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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