Hello Who Dat Family and welcome to Tee's Corner! So far, we've talked about the player and the scheme, now we focus on the coach. Today we will review and discuss a basic business principal that can be applied to life in the NFL. Its a rather simple idea that can explain what appears to be complicated decision making by the coaches and the front office - refine, repair, or replace. The process in determining which action applies to a player is very straight-forward. Let's look at some variables to this before we dig into the specifics.
Every coach is not the same and will approach this situation differently than the next. You generally have 3 types of individuals here:
Refinement ~ The Position Coach - This person will generally specialize in the fundamental techniques for a specific position or unit, such as a DB or OL coach.
Repair ~ The Independent Specialist - This person usually works with a player in the offseason as an individual with the singular goal of fixing something that is clearly broken. Think QB Specialist fixing a guy's throwing motion or basic mechanics.
Replacement ~ Defensive Coordinator - Obviously this individual does not have the time to work on one player's technique, so he will be more likely to replace the malfunctioning part.
The New Orleans Saints have been notoriously inept at developing talent at some key positions in recent times including defensive back, linebacker, and wide receiver. We will focus on the defensive back positions and consider the cases of Keenan Lewis, Patrick Robinson, and Corey White.
Just to set a baseline of what I would consider a refine, repair, or replace type of player, here are some examples of each.
Refine - Richard Sherman, Keenan Lewis, Darrelle Revis
Repair - Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Patrick Robinson, Malcolm Jenkins
Replace - Corey White, Morris Claiborne, Mike Jenkins
Even for casual Saints fans, a glance at this list of players will make you cringe at the thought of retaining any of the current or former Saints besides Keenan Lewis. But in reality, the Saints could do WestBank, SJB, and PRob a favor by hiring a coach who can help them in the off-season. A better plan would be to replace the wooden bench who is getting paid to coach the DBs, because the current person in that position is not getting the job done. The next issue then manifests itself in the form of players having sub-par performances week after week. Rob Ryan is essentially in place to install a scheme for the defense to run and is not necessarily adapting his scheme to his players, he's doing the opposite. With that being said, his go-to move is simply to replace the player. This cure all approach is not effective as a 16 game season wears on. The defensive backs coach must recognize the issues that plague the team on game-day, primarily, the inability to play zone coverage in an effective way.
Let's re-focus our attention on the Saints players that have been mentioned earlier and find out if the player is good for refinement, repair, or replacement.
Keenan Lewis - Lewis arrived in New Orleans and provided something that hadn't been seen in favor of the good guys in a long time, solid-to-great coverage. Many held concerns that he hadn't intercepted many passes to date and assumed that was the only stat that mattered. What they later found out was Lewis, the pass defense leader coming in, could shut down opposing number 1 receivers. This year he appears to be regressing a bit, but some minor tweaks to his play style will not damage the quality player that he is. In particular, Lewis is faster than he gets credit for and should be given the opportunity to play very aggressive man defense on 80% or more of the defensive snaps. He must also work on playing more relaxed in zone and finding a good hand-off depth with the safeties (this does take time). Much like Sherman and Revis, you don't change this player, you just make minor adjustments.
Patrick Robinson - PRob is a definite candidate for repair guy here. I expect disagreement and would love to see why he is not reparable. Robinson is a former first round pick who has underwhelmed in nearly every game in which he participated. Saints fans very quickly point to this young man's failings, but never accurately identify why he has not succeeded. Just like QBs & LBs, some players are 'system' guys and when asked to play in a different style from what they've grown up playing, they fail, often miserably. Robinson is a clear case of this and now he's also a bit of a head case because he's lost confidence in his God-given tools. His performance against the Buccaneers, while limited, is an indication of what he can do and on a consistent basis if he is put in a position to use his natural skills. A good start was playing him as a nickel/dime back and he came through with the team's lone interception of the season. Unfortunately, he'll be moved to the replace pile and the Saints will move on to ruining another talented DB. Buh-bye PRob, hello SJB!
Corey White - Corky, as he's known on CSC, is a talented player who has been miscast as a starting CB. He is our replacement guy in this discussion. Replacement is considered, not because White is not a player with ability, but because he'd be a better safety who was asked to cover occasionally. With more natural CBs on the roster such as Brian Dixon, it would have been better to transition this player to a position that fits his physical gifts better. He's long and rangy with decent speed and once upon a time was a good tackler. The latter usually happens to CBs who are routinely getting burned and end up using bad form to try to make up for getting roasted. Just like Prob, a change of scenery (and possibly position) would do wonders for White's game.
Now we've taken a look at one of the Saints greatest needs to be addressed next off-season - defensive backs coach! Not only would a solid DB coach help the players who are already on the roster, he'd also help identify players who are a better fit for the scheme in which they'd be playing for the Saints. Something to consider here before I leave you...what if the Saints had a really good DB coach over the last 5 years and had left Malcolm Jenkins at CB instead of moving him to safety. My theory is that he would be a lot like Richard Sherman right now, in New Orleans, not doing his '09 Sharper impression in Philly. One more thing, as DB development deficient as they are, why would the Saints draft a CB who they knew would be a developmental/project player?
Until next time, Be Cool Who Dats!