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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