Tuck's takes: Ravens rookie safety needs help in coverage and more
With no football to play for the first time in 18 years, former pro Ross Tucker is passing the time reading about his favorite sport. What follows are a few links to NFL-related articles he found and his take on them.
It is never a good sign when an NFL coach calls you stiff. Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan recently used that word in reference to rookie safety Tom Zbikowski, the former Notre Dame star. Though it is not necessarily the kiss of death, it is definitely NFL-speak for lacking in athletic ability.
I should know. I was called stiff on more than one occasion during my career. And you know what, they were right -- I was pretty stiff. That doesn't mean I couldn't get the job done; it just meant I wasn't as fluid and didn't move as well laterally or in space as the coaches would have liked.
Agility in the open field is much more important for a safety and special teamer like Zbikowski than it is for an interior lineman like I was. Ryan's contention that he would like to see Zbikowski "change direction a little bit more" can only be seen as a sign that Zbikowski has not made a good impression in coverage thus far for the Ravens. Though losing some weight, like Ryan suggests, could help Zbikowski a little, my experience tells me it is unlikely to make a dramatic difference in his fluidity.
All but seven NFL teams voted in favor of the new rule that allows one defensive player to have a radio in his helmet on every play, mimicking the current way in which the offensive plays are currently relayed to the quarterbacks. There are a number of potential problems with this rule, and I am surprised more people haven't brought them up.
One of the major problems is that unlike on offense, where the QB is always in the ball game, defensive substitutions are much more frequent in a league where defensive coordinators strive to match personnel with the opposition. Clearly every team, like the Packers with Nick Barnett and Nick Collins, has certain players that are typically on the field for every defensive snap. That is not the problem. The problem becomes if and when that player gets injured. Just because Barnett and Collins are three-down players doesn't mean their backups would be as well. Teams will still have to have all of the hand signals in place as a contingency plan for all the different situations that could take place.
It also will be very interesting to see how well these in-helmet radios are really made and how well they will hold up at a head-rattling position like linebacker. Unlike quarterbacks, who rarely get hit head to head because of the penalty involved and the potential fines, defensive players in the front seven make helmet-to-helmet contact on almost every play. Those things better be built to last.
The fact that no players can wear a helmet with a radio in it on special teams' plays becomes a logistical nightmare for the defensive player who wears the helmet. Some starting defensive players stay in for special teams plays like punts, field goals and extra points. If the coaches want to keep a player like Barnett in for that play, which is certainly their prerogative, he will have to switch to a non-radio helmet before the snap. That seems pretty ridiculous, doesn't it?
All about incentive
Anyone into the business side of the NFL has to respect the way the Titans are handling their negotiations with stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. They gave him the franchise tag earlier in the offseason and have not been able to reach a long-term contract agreement. His agent says Haynesworth will sign the tender if the Titans agree not to place the franchise tag on him again in 2009.
There is no denying Haynesworth is a dominant football player and quite possibly the Titans best player. That being said, the Titans are smart to be hesitant to give a huge contract to a player who has proven to have both anger-management and effort issues throughout his career. They could write some language into the contract to protect themselves should Haynesworth decide to go on another face-stomping rampage like he did with Andre Gurode.
But there is no real way to write effort into a contract and that is the danger every time you give a player like Haynesworth well over $20 million in guaranteed money. You have to wonder what real incentive Haynesworth will have once someone gives him the monster second contract that he played so hard for in 2007. The same goes for Shaun Rogers in Cleveland and Kris Jenkins in New York. I can tell you from first-hand experience that all three of these players are almost unblockable when they want to be. But that is the point. After these guys receive these huge deals, how bad do they still want it? The Titans are smart to dangle a carrot in front of Haynesworth. That is their best bet for maximum production from Big Al in 2008.
Fantasy vs. Reality
I never got into fantasy football while I was playing, but I may have to catch the fever and get on the bandwagon this year now that I am retired. I knew fantasy was pretty important when some of my friends would e-mail me and ask if I thought they should play Willis McGahee or Frank Gore at running back for a given week. It always cracked me up that my friends thought they were getting some sort of insight when I would just offer an educated guess like anyone else.
This NFL.com article detailing the infamous play from last season in which Brian Westbrook took a knee instead of scoring a touchdown at the end of the Eagles game against the Cowboys is a pretty good indication of how popular fantasy Football has become. Though I am all for anything that increases the popularity of the NFL, the fact that so many fans (and Larry Fitzgerald, apparently) are more concerned with the failure or success of their fantasy team than they are with the outcome of the game is a bit puzzling. Is there a point when fantasy allegiance will go so far that it will be bad for the league?
It is interesting to me that more and more players are becoming active fantasy players and that the league is promoting it. I was always so paranoid during my playing days when it came to anything involving sports and money that I never participated in any NCAA tournament brackets, let alone a fantasy league. I wasn't exactly sure what the rules entailed, so I decided I would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to wagering even minimal amounts of money on athletic contests.
Ross Tucker played for five teams in his seven-year NFL career. He has joined SI.com as a regular contributor on the NFL beat.