connected to her Schindler’s List program and skates with depth and technical skills. Tara Lipinski won the Olympic medal at 15. But there are other 15 year olds, 16 year olds, and 17 year olds who are not ready yet. They’re the ones you’re not seeing in the edited versions of NBC’s evening presentations. But I’m seeing them in the morning and will see if they’ve matured in South Korea in 4 years. You’re only as old as you think you are. And once you’re past 40, acting your age is overrated.

5. Flexibility is a plus no matter who you are. Stretching into pretzel shapes is a new requirement in the women’s skating programs and most of the young ones are able to do moves that skaters 20 years ago would never have considered. But it does make a point, both types of stretching, physical and creative, results in a program that is interesting to those watching and is personally pleasing to perform.

6. It’s important to balance strength and artistry for the best success. We’ve all known the bulldog manager who claims ‘his way or the highway.’ We’ve also endured the milquetoast managers. I’ve watched skaters who have all the powerful jumps in the world but look uncomfortable in an artistic spin. I’ve also watched the elegant skater who falls on every jump she tries. It’s important to balance both sides for a great experience in any endeavor.

7. Everybody needs a hug sometimes. No, really…

My Personal Desert

 

My view of February...

My view of February…

 

Masha

February is traditionally a huge sports desert for me. I don’t enjoy basketball, I don’t watch hockey on T.V. and it’s early enough in the golf calendar that the tournaments are more about the pro-am than the final round. So usually I stare across the wasteland stretching between the Super Bowl and March Madness thinking I’ll improve my XBox skills or catch up on Netflix shows.

But this year has been different. My oasis this year has been the Sochi Winter Olympics. For those of you who are traditionalists, the XXII Olympic Winter Games. The Olympics are always full of wonderful stories of athletic sacrifice, family support through thick and thin, and comebacks from training accidents/surgeries. Stories like Nate Holland, who has tried and failed to make the podium in three different Olympics, after a tremendously successful X Games career in snowboarding. Nate’s quote after falling in the Snowboard Cross semifinals told the story for a number of athletes: “The Olympic rings, these five rings, they don’t agree with me exactly, apparently,” he said. “Every Olympics has ended in a fall and I felt great in all of them. They give me a lot of drive, a lot of joy while I’m here, but also a lot of heartbreak at the end of the race.” Oh, Nate.

But this year’s Olympics have added an additional layer of exciting stories. Stray dogs wandering the city and the Olympic venues; heartwarming alert – US Hockey player, David Backes’ organization in St. Louis is rescuing as many of the strays as they can and transporting them to the US for adoption. Twitter photos of brown water, broken doors, stuck elevators, and complaints about the Olympic village food. Warm temperatures and rain during winter sports. Vladimir Putin glaring during visits to other country houses and at every event he’s attended. And of course the infamous snowflake that stayed an ugly snowflake instead of maturing into a beautiful Olympic ring (sorry Hans…).

Oh, I know, there are always negative stories about the city, the food, the venues; it’s a part of the Olympics. In fact, if I went by just the reporting I’ve seen on T.V. instead of the additional social media layers of Twitter and Facebook, then I wouldn’t know about any of these miscues, except the dysfuntional snowflake. I would see the beauty of Russia, the fabulous new venues on the Black Sea, and two weeks full of good natured, competitive sports with exciting split-100’s-of-a-second endings. So I’m choosing to put on my rose-colored glasses (red for Russia) and looking at the XXII Olympic Winter Games as a huge success. Because, after all, it’s rescued me from a dry, hot desert bereft of sports.

Pat

I agree this time of year is bad for sports watching for us.  The winter olympics does help.  The sports are diverse enough to find something compelling enough to enjoy.  But I must say that I find it totally appalling that I am sitting here with my wife watching and discussing the strategies of curling.  That’s hard up!

Hope Springs Eternal

Masha

Every year at this time I have the same internal debate. I don’t want to be a Cub fan. No, I just can’t take it anymore. I hate the off season drama about the roof-top seats. I hate the team stats. I hate our overall record in the World Series. I want to be proud of my team’s accomplishments in September. I want to be a fan of a winning organization; a team that makes good solid trade decisions, one that has a history of winning (or at least winning once every 100 years or so…), one that has an established farm system. Yes, that’s it. I’m going to change my allegiance to a team that’s closer to where I live now. One that wins every once in a while. One that doesn’t choke in the clutch. I’ve had it with the struggles, the jokes, the disappointment. I’m done. Yup, happens every February, around the time that the catchers and pitchers are reporting and Pat is making his standard joke about everyone having a chance at the pennant this year. So far in my life, I’ve attempted to become a fan of the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Colorado Rockies; all dependent on which team was closest to where I was living at the time.

And yet, after all the debate, on Opening Day, I’m there in my Ryne Sandberg jersey, wishing I had a dog and an Old Style. I cheer for the Cubs. I can’t deny it. I want to change, really I do. But then the 8-year old takes over during the first game and old allegiances will not be denied, despite the ongoing pain of living with a vocal St. Louis Cardinal fan. I’m sure you’ll hear more about that…

So hope springs eternal. We have an exceptional management team now (c’mon Teddy…), a new manager, an owner that is willing to spend money, and everyone has a chance at the pennant now, right?

Pat

My first inclination was to give my wife a hard time about the Cubs. But I just can’t do it on the eve of Valentine’s day. Plus, I know I am lucky to have been raised in St. Louis. In my first MLB game in 1960, Stan Musial hit a tenth inning walk off home run. I was a Cardinal fan for life and for over fifty years they have been a very sound organization. But I was also raised with the St. Louis Football Cardinals. That hasn’t been that wonderful. The Seventies were not bad. They have had some good years, but all and all there were many years where it seemed they did everything wrong. Like Masha, I toyed with changing teams, like the Broncos since we live in Denver. But we are both loyal fans and we just can’t do it. We are stuck with our teams and we will be rewarded for it. The Arizona Caardinals are looking pretty strong and for sticking with the Cubs, Masha will one day get her World Series championship.  That’s just how being a sports fan works.

The Olympics and corruption? Wha…?

Masha

While watching the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, I was confused by the athletes who marched behind the Olympic flag and were competing as “independent” athletes. I wasn’t aware of the ban of the Indian Olympic Association due to corruption, and hence the reason the Indian athletes were marching as independent athletes, until today when the Indian Olympic Association was reinstated. They were the first Association to be reinstated while the Olympics were taking place and they were reinstated because they held elections on Sunday to elect new officials.

Apparently this ban on the Indians has been in place since December 2012, when the officials who were being investigated for corruption were elected to serve as Secretary and Secretary-General of their national association. Those readers who live in the US, take a moment right now to thank God or whoever you pray to that you live where “innocent until proven guilty” exists. So the IOC banned the Indian nation from competing under their country’s flag until they elected new officials.

I’m not really sure what happened between December 2012 and February 2014, but the Indian Olympic Association finally got onto the task of responding to this ban and elected new officials just in time for Shiva Keshavan, the Indian luger (the crazy guy who trains on Himalayan roads – I’ve inserted the YouTube of his training runs that will make your hair stand on end) to march behind his country’s flag for the Closing Ceremonies. 

Now, being from Salt Lake City, and remembering the corruption surrounding the original organizers for those games (remember the Mormon guy who had a huge number of visits to a whore house as “Olympic marketing” and “Officials entertainment”?), and thinking back on how that was handled, the idea that corruption may be rampant throughout the IOC pops back into the forefront of my mind. There have been ongoing allegations about bribery during the site selection process, Committee heads who expect “presents” during the games, and other, shadier gifts (see Salt Lake above). I’m guessing the IOC debate about the Indian officials may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Too bad not everyone shares the Olympic dream and follows the Olympic Creed:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

In my world “fighting well” doesn’t involve corruption of any sort… just saying.

Olympic Glory and… Curling

Masha

I love the Olympics. Winter or Summer, I find the Olympic Games and their athletes incredibly compelling. The clear majority of these individuals are there solely to compete – they’re not going to come away with a medal, no one is seeking their autographs, they have no agents, and they are not raking millions in with endorsements. They are getting up at outrageously early hours for training (when I am drooling on my pillow, happy in my ignorance of their sacrifice), working at low-paying jobs that offer flexible schedules (unless they have managed to find an athlete-friendly employer like Home Depot), spending hours in gyms and, in the case of the Winter Olympics, cold environments to practice their particular sport.

I have one favorite sport that seems to be the butt of many jokes. Curling. Yes, there, I said it. I like curling. I had never seen curling until 2002, when I had surgery several days before the start of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Now being from Salt Lake City, I was excited to watch these particular Games, and I soon found that watching the Olympics on pain medication lends an interesting perspective to the experience. Yes, I first watched curling bombed out of my head (insert your own favorite druggie joke here… I’ll wait). And I loved it. There is a certain strategy to flinging a 40 pound piece of granite down a sheet of ice from a extremely low position to see who can get closest to a mark under the ice. Shuffleboard on ice, Icy Bocce ball, Chess on ice, Ice Bowling, I’ve heard all of these names when it comes to try to describe curling. And I think it’s compelling because it has aspects of all these games.

Give it a try – watch 30 minutes of curling after you’ve read the wiki on curling. Apart from the crazy pants that the athletes have as uniforms, you’ll soon see that it’s an athletic pursuit (I can’t just stand well on ice, much less throw anything down the ice and remain standing), the flexibility to bend down into the position to throw the rock and the rapid motion involved in the brooming (it melts the ice just enough to float the rock further down the ice – how cool is that?) makes my arms hurt just watching. It’s fun to watch, it’s strategic, and it moves quickly. So watch, on or off pain meds, it’s an intriguing event.

Canadian Curling team in Torino, 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

Canadian Curling team in Torino, 2006 Winter Olympic Games.

Pat

I have always felt myself extremely lucky that my wife is as big of a sports fan as I am. We have baseball season tickets, the MLB and NFL packages on Direct TV, and watch most of the Golf and Tennis tournaments that are on TV. We enjoy all these sports together and I love that! I also agree that the Olympics are full of athletes who are dedicated to being the best at their sport no matter what the financial gain. But curling. I’ve had more fun watching paint dry. The coverage starts at 1:00 pm today and I am leaving at 1:00 to play tennis and should get back about 30 minutes after the coverage ends. Ever heard anybody say, ‘Hey, want to go curling today?’

John Elway, after Superbowl XLVIII

“I want to say one thing. I kind of get the sense that these questions are, ‘How the hell are we going to overcome this?’ Right?… The farther you get away from this, the less you concentrate on that one game, and the more you look at the full season, and really what we did as a football team and really as an organization. And I’m very proud of that….”

February 3, 2014 press conference, after the Denver Broncos 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks