When the Niners hired Chip Kelly about a month ago, I said that the team roster builder(s) needed to focus on defense. Even when Kelly’s offense is running on all 8 cylinders and putting points on the scoreboard, they tend to do it quickly and that means the defense has to be on the field for a lot of minutes in every game. Lots of minutes of defensive exposure tends to equate to the need for a core of really good players on defense plus depth on the defensive side of the ball even before there are any injuries. Neither the presence of “really good players on defense” nor great depth of talent on the defensive side of the ball were apparent last season. In fact, I suspect that is the reason that Mike Vrabel turned down the offer to be the Niners’ defensive coordinator to stay with the Texans as the linebacker coach.
The Niners subsequently hired Jim O’Neil to be the defensive coordinator; O’Neil spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns; how that became a gigantic plus on one’s coaching résumé is surely not clear to me. I do not pretend to know all of the coordinators in the NFL to the point that I could recite their strengths and weaknesses; I do know, however, how to look up stats that give me an indicator of how the units under various coordinators performed on the field on Sundays. Consider:
In 2014, the Browns defense under Jim O’Neil ranked 9th in the NFL in points allowed (21.1 points per game) and 32nd in the NFL in run defense (141.6 yards per game). So, of course, the team built on that bend-but-don’t-break sort of defense and improved the run defense in 2015 – right?
In 2015, the Browns’ defense ranked 30th in the NFL giving up “only” 128.4 yards per game leading to the Browns ranking 27th in the NFL in total defense. Oh, by the way, the Browns scoring defense fell to 29th in the NFL allowing 27.0 points per game in 2015.
I do not want to make too great a leap of logic here, but it certainly seems to me as if the Browns’ defense over the past 2 season has not been “coached-up” in any sort of way that I might label as “superior”. The challenge in San Francisco now is for this guy to take a Niners’ defensive unit that is hardly spectacular and to “coach them up” to the point that they can keep the Niners in games even when that defensive unit is likely to be on the field for 35-37 minutes per game. Good luck to him and to Niners’ fans with that…
I often quote items from Brad Rock in the Deseret News in these rants. In his short biographical sketch on the paper’s website, it proclaims that Professor Rock teaches sports writing at the university level (University of Utah). Way back in the dim recesses of history, I too taught chemistry classes at the university level. [Aside:Before anyone asks; yes, that was after the time when chemists had abandoned the search for the Philosopher’s Stone.] I mention this because I have some experience in crafting final exams for students and I want to present here a final exam that Professor Rock might use in one of his sports writing classes – if he dares to become known as the most mean-spirited troglodyte west of Denver. This would be a take-home exam given to the students on Friday and to be handed in on Monday before noon. It consists of two parts:
Background: There have been multiple dozens of reports and opinion pieces written about Johnny Manziel and his various anti-social behaviors going back to his days at Texas A&M. The student should read a sufficient number of these pieces to feel comfortable with proceeding through this assignment.
Part 1: You work for an NFL team and your main responsibility is to keep the news emanating from that team in a positive channel. Your team has just signed Johnny Manziel with all of his baggage and all of his as yet unrealized potential to a 3-year contract for $15M plus incentives. Reports that alluded to your team even considering such a move generated more than a bit of negative sentiment in the city and among the fanbase. Your owner and GM are about to hold a press conference to announce this deal. Your owner wants to be able to explain in his statement why none of the things that happened in the past with regard to Manziel should cause any concern among the citizenry of the city or the fanbase for the team. He is certain that this is a great decision for the team and remember that his decisions are unappealable.
Write his prepared statement. It should not take longer than 15 minutes for him to deliver.
Part 2: As soon as the owner stops talking and takes a breath, there will be a flood of questions from the floor for him and for the team’s GM. Based on your research of what has gone before and what has happened in your local community as this signing has moved along parallel to the “rumor mill”, prepare the responses for the “Top 25 Questions” that you anticipate will come at your owner and your GM after listening to 15 minutes of your “deathless prose”.
Students of sports writing surely need to learn to write to a deadline. In this case, the deadline is 72 hours away instead of 4 hours away; nonetheless, the deadline is a real one and the consequences of standing “your owner” up in front of a potentially hostile set of questions with inadequate answers is the antithesis of “career enhancing” for the employee. This could be a good exercise for the students. It could also get Professor Rock named as the “Most Sadistic Professor on Campus”.
Finally, let me close with something far less threatening and far more entertaining comment from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:
“A new basketball league is set to launch, next summer, called the Champions League. It will be comprised of retired NBA players.
“Among those reportedly in line to play are Rasheed Wallace, Brandon Roy, Al Harrington and Keyon Dooling.
“Organizers are also reportedly starting a NASCAR 64-and-over circuit, in which drivers spend the whole race with their turn blinkers on.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………