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Going by The Book
PETER KING
September 05, 2005
So you think playbooks are just diagrams with lines going this way and that? You'll be amazed at what coaches stuff in them and how much the poor player has to learn
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September 05, 2005

Going By The Book

So you think playbooks are just diagrams with lines going this way and that? You'll be amazed at what coaches stuff in them and how much the poor player has to learn

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That's because most nights in training camp, Brown was up till midnight or later, trying to process the 20 plays the Eagles had installed that evening. Rookie or not, a player's mental mistakes are not tolerated by the coaches. "My body's totally worn down, and it needs sleep," says Brown. "But I can't afford to go out there tomorrow and screw up. In college the play was a couple of words. Now it's almost a paragraph. So I just keep going, as long as I can stand it."

One question keeps coming to mind: How do the players remember everything they need to know?

In fact, some don't. In 2003 the Rams and the New England Patriots each waived a recently acquired veteran who had struggled to learn the offense. But most players don't have a problem mastering the language, assignments and techniques, and that's where coaching comes in. Mora tells his assistants that if they can't teach a player what he needs to learn to play well, it's their fault. "I reject the notion that players can't learn an NFL scheme," he says. "I will not allow the word dumb to be used in this building."

Mora hires coaches who can not only teach but also understand that voice inflection and imagination are keys to helping players learn. When the game plan is unveiled on Wednesday morning, the coaches take five- to 10-minute turns in the PowerPoint presentation, sprinkling jokes and quick quizzes throughout the instruction to keep the room alive. When he was with the 49ers, Mora had a player who had trouble learning the defense. To boost the guy's confidence, Mora would tell the player on a Thursday, "Better study your second-down tendencies in the red zone," then the next day he'd ask the player, in front of his teammates, "What does St. Louis like to do on second down near the goal line?" The guy had it down pat, and he gained confidence.

Vermeil uses parables as a teaching tool. His favorite, included in this year's training-camp playbook, is about a carpenter, who just before he retired built a home without his usual care. Then, shocked when the contractor gave him the house as a retirement gift, the carpenter thought of how he would have handled the job differently.

"You are the carpenter," the parable reads. "Your attitudes and choices you make today build the house you live in tomorrow. Build wisely! Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody is watching."

Says Vermeil, "I tell guys, 'You're tired, you think you've got nothing more to give, and all of a sudden it's cut day. What would have happened if you pushed yourself just a little more? Then maybe you wouldn't be cut. You'd be in the NFL.'

"You have a lot of ways to teach what's in that playbook," adds Vermiel. "And you better use them all."

? For an archive of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback columns, go to SI.com/king.

? For daily NFL news and fantasy football notes, go to SI.com/football.

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