I like how Gerald McCoy encourages rookie wide receiver Chris Goodwin. McCoy talks to Goodwin after Goodwin misses a few passes in practice. He tells Goodwin: “It’s about dealing with setbacks – refocus and push through.” This talk may have been for the camera’s. This talk also may be a product of the environment that Dirk Koetter creates as a head coach. Koetter is constantly encouraging players – this can rub off and help create an environment where players encourage each other.
I will focus on Riley Bullough for this episode. Linebacker’s coach, Mark Duffner, says of Bullough: “He’s everything you’re looking for.” “It’s just that he’s limited movement wise – his movement is going to be an issue.” Duffner adds: “I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to overcome that with him.”
The question here is – have these coaches talked with Bullough about his lack of movement? Yes, there is a adage in football ‘you can’t teach speed.’ However, if you look back at Hard Knocks last year and watch Mike Singletary working with the linebackers, there may be some things that can be done to help Bullough. Singletary showed the linebackers some movement and agility drills. Singletary focused on getting in the right position – both on the field to stop a play and how to be in the right physical position make a tackle. Singletary said he practiced these agility drills daily for years. Singletary was trying to teach these skills to the starters for the Rams. He felt the starters could improve- if they can improve – Bullough can improve.
If the Tampa Bay coaches expressed these concerns with Bullough- showed him some drills – and perhaps encouraged him to show up early and do some drills like Maurice Fleming was doing last episode – it may have made a difference in Bullough’s movement on the field. Many coaches simply expect players to know what they need to do to improve.
This also falls on defense coordinator Mike Smith. As I stated from the last episode – Smith is not a good communicator. An example of this comes during practice. Smith says: “It ain’t that hard.” Then when a player misses an interception, Smith says: “If he don’t know what to do – get him out of there – we don’t need him.” Notice with Smith there never seems to be any instruction.
Compare how Smith handled the above situation to how Koetter handled Jeremy McNichols in the same practice. Koetter is clearly angry – but communicates in a totally different way. McNichols does not know what to do on a play. Koetter yells: “What should you do, if you don’t know what to do?” McNichols – points to another player and says: “Ask him.” Koetter explodes and tells him: “No don’t ask him – ask him”(pointing to the quarterback). Let’s break this down. Although Koetter is very upset- he asks McNichols if he knows what to do? McNichols does not know what to do- then Koetter tells him WHAT TO DO. Smith just yells: “Get him out of there.” Koetter tries to turn these situations into teachable moments.
This is an example that we see in all levels of sports- coaches often don’t really coach – they just look for someone who is better. While that can work at times – from what the coaches say, and what we have seen from Bullough, he could potentially be a valuable player on the team – if he is nurtured and taught along the way. Like many players, Bullough was able to get by in college with his current skill set.
You can see how Smith totally lays all the blame on Bullough – and takes no role at all in Bullough not being able to ‘make a play.’ In the preseason game against the Browns, when the Browns complete a pass Smith says: “How does he not break that up?” Then when the Browns again complete a pass over Bullough, Smith says: “We can see why Riley is not gonna make it – He can’t make a play.” With this statement Smith has absolved himself of any role in the situation. According to Smith – it’s all Bullough’s fault that he didn’t make the play. He does not think – or even consider – that he could have – or should have coached Bullough differently.
It’s quite obvious that Bullough will be cut in the next episode – and probably won’t get much playing time in the next game- because the decision to cut him has already been made. If Bullough was playing for Mike Singletary perhaps the outcome would have been the same – perhaps Bullough does not have the skill set to compete on this level. However, I do not think that all options have been exhausted in coaching Bullough. This is why I have always said over the years that a good coach can make all the difference in the world for an athlete. A good coach would sit down with Bullough, show him film of good linebackers, point out the skill set Bullough needs to work on, give him ways to work on these skills and encourage and help him along the way.
As I have asked in the previous episodes – why isn’t anyone else showing up early to work on skills? Perhaps they have not been told what specific skills they need to work on – and how to work on these skills.
Smith simply says: “We couldn’t stop a marching band.” Great coaches ask themselves: “How could I have done a better job?” I do not see any indication that Smith has ever asked himself this question.
One of the things I really liked about Hard Knocks two years ago with the Houston Texans, was that when Bill O’Brien cut players – he told them what they needed to work on to make it in the NFL. Kotter will probably do this with players – but the position coach, and the coordinator should have been doing this the whole time they have been working with the player.