Inside the playbook: the Tampa 2

Throughout May and heading into training camp, the NFP’s Matt Bowen will take you inside the playbooks of the NFL — basic defenses, the running game, red-zone passing, fire zones, etc. — to give you a better understanding of what your favorite teams are doing on Sundays.

Today: The Tampa 2

Think of this as the first day of meetings during minicamp or the night before training camp opens in a small college lecture hall. Your basic install. We will get into some more exotic blitzes and combination coverages, but for now, we have to start with core coverages.

For teams such as Chicago, Indy, Minnesota and the New York Giants with new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Tampa 2 is the base defense that’s always taught first.

Cover 2 is your classic 2-deep, 5-under defense with a four-man rush. But in the NFL today, the Tampa 2 essentially turns into a 3-deep, 4-under defense with the Mike (or middle linebacker) running with any inside vertical seam to create a 3-deep look that we would see in Cover 3.

Let’s take a look at the diagram. We stayed basic with a base 4-3 look of defense (with a “TEX” stunt along the D-Line) vs. base pro personnel (2WR, 2RB, 1TE) on offense.

”Tampa

The base idea is simple. Drop seven into coverage and let your four man rush force the ball to come out with pressure — allowing the defense to rally to the football, make a tackle and get off the field. That’s why Chicago paid big money for DE Julius Peppers, the Colts rely on Dwight Freeney and the Vikings can play coverage with the pressure of Jared Allen.

It looks like a lot going on, but let’s simplify it by position…

DE: Rush with contain principles. Force the QB to step up into the pocket.
N: Rush A-gap weak with a two-way go on the offensive guard.
T: TEX (Tackle/End stunt) with the DE. Contain Rush. Tackle stunts first.
DE: TEX (Tackle/End stunt) with T. Scoop to strong side “B gap.”
WLB: Read run/pass. Drop to weak hook, a depth of 10-12 yards between numbers and hash marks. Slide with the eyes of the QB.
MLB: Read run/pass. Open strong and run with any inside vertical route by No. 2. If no vertical by No. 2, drop to a depth of 15 yards and react to any underneath throw.
SLB: Read run/pass. Drop to strong hook, a depth of 10-12 yards between the numbers and the hash. Slide with the eyes of the QB.
C: Jam and re-route No. 1 to force an inside release. Drop to a depth of 12 yards with zone technique (back to the sideline) to protect the deep 7 (or flag) route. Rally to any ball thrown to the flat.
SS: Read release of No. 1 for run/pass key. Drop to a depth of 15-18 yards at your landmark — top of the numbers. Protect the 9 (or fade) route and react to any inside vertical. Verses two verticals, get depth and break downhill on the throw.
C: Jam and re-route No. 1 to force an inside release. Drop to a depth of 12 yards with zone technique (back to the sideline) to protect the deep 7 (or flag) route. Rally to any ball thrown to the flat.
FS: Read release of No. 1 for run/pass key. Drop to a depth of 15-18 yards at your landmark — top of the numbers. Protect the 9 (or fade) route by No.1 and react to any inside vertical.

A couple of keys to look at…

The Mike Backer is the key to this defense and the reason I highlighted his drop in red. He has to be able to run with that inside vertical throughout the route and only at the throw will he get safety help. Think of Chicago and Brian Urlacher — fast, athletic linebackers who can run. A necessity for this defense.

The corners must force an inside release by No. 1 or the safeties will have to widen off their landmarks (top of the numbers), which opens holes in the deep half. Plus, they have to sink deep enough to protect the safety on the 7-route that can hit the hole in the defense.

The Will and Sam Backers move their zones based on the eyes of the QB. This is key for the Will Backer, who can jump routes coming from the strong side based on the QBs read. Think of Derrick Brooks during his time in Tampa. He made a living intercepting underneath routes in the Tampa 2.

Is it beatable? Of course, and as we continue on we will examine some of the routes that are specifically designed to beat the Tampa 2.

Up next: Cover 3

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Arian Foster lands with Dolphins

After seven years with the Texans as their all-time leading rusher, former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster has found a new NFL home.
Foster signed a one-year contract Monday with the Miami Dolphins following a successful tryout.
His contract has a maximum value of $3.5 million, including a
After seven years with the Texans as their all-time leading rusher, former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster has found a new NFL home.
Foster signed a one-year contract Monday with the Miami Dolphins following a successful tryout.
His contract has a maximum value of $3.5 million, including a $400,000 signing bonus, and a base value of $1.5 million, according to a league source not authorized to speak publicly.
Foster, 29, had previously visited the AFC East franchise, which needed a veteran presence to complement projected starter Jay Ajayi.
“My interest and teams’ interest was spotty here and there,” Foster said during a conference call. “But after my visit with Miami, I kind of already made my mind up that that’s where I wanted to be. So, I was stressing to my agent that I wanted to get the deal done, because I see a lot of promise in this team, and I feel like I can add value and help the team get to where they want to be. I’m going to try to do that as best as possible. I still feel like I’m a Pro Bowl caliber player, and I intend to show it.”
Foster has made a sound recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in October against the Dolphins that ended his season with the Texans and required surgery.
Foster endured an injury-plagued season last year where he tore a groin muscle during training camp and underwent surgery. Foster indicated that he’s fully recovered from his injuries.
“I know that this league knows that when I’m on the field, I’m one of the most productive doing it,” Foster said. “If there was any reluctance, it was on their end, and that’s really none of my business. All I can control is how hard I work and what I put into this game.”
Foster was scheduled to work out for the Detroit Lions later this week, but reached a deal with the Dolphins after displaying that he was healed up from his injuries.
Foster has been training twice per day at IX Innovations in Houston with his older brother, Abdul Foster.
The Dolphins needed a running back after losing Lamar Miller to a four-year, $26 million deal during free agency to join the Texans.

Their offer sheet for restricted free agent running back C.J. Anderson was matched by the Denver Broncos and Chris Johnson opted to remain with the Arizona Cardinals after visiting the Dolphins.
Foster will compete with Ajayi for a starting job.

“I don’t have any expectations,” Foster said. “I’m just coming here to compete and help the squad out however I can.”


Released by the Texans after seven seasons, Foster was entering the fifth year of a $43.5 million contract and had an $8.925 million salary-cap figure and was scheduled for a $6.5 million nonguaranteed base salary.


Foster was limited to four games last season, gaining just 163 yards and scoring one touchdown with 22 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He was just starting to regain his old form when he injured his Achilles against the Dolphins. Foster has rushed for 6,472 career yards and 54 touchdowns.
One of the reasons Foster chose the Dolphins is because of his affinity for coach Adam Gase’s offense, which heavily features the running back as a pass-catching presence.
“I think Adam really knows how to use running backs out of the backfield, which I feel like is my best quality: route running and catching the ball out of the backfield,” Foster said. “I think he knows how to steer the ship. I’m just happy to have a seat on the boat now.”
 


Foster will celebrate his 30th birthday in August. He’s played in 25 games over the past three seasons.
When healthy, Foster has been extremely productive. In 2014, he played in all but three games and rushed for 1,245 yards and eight touchdowns as he averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He caught 38 passes that season for 327 yards and five touchdowns.
The two times that Foster has played in all 16 games, he’s rushed for 1,424 yards in 2012 and 1,616 yards in 2010.The two times that Foster has played in all 16 games, he’s rushed for 1,424 yards in 2012 and 1,616 yards in 2010.

The Texans and Dolphins essentially traded running backs without actually making a formal trade.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody,”: Foster said. “The time that I spent in Houston was an amazing time. I’m grateful for the people I’ve met and the family that I made there. My family lives there now, so I have nothing but love for the people and fans in Houston.  It is just a new chapter of my life.
There’s nothing that I have to prove. I’m pretty sure Lamar feels the same way. There is nothing he has to prove. We are all on our own personal journey helping out where we can and doing what we love to do.  It’s as simple as that.”

 

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post, his second stint at the Post. He has previously written for Pro Football Talk and FOX Sports-Scout. Entering his 13th year covering the Baltimore Ravens, he’s a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun. Wilson has also covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

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Why you should embrace the NFL combine

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL CombineThe NFL scouting combine is

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL CombineThe NFL scouting combine is a three day job interview for rookie prospects.

Rookie prospects testing on the field in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, etc. No pads. No game situations. Just guys running around in static drills that they train for months in advance.

Think about it. This is a take-home test. And prospects shell out big money (via their agents) to train at elite facilities around the country. The powerful start in the 40, the manicured steps in the short shuttle and the technique of the 3-Cone. That’s all practiced from the end of bowl season until now. Daily repetition designed to master these drills before they even count.

Those drills don’t tell us much about these prospects as football players. Nope. We get numbers from the combine. Numbers from guys in shorts. That’s it.

However, I still value the combine and see it as an important tool in the process.

I was gassed after the final drill inside of the RCA Dome back at the 2000 combine. My legs were tight, my back hurt from the turf and the stress of the three-day tour in Indy finally caught up with me. I was ready to get to the airport, head back to Iowa City and grab a Busch Light. Time to sit down for a minute. Heck, time to clear my mind.

The combine isn’t designed to be comfortable for these prospects. And it shouldn’t be. It’s a job interview. Remember that. Fly in and go through two days of interviews, bizarre written exams, medical testing, more interviews, the weigh-ins, bench-press, etc.

Then get ready to actually run on the third and final day in town.

That’s not easy. Trust me. These guys will be nervous when they set their hand down on the line, take a rehearsed stance and explode into the start of the 40-yard dash. Run hard. Run fast. That’s the goal. You get two chances to run the 40. So make them count. No stress there, right? And that can be applied to every drill on the field.

I don’t expect prospects to post their best times at the combine. That’s saved for the Pro Day when you can dress in your own locker room on campus and run in that comfortable environment. Easy work right there.

But not in Indy. No chance.

And that’s the reason I will always value the combine and the impact it has on rookie hopefuls. Put these prospects in an adverse situation and tell them to run, jump and do drills in front of the league’s top brass when they are stressed out and tired.

You can find out a lot about these guys in Indy. From the interviews to the workouts on the field, the NFL sends these young players through a series of tests. It’s a grind. A brutal grind at times. Just ask one of these prospects when the combine finally wraps up. They will tell you all about it.

And if I’m a scout, that’s exactly how I want it. Who can perform when the pressure is turned up in Indianapolis? We will find out soon…

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NFL combine: Five Senior Bowl prospects to watch

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Here are five prospects I will be watching during drills as the draft process rolls on at the combine:

Quinton PattonUS PRESSWIREAfter a solid week at the Senior Bowl, Patton can continue to drive his draft stock with a strong workout at the combine.

1. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Patton was in the mix with a talented group of WRs down in Mobile that included Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Chris Harper (Kansas State) and the speed of Marquise Goodwin (Texas). Patton ran smooth routes, showed the ability to win on the double-move and finished consistently down the field on the deep ball. Now I want to see him run and compete in drills at the combine. The 40-yard dash carries weight at the WR position. We all know that. And coming off his performance in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl, a strong workout can move the Louisiana Tech product up the board.

2. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) is projected to be the first OT off the board (possibly going No.1 overall) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) should be next in line this April. But don’t forget about Johnson. Talking with scouts at the Senior Bowl, the key with the Oklahoma product is the athletic ability he brings to the position. You could see that on the practice field with his footwork. In Indianapolis, Johnson has a great opportunity to showcase that athletic skill set during drills and possibly lock up a spot in the Top 15.

3. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: I always watch DBs closely in Mobile and Trufant was the best corner I saw on the field. Quick feet with the ability to open the hips and drive on the ball. Plus, he played with some swagger during one-on-one drills. Scouts will want to get a 40 time on Trufant and they will also grade his technique along with the ability to transition with speed. Corner is a prime position in the NFL and teams are always looking to make upgrades in the secondary. Trufant can earn some money at the combine.

4. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: There is no question the BYU product needs pro coaching. Watching him during one-on-one work at the Senior Bowl, the DE/OLB has to improve his technique at the point of attack and develop some counter moves outside of a speed rush. However, that will come once he starts to see reps in the NFL. And he has that raw talent clubs are looking for in an edge rusher. Ansah should post some impressive numbers at the combine.

5. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, FIU: The strong safety already has an NFL body, plays physical and had a good week in Mobile from my perspective. Scouts I talked to see Cyprien as an “in the box” player at the next level, but he will get the opportunity to display his range on deep ball drills at the combine. Remember, you don’t need 4.4 guys at the safety position. Anything in the 4.5 to 4.6 range sells when you find a safety that displays solid angles to the ball and shows some range from a deep middle of the field alignment. Let’s see how the FIU product compares to Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) in Indianapolis.

Five more players that consistently showed up in my Senior Bowl notes…

– Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
– Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
– Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
– Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
– Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

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NFL combine: Time to answer some QB questions?

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

Geno SmithUS PRESSWIREGeno Smith and the rest of the top QB prospects will throw at the combine.

That’s before we get to the position work where these rookie prospects will go through stale (almost basic) drills that focus on footwork and technique. It doesn’t represent what you see on the tape and you can’t recreate game situations in shorts and Under Armour gear in Indianapolis.

But I still love the combine—because it puts stress on these prospects to work out and perform in front of the entire league.

I’ve been there myself as one of these rookie hopefuls back in 2000 at the combine (I will get into this more next week). You are tired, almost exhausted when this thing finally wraps up. It’s a grind.

Think of the combine as a job interview. Part of the process. Another tool for scouts, GMs, head coaches, etc. to evaluate your skill set.

And this year all of the QBs will be working out.

I like that. I like it a lot. And the reason is simple: I can’t tell you if there is a guy, a player in this class at the QB position that stands out.

When I was down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, I asked three different scouts who had the best week of practice—and I got three different answers (Nassib, Glennon, Manuel).

In Indianapolis, Matt Barkley and Geno Smith will work out and throw on the field. That’s smart. Both QBs skipped out on the Senior Bowl and now we get to evaluate their footwork, arm strength, accuracy, mechanics, etc. when they throw the entire route tree at the combine.

Go out there, throw and try to connect with wide outs you have never seen before while the entire NFL is watching every move you make. Part of the challenge of producing at the combine.

This is an opportunity for Barkley, Nassib, Smith and the rest of the 2013 QB class to create some buzz about their skill sets. Go ahead. Turn some heads. Make teams go back and study more tape after a top tier workout and try to create some separation at the top of the class before the Pro Day circuit picks up.

And I’m excited to see them throw.

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NFL Playoffs revisited: Jones’ TD grab vs. Broncos

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 "cheat sheet."

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 “cheat sheet.”

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any safety to answer: 4 Verticals. Why? Think of the stress the concept puts on Cover 2 (2-on-1 vs. the 2-deep safeties), Cover 3 (2-on-1 vs. the FS) or Cover 4 (SS, FS have to match and carry No.2 vertical from inside alignment).

Before we get into the All-22 tape and breakdown Joe Flacco’s last minute TD pass in regulation, here is a basic, static look at 4 Verts vs. Cover 2 on the chalkboard.

4 Verts vs. Cover 2: Posse Personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Playbook

A couple of quick notes…

– I have both CBs playing a standard Tampa 2 technique: jam and sink. You want to take some stress off the safety (jam, re-route No.1) and allow the deep half player to stay on top of his landmark (top of the numbers). Force an inside release, sink and trail No.1 (until threatened in the flat).

– Why do you want to force the inside release? If your CBs play with a “soft squat” (no jam, sink at the snap) and allow the WR to take a hard, outside stem it can widen the safety off the top of the numbers landmark. That opens up a clear throwing lane to the inside seam (No.2).

-The Mike (MLB) will open his hips to the “passing strength” (two WR side or open side of the formation), carry No.2 and read the QB (flip the hips to come back to closed side of the formation).

– The safeties have to gain enough depth to play over the top of No.1 and overlap any throw to the middle of the field. Remember, you want to see downhill angles from your safeties in Cover 2.

Let’s move over to the All-22 and check out why Jones was able to get free vs. Denver’s Cover 2…

Ravens vs. Broncos
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles (2×2)
Route Concept: 4 Verts
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

Playbook

– NFL offenses will run 4 Verts out of 2×2 alignment and a 3×1 alignment (called a “999” route with No.3 working back across the field). But given the game situation in Denver, this 2×2 alignment should be an automatic alert for 4 Verts from a defensive perspective. Both No.1 WRs will take an outside release (vs. a “soft squat” technique) with the TE and the open (weak) side slot WR pushing up the field on the inside seam routes. The RB will “check release” to the open side flat.

– The Broncos are playing Cover 2 out of their sub-package with a 3-Man rush. This looks similar to a scheme I call “Tent” of “Tent Robber” with the Mike (DB in the game) aligned deep off the ball and playing the inside vertical seam (alomst a 3-deep look). Both CBs will sink/trail under No.1 and the safeties will get depth.

Playbook

– This is where SS Rahim Moore gets into trouble. With Flacco stepping up in the pocket, the Broncos safety opens his hips to No.2 (TE). Remember, he has help vs. No.2 with the Mike playing to the inside of the TE. Moore needs to stay square in his pedal and continue to gain depth. This is all about angles. Maintain depth and put yourself in a position to play over the top of both No.1 and No.2.

Playbook

– Instead of taking a downhill angle on the throw (don’t break from the deep half until the QB throws the ball), Moore now has to flip his hips (called an open angle technique); transition and work back to No.1. That takes time and doesn’t allow Moore to create a positive angle to Jones on the deep 9 (fade) route.

Know the game situation

This is different than the chalkboard drawing I put up because the Broncos are protecting a lead late in the ball game with an opportunity to close it out. The dig, curl, comeback, etc. won’t beat you in this situaiton–but the deep ball will. No need to gamble or guess as a deep half safety. However, the techniques of the defense don’t change at the safety position when playing Cover 2 vs. 4 Verts.

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Can Rob Ryan bring immediate change to Saints?

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYANUS PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints' defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints' defense when they have their first

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYANUS PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints’ defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints’ defense when they have their first meeting under new coordinator Rob Ryan later this spring.

Schemes are one thing. Ryan will install a new playbook when the Saints start their offseason workout program and begin to prep for OTAs, etc. A switch to the 3-4 front and a secondary that will be asked to play more blitz-man with the multiple pressure packages Ryan carries in his Sunday game plan.

But that’s just chalkboard stuff. Xs and Os. Plenty of time to check out the Cowboys’ tape from the 2012 season and figure out where the Saints need to add personnel via free agency and throughout the long and tiresome draft process.

However, the players (the ones that survive offseason cuts) have to realize that Ryan was hired because they didn’t produce. That’s it. In a league based on winning games above anything else, this Saints’ defense didn’t play football at an acceptable standard.

And now Ryan is coming in to change that.

I’ve been there as a player. Twice actually. Way back in 2001 Lovie Smith was hired in St. Louis and in 2004 it was Gregg Williams in Washington. Two new coordinators brought in because our defense didn’t past the test the season before.

Lovie and Gregg are different in their personalities and how they approach the game, but the goal was the same: fix the defense.

That starts in the first meeting. There are new demands, new rules and a new sense of accountability in the defensive team meeting room. Everything is going to change. Get on board or get out. It’s that simple in pro ball.

Can there be immediate change in New Orleans with Ryan running the defense? Sure, that’s possible. And it could happen. Under Lovie and Gregg, our defenses played faster and produced at a much higher level after just one offseason.

The Saints will eventually get on the practice field after the draft and run around in shorts and helmets. A dress rehearsal until real jobs are won in camp when the pads go on.

But until then, those early meetings with Ryan will be key to developing a new style of defense in New Orleans. And the players have to be ready to buy into much more than just the schemes being drawn up on the chalkboard.

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NFL vets beware: the offseason cuts are coming

A phone call from an NFL head coach in February? Well, he isn’t calling to check in or ask about your family. Nope. That doesn’t happen in the pros.

Ahmad BradshawUS PRESSWIREThe Giants cut veteran RB Ahmad Bradshaw

A phone call from an NFL head coach in February? Well, he isn’t calling to check in or ask about your family. Nope. That doesn’t happen in the pros.

Ahmad BradshawUS PRESSWIREThe Giants cut veteran RB Ahmad Bradshaw on Wednesday.

You see, head coaches call veteran players after the season for only one reason: to let you go.

That’s right. You’re fired. Done. Finished. No more football for you in that city. Sit there on the phone for five to ten minutes and listen to the same speech that guys all over the league will hear this offseason.

The “tough” decision the coach had to make. Or the fact that the team “really values” your professional approach in the locker room. And maybe you will get the line that the club “might bring you back” later in the spring.

Sure, buddy. OK.

I’ve been there as a player—twice. And there is no perfect time for it.

Joe Gibbs called me up when I was getting off a plane in Vegas. And Dick Jauron let me know right as I was sitting down to eat dinner at my grandma’s house in Tampa (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I just got fired).

And it’s already started again in the NFL. On Wednesday, the Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw and earlier in the week other players were informed that their contracts—the ones they signed for multiple years—were terminated.

I knew it was coming both times in the offseason during my career. Fact is I didn’t play well enough nor did I stay healthy. Accountability. That’s what I call it in the NFL.

No excuses needed. That was the truth.

But it still stings when you glance down at your phone, see a number that’s not in your contact list and then check out the area code. Hey, if that area code matches the city you play in, well, it’s not good news. I can tell you that.

No one wants to get cut. Whether you are about to grab a taxi over to the MGM Grand in Vegas or eat a home cooked meal at grandma’s place down in Florida, the idea of becoming a free agent can cause a sense of panic.

I know it did for me.

You call your agent, start the waiting game of finding a new club, pack up and move—again. And that only happens if you get some interest on the market after the top tier free agents sign their new deals.

As I have said many times before, this is a tough, tough business. And it’s cold. Really cold. We aren’t even a week removed from the final game of the season and guys are already getting cut.

But I will say this: it’s part of the job as a pro. And if you play long enough, that call is coming at some point.

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Five NFL offseason storylines to keep an eye on

With the Ravens getting set to go through the parade circuit in Baltimore after their Super Bowl XLVII win, and the 2012 season behind us, here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the offseason begins. And there will be plenty more to get

With the Ravens getting set to go through the parade circuit in Baltimore after their Super Bowl XLVII win, and the 2012 season behind us, here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the offseason begins. And there will be plenty more to get into once the NFL scouting combine kicks off later this month in Indy.

1. The Revis situation: Can the Jets really trade away the NFL’s top player at the CB position? Of course they can. Given his age (he will be 28 at the start of the season), the ACL injury and the new money he wants, I can see why New York would look to make a move and try to maximize his value. Would I trade away Revis? Nope. Not in today’s game where secondary play is crucial. But remember this: players are independent contractors in the NFL. And they will follow the money. It’s not easy to find a sense of loyalty between the locker room and management in the offseason.

2. Manti Te’o’s draft stock: It’s time to look at Te’o the football player. We all know the story of the “hoax” and the former Irish LB will have to answer some tough questions when he interviews with teams at the combine. However, his workouts in Indy will carry some weight. I talked to a longtime NFL scout last night that called the LB’s game tape “excellent” outside of the BCS title game, expected Te’o to test well at the combine and run the 40-yard dash in the 4.65-4.7 range. And the majority of scouts I’ve talked to have Te’o graded as a mid-to-late first round prospect. Let’s see what he can do in front of the entire league at the combine later this month.

3. Flacco’s contract: I don’t think we can put Flacco in the same discussion with Brady, Rodgers or Brees, but look at the situation here. This is about opportunity. And in a contract year, the Ravens’ QB just put together a playoff run that is going to lead to legit money. $20-million a year? That’s a steep price. However, Flacco has leverage now after throwing 11 TDs and no interceptions on his way to scooping up a ring and the Super Bowl MVP award. That sells when it is time to discuss contracts. And Flacco deserves new money.

4. Chip Kelly, Michael Vick & the Eagles: I’m looking forward to checking out Kelly’s offensive system in the NFL because I want to see the type of adjustments he makes in the pro game. But who is going to play QB for the new Eagles’ head coach? Maybe Vick will take a pay cut. Maybe not. That remains to be seen as the offseason rolls on. If Kelly wants to run an offense with spread looks, movement, tempo, etc. I’m going to choose Vick over Nick Foles. But the money has to be right. And for all the hype surrounding Kelly’s hire in Philly, it still goes back to the QB position. Is it Vick, Foles, or a possible rookie draft pick? We will find out soon.

5. 2013 Rookie QB class: After the Senior Bowl week, I talked about the QBs down in Mobile. There wasn’t a clear-cut guy (an immediate impact player) you had to get on your roster. Does that mean Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are the top two QBs? This is a tough draft class to figure out at the QB position, and with multiple teams desperate to make an upgrade, we could see clubs reaching in the first round. And don’t forget about possible free agents such as Vick, Alex Smith or even a trade to get Matt Flynn out of Seattle. Not the year to fill a need at the position.

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SB XLVII: Flacco, Ravens knock out the 49ers

Moving beyond the Superdome blackout, let’s get into the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. My game notes before I take a closer look at the All-22 tape later this week.

JOE FLACCOUS PRESSWIREFlacco

Moving beyond the Superdome blackout, let’s get into the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. My game notes before I take a closer look at the All-22 tape later this week.

JOE FLACCOUS PRESSWIREFlacco threw 3 TD passes and took home the MVP award from Super Bowl XLVII.

Flacco wins the MVP award: I can’t argue with Flacco taking home the trophy after his production tonight (22-37-287-3TDs). He was able to navigate the pocket, work the TE position in the middle of the field, make throws in the red zone and protect the football. And I love the confidence to check to the back-shoulder fade on 3rd and short late in the game. Throughout this playoff run, Flacco was consistent in his play at the QB position throwing 11 TDs and zero interceptions. Not bad for a guy that is going to get paid big money in a contract year.

The “no-call” in the red zone: I will always come to the defense of the secondary when we talk about physical play and some contact on the release (or through the route stem). However, I can see why Jim Harbaugh had a serious issue on the fade route to Michael Crabtree vs. Jimmy Smith. As a DB, you can get away with a hold if you keep your hands inside of the shoulder pads from a press-alignment. But when you grab outside of those pads (as we saw with Smith on the release), that’s a call the refs probably should make. Rough night all around for the officiating crew down in New Orleans.

Ravens’ Cover 0 pressure: In two key situations (2 point play and the 4th down fade route), Baltimore played “zero-pressure.” Think of man-pressure with no safety help in the middle of the field. That’s smart football. Play with inside leverage and force the QB to throw the slant or the fade. This allows you to dictate the game situation from a defensive perspective.

49ers’ red zone play calling: San Francisco had something going when they burned a timeout on 3rd down (QB Counter Lead) in that final series, but I have to question the play coming off the timeout (quick flat route out of a bunch alignment) and the 2nd down call to run the Flat-7 (Sprint action). That’s a situation where you can throw inside breaking routes (Hi-Lo for example) or line up and go with the base downhill run schemes before throwing the fade on 4th down.

Kaepernick: The 49ers’ QB didn’t look comfortable early in that ballgame. He was late on some of his reads and missed on the deep inside cut to Randy Moss. However, he played with much more control as the game progressed. Look at the 3-level route concepts, the dig routes, the reads he made on the option scheme and the ability to break contain. The young QB put up big numbers (16-302-1TD-1INT; 7-62-1TD) in the loss.

Jacoby Jones: Can you make a case for Jones to win the MVP award? The kickoff return for a score and the double-move vs. Chris Culliver were two plays that we will remember from this Super Bowl. And the finish on the TD catch was just as good as the route.

The TE position: Production from both clubs. Pitta, Dickson, Davis and Walker. And it was Walker that also showed up in the run game plus covering kicks on special teams. Think matchups here when we talk about the TE position and the ability to beat Cover 1 (man-free) or work vs. LBs in both 2-Man and zone schemes.

Boldin shows up again: It’s been the same drill all post-season for Boldin in the red zone. Inside alignment, work the seam or the middle of the field. On the TD catch, Boldin stemmed his route to the Mike Backer (creates a one-on-one matchup) and then finished up the field vs. Cover 2. We could also look at the back-shoulder fade on 3rd down, the quick underneath concepts or the ability to convert a broken play with Flacco outside of the pocket. The key with Boldin: strong at the point of attack. He has no issues climbing the ladder and taking the ball away from a DB.

Pitta’s TD: Why did SS Donte Whitner jump outside vs. the TE in the red zone? Think like a DB here expecting to see the 7 (corner) route. Whitner over-played the route, worked to an outside alignment and that allowed Pitta to sit down in the end zone. It doesn’t have to be complicated inside of the red zone.

Ray Lewis gets another ring: I know the veteran LB didn’t have a great night. Lewis struggled to match up to Vernon Davis and he didn’t produce any impact plays throughout the game. But he retires with two Super Bowl rings—and he’s going to Canton. 17 years. That’s a heck of a career.

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Super Bowl XLVII: Five things to watch

Let’s get into some personnel, matchups and game plans as we look ahead to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Here are five things I will be watching on Sunday night when the 49ers and Ravens take the championship stage.

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Let’s get into some personnel, matchups and game plans as we look ahead to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Here are five things I will be watching on Sunday night when the 49ers and Ravens take the championship stage.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick and the 49ers will run multiple schemes from the Pistol formation.

1. 49ers’ Pistol formation: I would expect the 49ers to test the discipline of the Ravens’ defense with Colin Kaepernick in the Read Option scheme, but we also have to remember that Jim Harbaugh’s offense will run the Power O, Counter OF, etc. from the Pistol formation. And that leads to play action opportunities. Think of schemes that will test the run/pass keys of the Ravens’ back seven and put some stress on the linebackers. Can’t stick your eyes in the backfield and expect to take away the intermediate route tree vs. play action.

2. The tight end position: How will these two defenses game plan Vernon Davis and Dennis Pitta? The 49ers’ TE has been targeted during the playoff run on the Hi-Lo concepts, the deep 7 cut, seam, wheel, etc. With Pitta, we are looking at a tight end that is underrated from my perspective and a key part of the Ravens’ offense inside of the numbers. We could see some 2-Man on Sunday night and that puts the LBs in a tough spot to matchup vs. the TE position. There will be opportunities for both Davis and Pitta to make impact plays.

3. Aldon Smith’s production: Smith hasn’t recorded a sack over the last five games and the 49ers need that production to collapse the pocket vs. Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco. With Smith drawing the matchup vs. Bryant McKinnie, the OLB must lean on speed and the ability to set up the Ravens’ LT. Can’t beat McKinnie with straight power moves. Smith has to get the LT off-balance, attack the edges and put the QB on the ground.

4. Safety play: Physical safeties that will put a helmet on you. That’s what I see with Reed, Pollard, Goldson and Whitner. All four will hit and they play the position with a physical style that shows up when you turn on the film. On Sunday night, watch for their ability to drive on inside breaking routes, add to the blitz front and drop down to fill vs. the run. And in a matchup where the tempo could be dictated by the run game, these safeties will be key to limiting plays that break to the second level of the defense.

5. Boldin vs. Rogers: This is the matchup I would expect to see when the Ravens move Boldin inside with their Posse personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field. The WR has been productive throughout the post-season in the red zone because of the ability to win on the release and stack on DBs within the route stem. But that’s why I like the idea of the 49ers using Rogers. The CB is physical, will use his hands on the release and can match Boldin in pressure situations. Limiting Boldin on 3rd downs and in the red zone will be crucial.

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All-22: How 49ers use ‘waste motion’ to create matchups

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

Ravens’ defensive pressure looks
49ers’ Pistol offense (run game)
Anquan Boldin’s red zone impact
49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme

I wanted to take a quick look at one way the 49ers create matchups in the passing game using “waste motion” to target the deep 7 (corner) route. A concept/formation that has shown up all season on the 49ers’ tape with their Regular personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) in the game. Widen the defense (both zone and man schemes) and get the matchup of TE Vernon Davis vs. a LB or SS in coverage on an outside breaking route.

Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Route: Smash-7

Playbook

What is “waste motion?” Offenses will motion the F/H-Back from a 2-back set to a No.1 alignment. The idea is to widen the CB in Cover 1 or Cover 3 (3-deep, 4-under) and work the ball to No.2 vs. a favorable matchup. Remember, the F/H-Back aligned as the new No.1 isn’t getting the ball. His job is to fill up space, remove the CB and allow the QB to target No.2 on the 7 or seam.

Playbook

The CB is now removed (Cover 1) and plays over the top of the new No.1 (F). This gives the 49ers the matchup they want: Davis vs. a LB in press-coverage. Win at the line, stem to the outside and push the route vertically up the field.

Playbook

With the LB stuck in a trail position (and the FS working from a deep middle of the field alignment), Davis can break to the 7 route. An easy read for QB Colin Kaepernick to target the 49ers’ TE.

Playbook

End zone angle of the finish from Davis. A basic scheme (Smash-7) that we see every Sunday in the NFL with some added window dressing of pre-snap “waste motion” to set up the ideal matchup for the 49ers.

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All-22: Can Ravens disguise pressure vs. 49ers?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

- 49ers' Inverted Veer
- Anquan Boldin's red zone impact
- 49ers' Pistol offense (run game)

With two

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

49ers’ Inverted Veer
Anquan Boldin’s red zone impact
49ers’ Pistol offense (run game)

With two weeks to prep for the 49ers and QB Colin Kaepernick, the Ravens’ defense will install some new schemes for Sunday’s matchup in Super Bowl XLVII. But after watching tape from the post-season, Jim Harbaugh’s offense should expect to see multiple pre-snap looks that are scripted to create confusion in the protection count and force the 3-step hot reads.

Using the All-22 tape, let’s break down three examples of how the Ravens are disguising their pressure schemes.

Ravens vs. Patriots
4-Man closed side pressure (2-deep)

Playbook

The Ravens are showing Cover 1 (man-free) pressure with FS Ed Reed in a single high alignment and SS Bernard Pollard walked down over the TE to the closed side of the formation. With both the Will (Paul Kruger) and Mike (Ray Lewis) aligned to the open side, the Ravens want to show overload pressure. However, this is only a 4-man pressure scheme (Pollard and the Sam Backer blitzing to the closed side) with the protection of a 2-deep shell (nickel works to open side deep half). Underneath, the Ravens will roll both Krueger and Lewis with Nose Tackle Haloti Ngata dropping to the closed side seam-hook.

Playbook

Here is a look at the end zone angle of the Ravens’ pre-snap alignment. Pollard will allow the Sam Backer to clear on a vertical rush path and hit the closed side C gap with the underneath defenders dropping into coverage.

Playbook

2-deep over the top with the three underneath defenders playing the two seam-hook drops (Kruger, Ngata) and the middle hook (Lewis). That leaves the CBs to jam and run with the No.1 WRs. A 4-man pressure scheme that plays out like a zone blitz concept.

Ravens vs. Patriots
4-Man A-gap pressure (Cover 1)

Playbook

The Ravens are showing double A gap pressure (ILBs) at the line of scrimmage with Reed in a single high alignment. However, Baltimore is going to drop both OLBs (Kruger, Suggs) at the snap. Play Cover 1 in the secondary (Pollard matches up to Aaron Hernandez) and expect to see the 3-step game.

<p> Playbook

Again, only a 4-Man blitz from Baltimore. Show a 6-Man pressure scheme at the line and drop the OLBs into the underneath throwing lanes. The idea is to try and steal one by setting a trap for the QB.

Playbook

The Ravens want to impact the throw from Brady with Kruger dropping underneath the slant to the open side of the formation. The CB will drive on the route from an outside leverage position with Reed coming downhill on the throw.

Ravens vs. Colts
5-Man A-Gap pressure (Cover 1)

Playbook

Same idea as the pressure we just looked at with Reed walking down to hit the open side A gap and Lewis blitzing the closed side B gap. Again, drop both Suggs and Kruger vs. the 3-step game, “add” another backer to the blitz front (rush to coverage) and play Cover 1 in the secondary.

Playbook

This is a fee run at QB Andrew Luck. Because the Ravens are showing a 4-Man overload look to the open side, the Colts push the protection. And that allows Reed to come untouched through the A gap with Suggs dropping right into the throwing lane.

Playbook

Sideline view of Reed arriving at the QB, Suggs underneath the slant and the CB driving on the route. That’s good football.

What did we learn?

You don’t have to bring 6-Man or even 7-Man pressure to force the ball to come out. By giving the QB multiple looks at the line of scrimmage, the Ravens can disguise their blitz fronts, drop into coverage and still play for the quick passing game in 3rd down situations.

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All-22: A closer look at 49ers’ Pistol offense

Click here for my playbook breakdowns on the NFP "U" homepage.

Click here for a chalkboard look at the base NFL run game (Pro Set).

The Pistol offense and the 49ers. We all know that leads to talk of the

Click here for my playbook breakdowns on the NFP “U” homepage.

Click here for a chalkboard look at the base NFL run game (Pro Set).

The Pistol offense and the 49ers. We all know that leads to talk of the Read Option (Zone Read) and QB Colin Kaepernick. However, let’s not forget about the base run game. The same schemes we see out of a Pro Style system (Power O, Counter OF, Lead Open, Trap, etc.) show up in Jim Harbaugh’s playbook from the Pistol alignment.

Let’s start with a quick review of the Read Option and then get into the coaching points of the run game on the All-22 tape…

READ OPTION

Playbook

The 49ers run the Read Option out of their Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB) and Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB) personnel from a 2-back Pistol alignment. Ride the RB through the mesh point, wrap the F/H-Back up through the hole and read the end man on the line of scrimmage (DE in 4-3, OLB in 3-4).

Playbook

Look at Kaepernick’s eyes. He is reading the path of the DE. And as we all saw in the NFC Championship game, the Falcons kept their DEs up the field to play the QB. This is an easy read for Kaepernick on the give with the F/H-Back fitting up on the force player (Mike Backer/SS).

Playbook

A clear running lane for Frank Gore to square the pads, get vertical up the field and finish off a productive gain.

COUNTER OF

Playbook

Same blocking scheme you see from a Pro Style system with the 49ers getting the kick-out block from the TE in the “Diamond” alignment. The open (weak) side guard pulls with the F/H-Back working to the closed (strong) side of the formation.

Playbook

With TE Vernon Davis kicking out the edge support, Gore can follow the blocking path of the weak side guard and the F/H-Back. Let the play develop and pick a lane.

Playbook

Because of the safety’s entry point into the run front, Gore cuts this play back inside of the guard and picks up positive yardage.

POWER (BOB) O

Playbook

Think of running the Power O out of a Strong I alignment with Tank personnel (1WR-2TE-2RB) for Pro Style teams. The Niners start in a “Diamond” look, use short motion to create a “big wing” set (2 TEs) and run the Power O from the Pistol. Pull the open side guard and kick out with the F/H-Back.

Playbook

With the Y TE (on the line TE) working up to the inside linebacker and the “move” TE releasing to block the SS (arc release), the FB is going to kick out the closed side OLB (BOB O=Back on Backer). That leaves the open side guard on a path to work through the hole or block the first opposite jersey that shows to the play side.

LEAD OPEN

Playbook

Why can’t you run the Lead Open out of the “Diamond” alignment? It’s the same blocking path if you were to run this play out of the straight I, Weak I, Power I, Triple I, etc. With Ace personnel on the field, both TEs will work up to the inside linebackers. A base downhill scheme.

Playbook

Gore cuts this ball back and follows Vernon Davis up through the hole. The idea is to force the secondary to fill vs. the run game and tackle. That’s five to six yards before contact if the SS isn’t quick with his run/pass keys.

INSIDE TRAP

Playbook

The 49ers run the “Wham” play to trap the Nose/DT out of their one-back alignments and this is similar when we look at the inside blocking scheme. Block down with the center and the closed side guard with the open side guard trapping the 3 technique DT vs. this nickel defensive front from Green Bay.

Playbook

Remove both DTs with the trap and allow RB LaMichael James to get through the hole. And with a missed tackle, this turns into an 11-yard run. Not bad for a simple trap scheme.

What did I learn?

This Pistol offense is new to me. I didn’t see as a player back in the Big Ten or during my time in the NFL. However, I learn something every time I turn on the tape. With Kaepernick, the Read Option is always a threat. I get it. But after watching tape today, I’m more focused on the blocking angles and the path of the RB the Pistol offense creates. That’s tough to defend.

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Watch out for Boldin in Super Bowl XLVII

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my All-22 breakdown of the 49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme.

Anquan Boldin isn’t going to win with straight-line speed this Sunday vs. the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That’s

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my All-22 breakdown of the 49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme.

Anquan Boldin isn’t going to win with straight-line speed this Sunday vs. the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That’s not his game. The Ravens’ WR isn’t a 4.4 or a 4.5 guy when you put a stopwatch on him. However, Boldin has been very productive during this post-season run because of the ability to win within the route stem and play the ball at the highest point in the red zone.

Let’s go to the All-22 tape and take a look at Boldin’s three TD catches this post-season from an inside alignment.

1. “Sight Adjust” vs. Cover 0 (man-pressure, no safety help)

Playbook

With the Patriots showing zero-pressure, QB Joe Flacco checks at the line of scrimmage to the “sight adjust” (or hot read). Think of the 3-step route tree with Boldin (slot alignment) as the primary target vs. a DB playing with inside leverage (Cover 0 technique).

Playbook

Because the Patriots are sending a 7-Man pressure scheme, the Ravens will slide the protection to the open (weak) side of the formation—but the ball has to come out. Look at Boldin here. A quick step to the outside on the release that forces the DB to widen his feet and squat.

Playbook

The DB is already beat. Can’t stop your feet and allow the WR to create leverage back across your face with no safety help in the middle of the field. That’s trouble.

Playbook

Nice work here from Flacco putting this ball up so Boldin can climb the ladder. Let your WR go make the play and finish.

2. Seam (“Nod”) vs. Cover 0 (man-pressure, no safety help)

Playbook

I’m still calling this Cover 0 because of the leverage (inside shade) and the safeties. At the snap, this might look like a Cover 4 alignment. However, with the closed (strong) side safety aligned over the TE and the open side safety moving to a “rover position” once his coverage (RB) stays in on protection, this plays out like zero-man.

Playbook

We can call this a “Nod” route (or “Stick Nod”) with Boldin taking the release vertically up the field and sticking to the inside. That forces the DB to open his hips and creates separation up the seam. Put the DB in an adverse position and exploit his poor technique.

Playbook

With the DB stuck in a trail position, Flacco can once again put this ball up high for Boldin to finish the play. Even if the DB “plays the pocket” (stick the hand in between the WR’s arms), Boldin is too strong at the point of attack.

3. 7 (corner) route vs. Cover 1 (man-free)

Playbook

Base Cover 1 from the Colts with the FS moving to the deep middle of the field, the Mike Backer dropping to an inside rover alignment and the DBs playing with an outside shade (funnel WRs to help in the middle of the field). The Ravens are running the Smash-7 (Boldin aligned as No.2 to the closed side) with the TE on the inside vertical seam to occupy the FS.

Playbook

Boldin uses a hard, outside release to beat the DB’s initial leverage and stacks on top within the route stem. That’s an ideal position to continue up the seam or break to the 7 cut. And with the TE running the inside vertical to hold the FS, the Ravens have created another one-on-one matchup for Boldin.

Playbook

Quick end zone view with Boldin breaking to the 7 cut. What stands out? The separation and the Colts’ DB struggling to get back “in-phase’ (on the hip) vs. Boldin with the ball in the air.

Playbook

Another strong finish for Boldin. And that’s why I’m really interested to see how the 49ers match up to the Ravens’ WR once the ball crosses the 20-yard line this Sunday. Remember, Boldin aligns in the slot for a reason down in the red zone: to get the ball.

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What’s next for the Senior Bowl prospects?

With the Senior Bowl now complete, the focus is back on the NFL and Super Bowl XLVII. That’s how it should be with the Ravens and 49ers arriving in New Orleans to get ready for Sunday’s matchup.

Play for a ring and everyone

With the Senior Bowl now complete, the focus is back on the NFL and Super Bowl XLVII. That’s how it should be with the Ravens and 49ers arriving in New Orleans to get ready for Sunday’s matchup.

Play for a ring and everyone is watching.

EJ ManuelUS PRESSWIREE.J. Manuel and the rest of the Senior Bowl prospects will now continue their combine prep after a week in Mobile.

However, those rookie hopefuls we just checked out in Mobile this past week will get back to work.

That’s right. This isn’t time for a vacation. Nope. Hit the weight room, the track and start to prep for the next step in the process: the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

It’s coming at the end of February. And so is the talk of 40 times, the 3-cone drill, short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump, etc. Mesurables that don’t define a prospect (or what you see on the tape), but still play a major role in the grading/scouting process.

And those drills (along with the static position specific drills) are practiced and perfected over the next month through training. Even down to the steps in the 20-yard short shuttle (5-10-5), these prospects will work daily with repetition, strength training and functional movements to show up and put their talents on display in Indy.

Run a 4.6 at the end of January? Well, the goal is to get that down to a 4.55 by the time you put your hand on the line at the combine. The same goes for a prospect that wants to get a high 4.4 40 time (4.8, 4.7) down to the low 4.4s (4.3, 4.2). Work on the start, the explosion in the first 10-yards and more. It can be done.

For many of the guys we just watched during Senior Bowl week, they will head back to some of the top training facilities in the country (thanks to their agents paying the bill). Think of IMG Academy or Athletes’ Performance Institute. And there are others that will work with their college strength coach on campus (Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle runs a combine prep program for former Hawkeyes).

I did it myself after graduating from Iowa and playing in the now extinct 2000 Hula Bowl All-Star game in Maui (too many good times on the islands to keep that event going). After starting a training program in Tempe with Athletes’ Performance, I flew back to the Phoenix area after the game and was in the weight room on Monday for another week. That was followed by a trip to Iowa City to finish my combine prep with Coach Doyle.

Remember, the All-Star games are the first step. That’s why we talked about footwork, technique, hips, route running ability, power, strength and so on this past week down in Mobile. That stuff matters. That stuff sells when you are putting your skill sets on display.

But it doesn’t stop now. Nah. This is when it gets interesting. Now we get to see who can master the “take home test” of the standard combine drills and show up in Indy ready to wow us with their speed and athletic ability in shorts.

So, while we will listen to stories from Super Bowl media day down in New Orleans or begin to break down tape in anticipation of Sunday’s ball game for the Lombardi Trophy, the prospects that want to be in the league will be training.

Time to work, rookie.

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All-22: A look at 49ers ‘Inverted Veer’ scheme

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my previous video breakdown of the Inverted Veer scheme.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will have to prep for QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers'

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my previous video breakdown of the Inverted Veer scheme.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will have to prep for QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ Read Option (or Zone Read). However, don’t forget about the Inverted Veer (Power Veer) scheme the 49ers put on tape in the NFC Championship. Another way for Jim Harbaugh’s club to test the edge of the defensive front with Kaepernick reading through the mesh point.

Let’s go to the All-22 tape and breakdown the scheme…

49ers vs. Falcons
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot (Gun Far)
Scheme: Inverted Veer

Playbook

– The 49ers are going to put stress on the closed (strong) side DE with the TE on an “arc” release (outside release to the second level) and the backside guard pulling (think of Power O blocking). Ride the RB (LaMichael James) through the mesh point and read the path of the DE.

– Why the “arc” release vs. the SS? Look at it as a false pass key. With the Falcons playing Cover 1 (man-free), the SS has to read Vernon Davis for his run/pass keys. By releasing Davis up the field, the Niners can remove the SS from the run front and create an easy blocking angle for the TE.

Playbook

– Here is a look at Kaepernick reading the DE through the mesh point. If the DE stays up the field (RB path), the QB will keep and follow the pulling guard through the hole. However, if the DE squeezes the hole (or hesitates), Kaepernick will give to James.

Playbook

– Because the Falcons’ DE hesitates at the point of attack, Kaepernick gives to James with the 49ers setting up a running lane. The backside guard gets enough of the Sam Backer to slow his angle to the ball and Davis fits up on the SS. With both the Nickel and closed side CB removed vs. the slot formation, the FS (deep middle of the field player) has to run the alley and make an open field tackle.

Playbook

– Speed sells with James. The 49ers’ RB eliminates the angle of the FS and puts this ball in the end zone. Just another example of what the 49ers can do offensively next Sunday on the Super Bowl stage.

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Ten observations from Senior Bowl week

After spending the week at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, here are ten observations I took back with me to Chicago. My notes on the quarterbacks, the talent at the offensive tackle position, wide receivers, the best barbeque in town and more.

1. Questions

After spending the week at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, here are ten observations I took back with me to Chicago. My notes on the quarterbacks, the talent at the offensive tackle position, wide receivers, the best barbeque in town and more.

1. Questions at QB: I asked three pro scouts who had the best week of practice in Mobile and I got three different answers: Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon and E.J. Manuel. My take? I’m going with Nassib. The Syracuse QB will need to develop his overall game, but the skill set was the best I saw on the field. Without Geno Smith and Matt Barkley (both opted out of the Senior Bowl), this group didn’t have one QB that stood above the rest.

Denard RobinsonUS PRESSWIREIt will take some time for Denard Robinson to make the transition to the WR position at the NFL level.

2. Denard Robinson looked tentative: I know Robinson is making the transition to the WR position and that is going to take some time when breaking down his ability to run clean routes. And I also give Robinson credit for showing up to compete with a previous injury. However, I didn’t see the dynamic playmaking ability the former QB displayed at Michigan with the football in his hands. Whether it was fielding punts or showcasing his talent after the catch, Robinson didn’t play at a high level this week.

3. First Round Talent at Offensive Tackle: Both Eric Fisher (CMU) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) displayed solid footwork, technique, power and could be the next two tackles to come off the board this April after Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. They weren’t perfect on every rep, but you could see enough in 1-on-1 and team drills to know that these two will make some money this year.

4. Solid group of wide outs: Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech), Chris Harper (Kansas State), etc. However, the one prospect I really enjoyed watching this week was Marquise Goodwin (Texas). The WR has legit speed and I’m interested to see how he fits in an NFL game plan next season. He could be a playmaker.

5. My top two DBs: CB Desmond Trufant (Washington) and SS Jonathan Cyprien (FIU). Both prospects have a swagger to their game and they want to compete. Trufant has quick feet, can turn the hips, change directions and play press. Cyprien is built like an NFL safety. And while he is a better fit in the box from the scouts I talked to, he also got some work in the deep middle of the field. Physical player that will use his pads in the run game and take proper angles to the ball.

6. Small school prospects: I love watching small school talent compete (and win) vs. prospects from BCS programs. That’s what I saw with DT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern) and CB Robert Alford (Southeastern Louisiana). Williams is quick off the line and turned some heads in 1-on-1 drills. And while I did get some questions on Alford’s size (5-9), the CB has good feet and can close on the ball. Let’s keep an eye on these two throughout the draft process.

7. Raw talent at DE: Margus Hunt (SMU) and Ezekial Ansah (BYU). Both are really raw at this stage of their development and must work on their technique when they rush the passer. Can’t lean on the bull rush when you compete against top competition. They both need pro coaching. A pretty common theme when catching up with scouts before I left town this week.

8. The RB position: Two names that impressed me down in Mobile: Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) and Mike Gillislee (Florida). I liked their vision, burst through the hole and ability in the open field. Good backs that can fit in pro schemes.

9. 1-on-1 drills don’t disappoint: My favorite part of the week. There is so much you can get out of watching a DB or a WR or a DE in 1-on-1 work where they have to win with technique. You won’t get away with poor footwork nor can you lean on speed when the competition level rises down in Mobile. Some players were exposed while others stepped up in these matchups in front of the NFL’s top coaches, scouts and GMs.

10. Best barbecue in Mobile: There are some great places to grab food in Mobile when it comes to barbeque, but I’m sticking with the Brick Pit. My new favorite lunch spot during Senior Bowl week. If you get down there, make sure to stop by and get the pulled pork plate with baked beans and coleslaw. Outstanding food.

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Senior Bowl: Wednesday prospect notes

Click here for my notes from Tuesday’s practice notes.

Let’s run through some of my notes from the North and South squad practice sessions on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile.

GoodwinUS PRESSWIRETexas

Click here for my notes from Tuesday’s practice notes.

Let’s run through some of my notes from the North and South squad practice sessions on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile.

GoodwinUS PRESSWIRETexas WR Marquise Goodwin has top tier speed and showed the ability to win vs. press-man on Wednesday.

Goodwin’s ability at WR: I know the Texas product can run. Goodwin has top tier vertical speed. However, I was more impressed Wednesday with his ability to win at the line of scrimmage vs. press-coverage. Very athletic player when you watch him win on the release and get into the route stem. There has been a lot of talk from scouts on Markus Wheaton from Oregon State, but don’t forget about Goodwin as a WR that can earn an NFL paycheck inside of the numbers and pressing the top of the secondary.

CB Desmond Trufant: Smooth footwork, quick hips and he displayed the ability to play press-man in 1-on-1 drills. I thought Trufant played with a little swagger to his game and wanted to compete throughout the session on Wednesday. You can see the talent watching the CB change direction and drive on the ball.

BYU’s Ezekial Ansah: The DE has speed coming off the ball and I can see why scouts are drawn to his athleticism. But like most of the pass rushers down here in Mobile, Ansah has to develop his technique. Move past the bull rush, attack the edge of the blocker and use your hands to create leverage to the QB.

Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor: Thick build at the RB position (5-9, 216) with a solid burst to get through the hole and square the pads. If you look at the Stanford run game (Power O, Lead, Counter OF), Taylor is a fit at the next level.

DE Margus Hunt: The SMU product hasn’t had a great week of practice, but the opportunity to develop his skill set has to be attractive to NFL clubs given his size (6-8, 277). Hunt must develop counter moves when he gets on the edge of blockers and he needs pro coaching at the point of attack. Raw talent.

Gillislee’s vision: The Florida RB showed some vision on Wednesday when he got the second level of the defense. Gillislee was quick to create angles in the open field and I like the cut-back ability.

Quinton Patton: The WR runs clean routes. That’s why you see the Louisiana Tech product winning on double-moves. Set up DBs, chop the feet and then separate down the field. Patton had another solid practice on Wednesday.

Small school DT: Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern had a burst off the ball in 1-on-1 drills, displayed quick hands and plays hard. Keep an eye on him throughout the draft process.

Shawn Williams: The Georgia safety is going to hit and he will fill the hole in the run game. In 1-on-1 drills, Williams worked vs. the tight ends. And while he can slide the feet on the release and drive to the hip on inside breaking routes, he needs to keep TEs off his body at the top of the route stem. That’s where he allows some separation and finds himself in a trail position.

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Senior Bowl: Tuesday prospect notes

After watching both the North and South squads practice on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, here are some of my notes from Mobile.

Eric Fisher is a true talent: It is easy to see the skill set the LT

After watching both the North and South squads practice on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, here are some of my notes from Mobile.

Eric Fisher is a true talent: It is easy to see the skill set the LT brings to the field. Fisher has great flexibility, power in his base and is strong on the initial punch. The Central Michigan product stands out in One-on-One drills and plays with technique. That sells in Mobile when you can consistently win matchups in front of the entire league. There is no question Fisher carries a first round grade and I would bet he is climbing up some draft boards.

John JenkinsUS PRESSWIREJenkins showcased some power in One-on-One pass rush on Tuesday.

John Jenkins: The NT/DT from Georgia has legit power. During One-on-One drills, Jenkins beat up interior O-Lineman with a straight bull rush. Looks like a good fit as a 3-4 NT that can extend his arms and generate a solid push up the field.

Small school talent at CB: There are going to be questions on the size of CB Robert Alford (5-9), but the Southeastern Louisiana prospect wants to compete. I was impressed with his footwork, closing speed vs. inside breaking routes and the ability to change directions. A scout I talked to projected him as a guy who could fill the role as a No.3 corner.

More QB questions: I can see why scouts are looking at Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib. There are some skills you can develop when watching him in 7-on-7, team, etc. But I haven’t been overly impressed with the QBs so far. I’m anxious to start looking at college tape after the Super Bowl to get a better feel for this group.

Denard Robinson’s transition to WR: Route running. That’s where the former Michigan QB needs work. Robinson is a great athlete. And I could see that when he ran a couple of double-moves during the morning session. But for anyone trying to make the switch to the WR position, the ability to run clean routes is the biggest challenge. Right now Robinson will round his cuts coming out of his breaks and that allows DBs to close on the ball.

Keep an eye on safety Jonathan Cyprien: The FIU product stood out on the practice field and is built like an NFL safety. Cyprien took good angles to the ball and he was physical at the point of attack on Tuesday. A player to watch the rest of the week.

Lane Johnson: The Oklahoma offensive tackle has top tier athletic ability, good feet and moves well in pass pro. The question: can he add some more size to his frame? One scout told me he would like to put 10 pounds on Johnsion.

USC safety TJ McDonald: Scouts aren’t sold on his game tape, but McDonald showed some range on Tuesday, the ability to flip the hips in coverage and he wasn’t shy about setting his pads on the edge. I know McDonald is stiff in his pedal and needs to come out of his breaks with more speed. However, looking at his size (6-2), I see the USC safety as an interesting player.

WR speed: I will focus more on the WR prospects tomorrow, but check out Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton. He can push a CB up the field and get on top of the secondary. Deep ball speed.

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Senior Bowl: 5 things to watch on the practice field

Tape study is still the No.1 tool to evaluating and grading rookie prospects, but this week we get to see some of the top talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. And after checking out the North squad Monday afternoon, here are five things I

Tape study is still the No.1 tool to evaluating and grading rookie prospects, but this week we get to see some of the top talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. And after checking out the North squad Monday afternoon, here are five things I will be looking for on the practice field down in Mobile, Alabama.

E.J. ManuelUS PRESSWIREFlorida State’s E.J. Manuel is one of the QBs down in Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl.

1. One-on-One drills: My favorite part of the week. DBs vs. WRs, O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. RBs in pass pro. There is nowhere to hide in these matchups and you find out quickly who wants to compete in front of the entire league. Focus on the ability of WRs to run clean routes, DBs in their plant and drive, the footwork of Offensive Tackles in pass pro, the hand placement (counter moves) of DEs, etc. You can get a feel for where these prospects are at in their development by watching One-on-One drills throughout the week.

2. QB play: No Geno Smith or Matt Barkley, but we can still check out Ryan Nassib, Landry Jones, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, etc. These QBs will see basic coverages in the secondary (Cover 1, Cover 3) and the routes are pretty standard (Curl-Flat, Slant-Flat, Levels, Verts). Because of that, look at ball placement, footwork in the pocket, accuracy, arm strength and study the route tree. Can these QB prospects throw the deep 7 cut or hit the comeback? There is enough here in 7-on-7 and team drills to evaluate the QB position.

3. Secondary technique: I spend a lot of time watching the DBs go through individual drills, One-on-One and 7-on-7 because it gives you an opportunity to study their technique. Last year in Mobile, Harrison Smith and Janoris Jenkins showcased their skill sets on the field and had scouts talking throughout the week. That’s what you want as a rookie prospect. Focus on their footwork in off-man, the ability to maintain their cushion (distance between DB and WR), the transition (open the hips) vs. the deep ball and the speed coming out of their breaks. And if they get beat, find out why. Did they take a bucket step (step behind on transition), stick their eyes on the QB or open too soon when the WR stemmed the route up the field?

4. Football speed: We will get into 40 times, the short shuttle (5-10-5), 3-cone drill, etc. when these prospects head to Indianapolis for the NFL combine next month and throughout the Pro Day circuit. However, I want to see who can display that speed in pads. I look at WRs at the top of the route stem, DBs playing the 9 (fade) route, RBs when they press the edge of the formation. That’s where you want the “football speed” to show up this week on the practice field. Play fast. That’s the drill.

5. Production under pressure: This is job interview. Every drill, every practice. There are head coaches and GMs in the stands with pro scouts lining the fences next to the field. Hey, everyone is watching. That’s not easy when these young players are removed from their college schemes, handed a new playbook for the week and have to respond to NFL coaching for the first time (Lions and Raiders staffs running practices). I want to see how they respond to the coaching and if they can make plays under the stress of the week in Mobile. That sells.

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