Hard Knocks 2017 Tampa Bay Buc’s 5th & final episode

A couple things come to mind when watching this final episode of Hard Knocks for 2017. First of all, I want to go back to something I have mentioned many times this series – and in past years. How come players are not showing up for extra work?

A young athlete will often get lessons to help them improve their skills. Students will go tutors for extra help with their schoolwork. There are some obvious examples of players on the Buc’s who need extra help. Is this help offered? Do the players feel comfortable asking for extra help? Clearly it is expected they know what they need to do. However, at most jobs, someone helps train a new employee. I had a client who said that at their company if they hire someone and it does not work out, they bring in the manager and ask why things didn’t work out? They do not bring in the employee, though they may do an exit interview, but they question the manager. At this company they point out to the manager that they were responsible for hiring this employee – and then ask – where did things go wrong? Why weren’t they able to get things to work for this employee? What could they have done better as a manager to make things work?

With the Buc’s clearly quarterback Sefo Liufau does not understand the defensive formations he is facing. He does not know what plays to call. Jameis Winston tries to encourage him to study the defensive fronts and the pass protection the defense is showing. Even when he is cut, head coach Dirk Koetter tells him: “You scare the hell out of me every day in practice – you don’t know half the stuff you are doing, but you get in a game and you seem to be able to put it all together.” Koetter adds: “My advice is to take it faster from the meeting room to the practice field.” Could the Buc’s have had someone meet with him before or after practice to help him learn the things he needs to learn – so he can take it from the meeting room to the practice field faster? What was their role in this situation?

The same is true with the Jeremy McNichols situation. A few weeks ago, running backs coach Tim Spencer, was telling McNichols how important it was for him to study and learn the playbook. Last week McNichols was missing his assignments. He seemed confused and did not now what he was suppose to be doing in practice and in the game. Where was his extra help? When telling McNichols he did not make the 53 man roster, Dirk Koetter says: “You are good enough to play in the NFL, but something is not clicking right now – what do you think that is?” McNichols says: “It’s grasping the playbook, knowing the NFL defenses.” McNichols was a fifth round draft pick – now that pick was totally wasted. McNichols decided to sign with San Francisco’s practice squad instead of the Buc’s.

The Buc’s really need to look at this situation. Could they have been able to tell before they drafted McNichols that he was not capable of learning the playbook quickly? Were there any indications that he was overly emotionally sensitive? He seemed upset that they yelled at him and then he decided to go to another team. I feel there is something that the Buc’s could have done differently in this situation. Could they have hired a tutor? Perhaps a retired running back could have come in and worked one on one with McNichols and helped him learn the things he needed to learn. Tom Brady was drafted in the 6th round, the 199th pick. McNichols was drafted in the fifth round, the 162nd pick. There is a lesson that needs to be learned here.

Speaking of extra help. When Koetter is telling Riley Bullough that he did not make the 53 man roster he tells Bullough that he needs to get better playing the pass. Once again, this is great information, but these players have been on the team for about four months. Are their drills Bullough could have been doing? Could someone have been working with him individually to help him with his pass protection? Does Koetter go to the position coach and the coordinator and ask them why a particular player has not learned what they need to learn?

I don’t want to make this seem like this is a Tampa Bay Buc’s problem. This is something we see each year on Hard Knocks. Last year it was Jared Geoff who was not learning the system fast enough. Coaching is teaching. Every good coach should be a good teacher. A coach should ask why a player has not learned what they need to learn. I really like how Koetter asks players: “What are your thoughts?” Or, “What is not working?” Perhaps the position coaches and coordinators need to be asked the same questions.

As far as the Bobo Wilson situation. When the coaches told everyone to stick around and Bobo went to Miami, I feel the Buc’s should have let him go. Koetter told Donte’ Dye that Bobo was not as good as Dye. Dye had been hurt and missed some practice. Bobo did well in the final preseason game against the Redskins. Koetter is clearly concerned with Bobo’s attitude. Each week, Bobo showed zero insight into his role in any situation – nothing was ever his fault. I do not think Bobo will make it through the season with the Buc’s. He will do something, on or off the field, that will lead to his departure. As I watched the Bobo situation unfold, I thought of the saying: “If you let someone borrow $20 and you never see them again – it was probably worth it.” The Buc’s should have let Bobo go, signed Dye, or brought in someone else, and moved forward.

Final thoughts: I was really impressed this whole series with Dirk Koetter. I would say pretty much all the coaches, except defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, did a really good job at communicating and teaching. I think this team will win between nine and eleven games. They will probably make the playoff’s and may even win the first game they play in the playoff’s. Of course, injuries to key players will play a role here. As I write this, today 9/6/17, it was announced that their first game against the Dolphins will now be played in week 11 due to hurricane Irma. The lack of having a week off could impact the Buc’s. Overall, Koetter has created a really great atmosphere for both the players and coaches – this will pay off.

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Hard Knocks 2017 Tampa Bay Buc’s Week 4

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.

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Hard Knocks 2017 Tampa Bay Buc’s Week 3

This episode spends a bit of time on undrafted free agent Maurice Fleming. It is great to see Fleming showing up early and doing some drills by himself. Once again, I wonder why he is alone. All the guys who will be cut over the next two weeks could be showing up early and working on something. Fleming has clearly impressed the coaches with both his play and his work ethic.

Head coach Dirk Koetter once again is great in this episode. When he feels that the players are not putting in a good effort into practice, he focuses on their lack of effort – he does not attack them personally. Kotter says: “It’s my experience if you take care of the little things, the big things get a lot easier.” “We did not do a good job of taking care of the little things in the last few days – we didn’t – don’t kid yourself.” “As soon as we do that – things will look up for us.” Stop and compare these comments to what we have seen in Hard Knocks in the past years. We have seen coaches yelling, screaming, bullying, and belittling players. Koetter focuses on their behavior – there are no personal attacks. He may yell at times – but when he yells – it’s about behavior – it’s not personal.

I have noticed over these first three episodes that what Jameis Winston says – and how he acts – do not match. This is a concern. Last week, I pointed out that he blamed the lineman for an injury to backup quarterback Ryan Griffin. This week he says to the offense: “The main thing is we gotta do is play fast – if we mess up don’t be looking & looking to blame someone – finish, finish & say what you called.” Then right away he says to running back Peyton Barber: “Don’t go in that hole on that soft shit no more.” When Barber tries to respond, Winston cuts him off and says: “No, No, listen to me, bring the noise.” Winston is blaming Barber for a lack of effort. This could be seen as Winston trying to encourage the players and set a high standard, but this is another example of him not doing what he says they all should do – he tells everyone not to point fingers – then he points his finger at Barber. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the season.

Koetter is clearly upset after a practice with Jacksonville. He says: “That was pathetic, that was slow motion, not ready to play at all.” Then to the special team players: “Special teams, we would have had at least three punts blocked today.” Then to everyone: “It’s not the way you want to start men.” “It’s not at all what we talked about last night.” “I’d suggest when you are in the locker room, you quit f***ing around and get in your playbooks – look at the script.”

Koetter is pointing out what I mean when only a couple guys are showing up early for practice. Players could be studying the playbook, walking through plays, or going over formations in small groups, they could be doing drills – like Fleming – lifting weights, stretching – something. This is especially true for players looking to make the roster or get more playing time.

Three years ago when Hard Knocks covered the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith was the head coach of the Falcons. I did not think Smith was good at communicating then, and I see no evidence that he has improved at all. During a practice with Jacksonville we hear Smith yelling at Maurice Fleming. When the receiver Fleming is covering makes a catch we hear Smith scream: “Hey, are we gonna cover anybody?” Then again, the same receiver makes a catch, Smith yells: “Stay on top, what do you think they’re gonna do?” Notice the intensity in Smith’s voice. Compare Smith to Koetter when Koetter yells at Kwon Alexander for holding in practice. Koetter yells about the hold, Smith yells about the player – there is a huge difference between these two things.
Also notice that Smith does not tell Fleming what TO DO – other than “stay on top.” Smith kind of laughs about Fleming with Brent Grimes, who is injured. When Smith is talking with Grimes about Fleming, he says: “He doesn’t understand the situation – the gravity of it.” Smith is missing out on what is called a “teachable moment.” Smith, or secondary coach Jon Hoke, could have gone over to Fleming and calmly expressed their disappointment, and then told Fleming what he needed to do. They could have made sure that Fleming understood what he did wrong, how to correct it, and what to do next time. Then, they could have expressed their confidence in Fleming. By doing this, Fleming would improve and play with more confidence. The way Smith yells, players play more timid and try to not make mistakes.

This is a very revealing situation – it is one of those ‘heat of the moment’ situations that I often talk about. Things said in the heat of the moment have a lasting impact. Many times I come across people who have deep emotional scars from things their parents said to them in a heat of the moment situation.

Smith displayed this same type of behavior in Hard Knocks three years ago. He was fired after that season. In psychology we often talk about “personal growth.” Personal growth is a person’s ability to self reflect and make changes in their lives. In addiction treatment we often ask people: “What was your role in the situation?” We do this because addicts often blame others for their mistakes. It is when someone is able to recognize their role in a situation, what they could have done differently, is able to take ownership of their role in the situation and make changes, that personal growth takes place. In this situation Smith can easily blame Fleming. He can say that Fleming does not know what to do – so it is Flemings fault. He neglects to look at his role in this situation as a coach. Could it be that Fleming does not know what to do, the gravity of the situation, because he has not been coached properly? Both the coach and the player have a role in the learning process. A good coach, like Koetter, is a good communicator, instructor, and creates an environment where players learn and play better.

I would be interested to hear Smith comment on why he got fired from the Falcons. I do not think he understands his role in these situations. Here is a guy who was a former NFL head coach, a current co-ordinator, with very little personal awareness. He may make a good assistant coach, but unless he makes changes in how he communicates and relates to players, he will not make a successful head coach in the long run.

One of the things that I really liked about Hard Knocks last season with the Rams, was the focus on Mike Singletary. Singletary seemed to have grown personally and made changes since he was fired as the head coach of the 49ers. Some people go through life with little or no personal awareness and growth. It would be nice to hear the response both from Singletary and Smith to the question: “What would do differently if you ever had the chance to be a head coach again?”

This difference in communication between Smith and Kotter is obvious in the preseason game against Jacksonville. Winston makes a throw he should not have made – the result is an interception. Kotter handles this in a totally different way than Smith. Koetter, who is clearly upset, says to Winston: “Why do you do that?” “You’re playing a great game, then your greed takes over – that’s stupid.” “You’re a much better player than that – that’s guaranteed points.” Kotter makes an attempt to turn this into a ‘teachable moment.’

Now, I want to comment on Maurice Fleming. As an undrafted free agent, Fleming is clearly playing for a spot on the roster. When Fleming gets in the game against Jacksonville, Fleming makes a tackle and injures his knee. He instantly knows that he is injured and says, “My knee blew out – it got caught underneath and gave out.”

Fleming was visibly limping and kept playing – he should have come out of the game right away. The mind set for athletes is often to keep playing and push through pain – this is often a huge mistake. At this instant, Fleming should have thought about what was best for himself. Coming out of the game at this point would have been best for both him and the team. One of the coaches should have sent in a substitute for him. Like the fighter he is, Fleming stayed in the game. By staying in the game, he easily could have caused more severe damage to his knee. There are a few times where it might be good to play through pain – this is clearly not one of those situations.

Koetter informs Fleming the next day that the team will let him go due to his knee injury. This is why, at the instant of his injury, Fleming should have been focused on his future in football – not his future with the Buc’s. It is at this point that the harsh realities of the business side of football come to light. Fleming should have this same mind set. He did not do himself any good by staying in the game.

Additional thoughts: Notice that it is the third episode and we have not heard Kotter, or any of the coaches mention roster cuts. I can’t recall any other time on Hard Knocks that roster cuts were not mentioned by the third episode. Koetter is sticking to what he said to the press in the first episode: “We have to focus on getting better.”

With the injury to Fleming we see a clear example of why getting a good education is important. This injury does not seem severe – but it could have ended Fleming’s career.

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Hard Knocks 2017; Tampa Bay Buc’s Week 2

There really was not much communication covered this episode. There are two examples I will cover.

The first example is during the pre season game. After back-up quarterback Ryan Griffin gets hurt, Jameis Winston walks over to two of the offensive lineman sitting on the bench and says: “I’m happy ya’ll are having fun, but Ryan just hurt his shoulder, so keep having fun.” Clearly he is stating that it was their fault that Griffin was hurt. This is concerning. The reason this is concerning is that if Winston is pointing fingers at his offensive lineman when the quarterback is hurt – does he look at himself the same way when he makes mistakes? Would he like to have the lineman come up to him after a interception or a bad throw and blame him? Will he blame the lineman if the offense is not moving the ball during the season? This is the kind of thing that may not really come up till a game – or a season is on the line. In these high pressure situations if it is common practice to blame others – there will be problems. This takes away from team cohesion. A team needs to be united – his statements divide the team and get players to try to avoid making mistakes. These statements really impact team unity – it fosters an environment where players try not to make mistakes. There is a big difference between playing “not to make a mistake,” and playing to win.

What it the lineman’s fault that Griffin got hurt? If it was – or was not- I see it as the coaches responsibility to talk with the lineman and figure out what went wrong – and how to fix it. Winston needs to trust that the coaches will deal with the issue.

The second example from this episode shows how effective head coach Dirk Koetter is in communicating – something I stated in the first episode. When telling kicker Roberto Aguayo he was being released from the team, Koetter really shines. Koetter says to Aguayo: “This is not about you the man. This is about a guy that is just not consistent as a kicker right now. Keep your head up and get back to basics.”

Good communication is able to separate the person from their behavior. If a kid fails a test there is a huge difference between the parent saying “You’re dumb,” and “You’re a good, kid – you didn’t study, that’s why you failed the test. You’re a smart kid, but you behavior needs to change.” It is in these “heat of the moment” situations that coaches, parents, friends, people in relationships can say very damaging things. Koetter simply tells Aguayo “It’s a consistency issue.” He easily could have said: “I don’t think you have what it takes to succeed in this league.”

What I really like about this interaction is it shows how Koetter seems to treat all the players. Most likely, he treats the others coaches – and probably everyone – in this manner. Koetter is respectful. When a person is respectful it makes a huge difference. We have all seen some coach get fired mid-season and then the team improves dramatically. Of course, it’s the same team- but often their effort changes dramatically when they are being treated respectfully.

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Hard Knocks 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers


What I do in this blog is look at the communication between the coaches and players. I look what is being said and how it is being said. I also look at what is NOT being said. When watching football games the plays will often be shown again in slow motion and the analyst will break down what went right or wrong on a specific play. I attempt to do the same thing here. I focus more on the coaches and how they are coaching, teaching and instructing. I look at how the coaches regard the players and the psychological environment that the coaches are creating.

Other than Hard Knocks, I do not follow professional football at all. Thus,I do not approach this from a football point of view. I approach this from a psychological point of view. I can look at the communication between a parent and child or between couples and tell a lot about the dynamics of the relationship from the communication.

Prior to watching this episode of Hard Knocks, I had only heard of four of the players and one of the coaches. And the only reason I had heard of defensive coordinatior, Mike Smith, is because he was head coach of the Falcons three years ago when Hard Knocks covered the Falcons.

So here goes: Last year after the first episode of Hard Knocks with the Rams, I commented that something was clearly wrong with the Rams. I said that the Rams would have a losing season and the coach would be fired – he was.

From this episode, I can tell there is a lot going on that is really good with the Buc’s. It has been ten years since Tampa Bay has made the playoff’s. I will say right now that baring major injuries to their stars, I think the Buc’s will make the playoff’s. I say this with no knowledge of their schedule or what their competition is like in their division. This statement is based on the psychological environment that I see the coaches creating.

What are the things that stood out for me in this episode? Head Coach Dirk Koetter is a very good communicator. At the beginning of this episode he says: “It’s way too early to be talking about the playoff’s.” “It’s about getting better every day – plain and simple.” Often in the first episode of Hard Knocks we hear coaches talking about the playoff’s or even the Super Bowl. Koetter keeps the focus on improving and doing the things necessary for the team to improve.

When talking with Jameis Winston, Koetter does not expect Winston to know things that he does not know. He does not scold him for not knowing the down and distance during practice, but simply says, “I can do a better job helping you with that.” Koetter tells Winston that he does not want Winston to try to do too much during the games. When Winston asks: “What is doing too much?” Koetter says “That’s a good question.” Then he clearly explains: “You have always been a risk taker, cut the risks a bit and don’t lose the game for us.” Koetter emphasizes that Winston needs to be patient and allow the other players to do their jobs. Koetter is very specific in what he wants. Koetter is clearly on top of and involved with all aspects of the team.

Notice all the positive comments by the coaches. Todd Monken, Offensive Coordinator, says to Mike Evans during a film session: “This is awesome, Mike you do a good job when he goes to jump the route, winner, winner, winner.” He points out what the players do RIGHT because this is what he wants to happen again and again. Many coaches expect the right thing to happen so they don’t comment on what went right -they point out what when WRONG.

I really liked seeing coach Jay Hayes work with Evan Panfil. Panifl was the first player cut by the Bucs. Most likely, everyone knew he was getting cut, yet Hayes took the time to try to teach Panfil the proper rushing technique. He asked Panifl: “What should you do with your hips?” Panfil thought he should turn his hips inside. Hayes simply said: “No, keep your hips outside.” He then walked Panfil through the proper movement. Hayes is teaching, not yelling or shaming Panfil. Hayes did not say: “You did it wrong.” “You’re gonna get cut.” “Be tough.” He simply showed Panifl the proper technique. It is great that Hayes is spending this much time with the first person to be cut. He easily could have ignored Panifl. This really shows a lot about Hayes.

Nate Kaczor, special teams coordinator does a great job with his construction metaphor. He said that much like a construction project, everyone has a role. In other years of Hard Knocks many coaches are threatening that players will be cut if the don’t preform. I do not recall such a threat this whole episode.

Running backs coach Tim Spencer gives constructive, positive feedback, to fifth round draft pick Jeremy McNichols. Spencer says: “You need to keep studying so you can process things faster – so in your off time you need to get into that (play)book.” In other years we saw coaches threaten the player that if they don’t learn the plays they will be cut. Even “Coach” Snoop Dog gives McNichols good advice: “Become a gym rat where your mind outpaces your physical ability.” And: “He who knows the most plays the most.”

Throughout the episode Koetter’s communication shines. He points out that third string, undrafted rookie linebacker, Riley Bullough is a leader on the field. Koetter knows that on the one hand Bullough may be cut from the team, and on the other hand, Bullough is perhaps an injury or two away from seeing some playing time. Koetter knows he needs to help Bullough develop. He is pointing out to other players what a good leader looks like. This is a common mistake coaches at all levels make. Instead of focusing on a player like Bullough, they focus on their star players. They do not do a good enough job of developing other players. When these lesser players are not able to perform the coaches blame the players – when in fact they could have done a much better job of actually coaching, nurturing and developing the players.

During practice, I often heard coaches, saying things like: “Good job,” “Nice play,” “Great touch.” There was a positive vibe throughout this episode.

The key point in this episode was the communication between quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian and Jameis Winston. Bajakian says: “Set your feet to the flat – if it’s there, put it on him early.” “Let’s get the ball out of our hands the quickest way possible.” He is pointing out what he wants Winston to do. Bajakian is reinforcing what Koetter said about Winston needing to be patient and not losing the game. When Winston makes another of two quick interceptions, Bajakian, clearly upset, asks” “Did you see the post out there?” “What was the play?” “What did we say we were gonna do against doubles?” Then says, “That’s bullshit.” Here Winston is not doing what he knows he should do and what Winston and Koetter talked about in the beginning of the episode: to try to be patient and no lose games. Bajakian was clearly upset with the two quick interceptions – as he should be. He did not shame or put down Winston, but expressed his frustration. His anger was directed toward Winston’s behavior – not Winston the person. He knows for the team to succeed Winston must learn to make better reads and throw smarter passes. Bajakian seems quite intense – in a good way. I look forward to seeing more of him.

Two years ago when Hard Knocks was covering the Houston Texans, I asked: “Why was J.J. Watt the only one who stayed after practice to work on drills?” And now: Why was Jameis Winston the only one who what there at 6:00 AM doing extra work. Where were all the players who will be cut over the next few weeks?

The overall take away from this episode is the way the coaches treat, regard and communicate with the players. The coaches are creating a healthy, positive environment.

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Hard Knocks Blog 2016; L.A. Rams – final episode

The final episode of Hard Knocks for 2016 provided a clearer example of some of the flaws in the Rams that I have talked about since the series started.

There are several major concerns with the Lamarcus Joyner situation. The show starts with Joyner not showing up at practice for the walk through. I mentioned my concerns about Joyner’s emotional stability last week. However, this incident shows some of the deeper issues with the Rams coaching staff.

Joyner approaches coach Jeff Fisher and says: “I don’t know where my mind is … I’m done.” Fisher then asks Joyner to talk after practice. Fisher does a fantastic job in talking with Joyner. He tells Joyner: “The nickel position is the hardest position to play and you are the best I’ve had here in years – it’s a starting position.” He then talks about how he would like to help Joyner get his passion for the game back. This is a wonderful exchange on Fisher’s part, however the situation should have never gotten this far.

The question here is, where was Dennard Wilson, defensive backs coach in all this? Where was Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator in all of this? Think about this like a workplace situation. Joyner has a manager – Dennard Wilson. Wilson has a manager – Gregg Williams. Fisher is the “big boss.” Had Wilson and Williams been doing their jobs – Joyner would not have had to go to Fisher for reassurance. This is much like Fisher having to comment again and again that Todd Gurley is not to be hit in practice – this shows that the other coaches are not doing their jobs.

After talking with Fisher, Joyner says: “Now that I understand the bigger picture, hearing it from you, I’m gonna walk out of here with a clear conscience, no matter what happens.” How come Wilson and Williams were not giving Joyner this feedback? Why did he need to hear it from Fisher? There is something very wrong with this picture. Yes, Joyner has a hard time controlling his emotions on and off the field, but both Wilson and Williams should have done a better job reassuring him in his ability to play and his position on the team.

All Fisher should ever have to say to Joyner is when he made the comment during practice, “Nice job #20.” He said this when Joyner broke up a pass in practice. Fisher should not have to micromanage all the players.

Mike Singletary is once again great in this episode. He tells Brandon Chubb: “You’re too high, you’re go no power, you have to get down.” “Right now you look stiff running down the field, look up and somebody’s going to off you.” “You’re physical but you gotta run.” “You gotta get low so you can explode, you’re not transferring.” Once again Singletary is focusing on mechanics and technique. Compare this to Mike Waufel with Ethan Westbrooks. Waufel says “Do you want to play at this level?” “If you don’t get your eyes up – you’re gonna play for someone else.” Singletary did not threaten, bully or intimidate any player during this series.

Paul McRoberts made a common mistake in the final preseason game. When he muffed the catch of a punt he was trying to do too much. This is a common mistake many athletes make. It is important that athletes “stay within themselves.” McRoberts felt like he had do something extra. This is completely understandable, but resulted in a costly turnover.

Parting thoughts; Fisher handles the cuts very well.

Throughout the series when Case Keenam was shown outside of practice he was often working with his wife going over the plays. When Jared Goff was shown he was on his phone.

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Hard Knocks Blog; L.A. Rams; Week 4

The fourth episode of Hard Knocks starts with a review of the preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Working with the offense, Rob Boras, points out some good plays and shows examples of how what they have been working on in practice showed up in the game.

The scene then shifts to Gregg Williams talking to/at the defense. Pointing to a Chiefs running back in the game film, Williams yells, “He got five yards on a nine man front – what game are we playing, checkers, chess, putt-putt golf?” Notice he does not say WHY they got five yards – or WHAT they – or an individual player could have done to make the stop on the play. Williams then concludes “It’s simple – it’s effort.” Notice this comment takes all the responsibility off the coaches and puts it all on the players. Perhaps it is true this was due to effort – if that is the case then he should point out who the responsible players are on this play for not putting forth the effort. He should not blame the whole group.

These are the kind of statements that take a huge emotional toll on a team over the course of the season. The players who did put forth the effort feel like they are getting put down when they tried hard. Perhaps they even beat their man – it is unlikely that all nine players did not put forth the effort on the play. Eventually, the players will develop an attitude of “Why bother, we will get yelled at anyway.” Also, the statement about the lack of effort reminds me of an old coaching saying. “If they perform great – it’s due to great coaching – if they don’t – it’s from lack of talent, or no effort.” This attitude absolves the coach of any wrongdoing. Could it be possible that the reason the Chiefs got five yards on that play was because the coach did not have the players in the right formation? Perhaps not – but it is still important to point out exactly who did not make the play. The coaches need to show and tell them exactly what they could have done differently so it does not happen again.

Along these lines Williams then stops the game film and points to a receiver who is wide open (the ball was not thrown to this receiver) and says, “If he catches the ball right there – you, me and everyone in this room is fired.” Once again – he does not comment on how the defense should have played differently on that play. Should someone have jammed the receiver at the line of scrimmage? Did someone miss or confuse their coverage? It is important that each player – and coach know exactly what went wrong and how to fix it. Although he seems to be speaking to one particular player, the message seems to be “don’t let that happen again.” The message needs to be; “this is what went wrong – and here is how to avoid that from happening again.”

Fights during preseason practice may happen from time to time. The fight shown on this episode seemed like an example of an undisciplined and unfocused team.

Lamarcus Joyner is a prime example of a player with a lack of discipline. Joyner was ejected from the game against the Chiefs for fighting. He walks away from a drill in practice because he is not getting reps with the first team. He walks away from the coaches when they try to talk with him. At some point his attitude and behavior will be a huge problem. His actions could change the outcome of a game. He was able to control himself in the preseason game against Denver. However, over the course of a season he is likely to lose control of his temper and himself. It is these “heat of the moment” situations that are so important in sports. How will he act with a receiver who verbally taunts him? He will most likely react when his buttons are pushed, if he feels disrespected or he is beaten consistently by a player. He will be unable to control himself and feel justified in fighting back no matter what the cost to the team. This is an individual who puts his own needs in front of the teams.

Mike Singletary was not shown this episode at all. It was noteworthy that Alec Ogletree had a great game against Denver. He seemed like he took the lessons Singletary taught him in the last episode and was able to implement them very well.

Ian Seau did not have a good game. Part of this is due to his inexperience, part due to coaching. Seau probably could get away with being out of position when he was in college playing for Nevada. Has he been told, shown and does he know exactly what he should be doing each play?

Notice after the loss to Denver, Jeff Fisher says, “We get no touchdowns, I don’t know if we converted a third down in the second half offensively.” “That defines the game – that’s why you lost the game.” Semantics are very important. Contrast the above statement with “That defines the game – that’s why WE lost the game.” “You lost,” means the coaches did nothing wrong. Often this may just be a sound bite, but many coaches will say “Our players need to play better and I/we need to coach better.” Fisher puts the loss on the players – and the players alone – “you lost.” After the win against Dallas in the first preseason game, Fisher says: “We rallied, we found a way to win the game.” Against Dallas “We won,” against Denver, “You lost.”

Over the course of a long drawn out season all of the above issues will take their toll on the Rams. My guess is that in their last eight games they win two or three games. I say this without even knowing their schedule.

Parting thoughts:

Once again Fisher has to remind the defense during practice not to hit Todd Gurley. Players who put the team first would not need to be told this over and over. Again, this is a sign of a much deeper problem with the Rams. It may be jealousy, lack of discipline or poor coaching – or some other issue – but this is a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong.

The Rams do a good job of cutting players by using strength coach Rock Gullickson. Last year I really liked how Coach O’Brien of the Texans told the players what they needed to improve – or why specifically they were cut. Fisher did not do this during this round of cuts.

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Hard Knocks Blog; L.A. Rams Week 3 2016

In this episode of Hard Knocks we see probably the best example of coaching ever shown on Hard Knocks. Unfortunately, there are also many poor example of coaching in this episode too.

The program starts with defensive coach Mike Waufel working with Ethan Westbrooks. In practice Waufel says, “Use your strength and power to manhandle him.” Notice he does not tell or show Westbrooks HOW to use his strength and power. I will come back to this. He does a good job telling Westbrooks to keep his eyes at pad level or lower. Then the scene shifts to the meeting room with Waufel throwing a piece of paper at and then yelling at Westbooks. This type of interaction happens all the time in coaching. Waufel is yelling – in a verbally abusive way – that does not communicate any specific information – other than Westbrooks needs to keep his eyes lower. Waufel probably thinks he’s being “tough” on the players. In the last episode Waufel said the players are not tough enough. Waufel’s yelling actually hurts the situation.

Compare Waufel’s communication to Mike Singletary’s.

Mike Singletary is working with the linebackers. He is teaching movement and body position. He says to the group: “All of you have power, but it’s lost because it’s too high.” “Get down and all of you will be a force to be reckoned with.” Singletary then demonstrates the movement and body position he is looking for so that each of them are able to use their power. He shows them movement drills they need to do and could practice on their own. He lets them know they all can be much more effective and powerful players if they use the proper technique.

Waufel simply says “manhandle him.” There is no instruction, demonstration or direction. This is like someone saying “work harder.” Many players had success in high school and college because they were bigger and stronger than their opponents. They could manhandle their opponents. To succeed in the highest levels of sports technique is everything.

Singletary then works with Alec Ogletree on the field on lateral movement drills. He watches Ogletree, then corrects him and shows him the proper movement – emphasizing “push off with your outside leg.” He tells Ogletree that he is “too high” on the drill and would have more power if he were lower.

Singletary then takes Ogletree aside and says: “You can be one of the best to ever play the game.” “You have it in you – in this body.” “The ability to be an off the chart player.” “But your not using it and it pisses me off.” “You need to hustle.” Notice Singletary is not yelling, he is teaching. He is explaining and showing Ogletree specifically what he needs to do. No other coach on the Rams coaches this way.

Notice how Ogletree then works with Brandon Chubb. He works with Chubb on getting in position to use his power. Ogletree is saying things to Chubb that Singletary said to him. This is a carry over effect from Singletary’s work with Ogletree. Ogletree did not feel attacked by Singletary, thus he did not shut down and feel the need to protect himself. He learned the proper technique and had the self conficence to pass on his knowledge to Chubb.

When athletes are verbally attacked they resort to the fight, flight or freeze response. They are not listening or learning – they are in self preservation mode. This is why Waufel and Gregg Williams yell often and can’t figure out why their players are not learning. The players don’t learn because the coaches are not teaching them. At times I can small bits of teaching – but this verbally abusive manner is destructive in the long run. This is much like a boss yelling “If you don’t do a better job, you will be fired.” And the boss saying this comment without any specific instruction on what areas need improvement.

Singletary shows, explains and teaches the players what they need to do to improve. The players know they could be cut. Singletary does not threaten his players with the possibility of being cut – in fact he does not bring this up at all. He does not say they are not mentally or physically tough – he simply teaches. Singletary’s work is drastically different than what we saw on the second episode with all the other coaches. My comment on the second episode was – “No specific instruction.”

Ian Seau, Junior Seau’s nephew is shown often. Ian played football at Nevada and was not drafted. There is a very good chance that Ian never played a college game against a player who became a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. The term I imagine most coaches would use to describe Seau is “raw.” Seau clearly needs to work on his technique. Unfortunately, he is not being taught much at all. Waufel tries to be tough on Seau and occasionally gives Seau minimal instruction. Seau is not getting the specific technique instruction that he needs. Compare the technique work Mike Singletary did in this episode alone, with all the technique work Seau has gotten in the Hark Knocks series. I imagine there are defensive coaches on other teams hoping that Seau gets cut so they can pick him up and work with him. Seau is quick and has speed – two things that come natural for him. He seems to clearly have potential. Potential without the proper coaching is just potential.

Jeff Fisher had his best week as a coach this episode. He tells the team they need to correct the mistakes from the last preseason game and they should not take it personally. He also does a good job working with special teams players teaching them to “quiet the catch” on a punt return. He is empathetic with Paul McRoberts when McRoberts finds out his step brother was murdered.

What I found alarming was that Fisher had to tell the defensive coaches three times that Todd Gurley was not to be hit in practice. I see this as a sign of a much deeper problem. Why would a coach even have to say this once – much less stress this three times? This is like having to tell an adult that they should not pour gasoline on a fire – it could cause problems – then repeating it two more times in case they didn’t understand. Notice that Waufel even wrote this down. Did he need to remind himself of this?

Another example of poor coaching this episode is by Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. He yells often, and like Waufel he does not communicate anything specific. He says, “When you don’t do what you are told to do, you get fired at other jobs.” “You will get fired here too.” The players know this is the case. He has not communicated what exactly the players are doing wrong.

Compare this communication by Williams to how Singletary worked with the linebackers. Singletary does not yell, swear or threaten. Singletary teaches, encourages and instructs. Williams, like Waufel probably thinks he’s “being tough” on his players and needs to toughen them up. Self confidence is the key to mental toughness. Self confidence comes from knowing the proper technique and having good fundamentals – then being able to use them successfully. If the linebackers implement the skills Singletary was teaching them, then their self confidence will go up and they will be mentally tougher. Athletes don’t get mentally tougher from someone simply yelling at them.

Other thoughts on this episode: Case Keenam can play. Goff may end up being great. Keenam seems like a student of the game and could probably start of be a very solid backup in the NFL.

Why is there not penalty or a fine for a chop block? If a player was suspended for a game for a chop block, perhaps chop blocks would happen less often.

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Hard Knocks Blog 2016; L. A. Rams; Week 2

My goal here is to look at the communication between the coaches and players – and the communication between the players and coaches. I try to break down the communication the same way that replays are broken down in slow motion. When viewing a play in slow motion, one can often notice subtle differences that end up making a big impact on the overall outcome.

From a communication standpoint the second week of Hard Knocks with the Rams was much like the first. There is very little, if any, specific instruction going on. Coaching is about teaching. Even professional athletes need to be taught. The term I use in therapy, working in addiction, and with my college students is “working on.” What is a person “working on” about themselves in early recovery from an addiction? What is a student “working on” to make them a better student? What is a person “working on” to make them a better person? And what is an athlete “working on” to make them a better athlete?

For athletes “working on” is an easy concept to grasp. An athlete is always “working on” something – like strength, endurance, technique, speed, recovery, flexibility or their diet. These are just a few concepts. The better athletes are always trying to improve. An example was in Hard Knocks last season when J.J. Watt stayed after practice working on his rushing technique. Here is one of the best pass rushers in the league and he is staying after practice to work on his technique. Likewise, in these episodes it’s obvious that Jared Goff is working on some of his throws.

More often than not a coach is needed to work on technique. As I say in my book, “practice does not make perfect- practice makes permanent.” A coach needs to guide and instruct athletes with their technique. Otherwise the athlete will just keep making the same mistakes over and over. How this information is communicated has a huge impact on the athlete. Does the coach simply say: “That’s wrong – do it again.” Or does the coach teach the subtle nuances required?

Here are some examples of “no specific instructions:” As you read these, think – what is the specific point the coach is trying to get across?

Dennard Wilson; Defensive Backs Coach: “Play with swagger, talk the talk and back it up.” There are so many coaches that talk in generalizations like this.

Mike Waufle; Defensive Line Coach: “We’re not tough enough mentally.”

Brandon Fisher; Defensive Coach; After Dez Bryant scores a touchdown. Sensabaugh asks him: “What do I need to do right there?” Fisher’s response: “You just gotta play him.” Fisher offers no solution.

Gregg Williams; Defensive Coordinator; “Win close games is how you win championships.” Also at halftime of the Dallas game: “The veterans are playing bad.”

Chris Weinke; Quarterback Coach – to Jared Goff when working on a passing drill: “You can’t take a long stride.” This statement is not horrible – something more effective is to tell him what he should do – not what he should not do. Many coaches make this mistake. A more effective form of communication might be “Short step,” or “Quick set up and release.” In the preseason game, when Goff’s first pass is an interception – notice Weinke does not tell Goff what he could have done differently, he simply says “put it behind you.” This is true – but learning what he could have done to avoid an interception (and perhaps a potential injury) would be much better.

Mike Waufle did offer small parts of specific instruction to Ian Seau when he said “both hands together.” However, much more instruction was needed here.

The best communication came from Rob Boras when he told Jared Goff during practice: “You told them not to rush, lead like that.” Notice this is a specific, direct communication praising and reinforcing what Goff said to the offense.

Although the Rams won the game, think back to the Dez Bryant touchdown. The defender did not know what to do and the coach did not know what to do either. Had this been a regular season game Dez Bryant probably would have had a huge game.

By winning the game the Rams coaches may not see the need to change much – this would be a huge mistake. Even though this team has some really great players, I still don’t see how the Rams could have a winning season.

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Hard Knocks L.A. Rams 2016 Blog

Watching the first episode of Hard Knocks with the L.A. Rams, I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. It is obvious there is something really wrong with the Rams, but I can’t put my finger on it just yet.

I will say right off that I will be shocked if this team has a winning season.

I focus on the communication between coaches and players. How a coach communicates with his or her players is a huge thing. How a parent communicates with their children plays a huge role in the child’s development. A coach can have a similar impact on their athletes as a parent can have on their children. Players can tune a coach out, just as children can tune out their parents. A parent or a coach can build or destroy self-confidence with their words and actions.

I did not find one comment that Jeff Fisher made that I thought had any benefit at all. He comes across as very negative. This negative way of relating with his players will take a toll on the Rams over the course of the season. He made the statement: “Take ownership and trust that I know what I am doing and we’ll be just fine.” What if they do not trust that he knows what he is doing?

Fisher makes no positive comments. He provides no instruction. He comes across as someone who likes to put others down. This is not the makings of a successful coach. How could someone like this get hired? If you look at all levels of sports you will see coaches like Fisher. They try to come across as “tough.” He reminds me of the Hard Knocks with the Falcons two years ago – they focused on being tough – not winning and what it takes to win. The Falcons coach was fired after that season – I expect the same for Fisher.

Quarterback coach Chris Weinke is just as bad as Fisher. What was the point of anything he said this episode? When he is talking with Jared Goff, about being a starting quarterback in the NFL, he speaks in generalizations. What would be better was if he talked about what it DOES take to be a starting quarterback. What traits he has seen in other quarterbacks that have lead to success, or what traits has he seen that lead to their downfalls? He could mention the skill set that separates a starting quarterback from a backup. There are many ways this conversation could have gone – and it went nowhere.

Mike Waufel, working with the defensive lineman, was hit and miss. Overall, me may be a miss. It was nice the way he was working with the players telling them to keep their hands up. I also liked when he said “Get more juice out of your second hand.” Here he is talking in specifics. What is the point of him talking about fighting with the players? This is a statement someone in high school would make. He was a U.S. Marine but does he need to physically challenge professional football players to prove he is tough. I find this sad.

The only positive thing I saw from any of the coaches was the brief time that Mike Singletary was talking. He made comments on defensive lineman Aaron Donald. The best hope for this team is that Jeff Fisher gets fired mid season and Mike Singletary takes over.

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