In our effort to bring you quality content sprinkled with a little variety, a couple of Canal Street Chronicles contributors and I have created our very own round table discussion. Depending on how much you guys like this first installment, we could make it into a cool weekly series in which we discuss some of the more popular topics regarding the Saints or the National Football League in general.
The format is simple: we will discuss three questions centered on one topic. We have three permanent panelists: Tee Word, J.R. Ella, and the new guy, Kevin Skiver. Every now and then, we will include one guest panelist (a fellow contributor to CSC or other SB Nation blog and occasionally, we'll invite a CSC member!).
We would love for you guys to get as involved as possible in this round table. This should be like a bunch of buddies in a bar, having some cold ones and talking about sports. To that effect, not only would we like you to give your take on the topic of the day, we'd love to have your suggestions for future themes, should this become a recurring series. Let's have fun with it!
Our topic of discussion today is toughness in sports, specifically when it comes to our very own, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Although a great player, Graham is starting to be infamously known around the NFL for his sometimes obvious disappearances in games against physical teams. When it's time to show some toughness and battle back, Graham hasn't always answered the call.
Here we go!
Q1. Can toughness truly be instilled in anyone?
Tee Word: I think toughness can be instilled and developed if the subject is willing. This is the core of the Jimmy Graham argument, will he ever become tough and can it be built up in him. This will come from his teammates - something like "hey Jimmy, get your ass up and manhandle somebody". When it happens, I guarantee his run blocking will improve as well.
J.R. Ella: I do believe toughness can be instilled in people. Adversity can make tough guys out of softies. So can life trials, tough environments, tough experiences. Those who survive those usually come out of them one of two ways: crippled or stronger, tougher and ready to take on the world. In the case of Graham however, I'm not so sure. He clearly had a pretty tough life growing up, however too many times have I seen him shrink in the face of adversity. Notably when said adversity was in the form of a physical, mugging defender across the field.
Kevin Skiver: Absolutely. People forget how young Graham's football career is. He came in as a physical freak, but he can still be considered "raw" by a lot of people. Great hands, good at working the middle of the field, sure, but football is such an in-depth game, there's a reason it's such a difficult transition. I'm not sure Graham has the mental part of football down yet; there are plays where he lacks certain fluidity if he isn't running a seam route. He looks lost blocking on run plays and is more used to distract the defense than anything else. Put him at the line of scrimmage in the trenches more and really start to bear down on him, whether you're a coach or a teammate. Make sure that his nose is in every single play, and make it so that we can be a damn strong side running team again.
Q2. Does Jimmy Graham need to be tougher on the field?
TW: Yes, Jimmy needs to grow a pair when the opposition is game planning against him and saying "just get physical and he'll punk out". Take a 15 yarder a couple times, but let it be known you ain't a punk! It shows up mainly when he's being roughed up and he can't get free. Instead of stepping up, he checks out mentally. For me to hand him a tough card, I need him to knuckle up.
J.R.: Oh yeah. Graham is soft and he needs to get a lot tougher. However, in his case, I think it's all mental. We all have seen him, when he's on a roll, catch 10 passes in the game, absorb some of the nastiest hits and yet get back up as though nothing had happened. The issue is when he gets taken out of the game by a tough, hounding linebacker or cornerback and can't get going. He then seems to give up and completely check out mentally. You can be as strong as a bull, but if you are weak mentally, you're not going to be very productive at anything.
KS: I don't want this to be Jimmy bash-fest. One thing that he never got enough credit for was playing through that torn plantar fascia. The pictures from the surgery have been posted here on CSC numerous times, and they're horrifying. However, as far as on the field goes, there's a reason he vanished against physical guys. Aqib Talib and KJ Wright held him in check all game by forcing him to play them physically because they knew that his foot hindered his ability to cut. If Graham only thrives in mismatches, then he isn't a true #1 target and doesn't deserve the giant contract we're inevitably about to give him. As for the run blocking, c'mon man, you have got to at least try. I still have no idea how he is as a run blocker because I don't even see him make an effort on running plays. He just meanders around. It's not like he can't engage these guys, he just doesn't seem to have that mentality yet.
Q3. Where do we draw the line between tough and dirty?
TW: The line is drawn between Kenny Vaccaro and William Moore. I discussed this over at the Failcoholic a while back. Vaccaro is physical and plays with toughness; Moore takes a lot of cheap shots and recorded more fines than anyone last season. I believe you can be physical within the confines of the rules, including avoiding head hunting and knee-capping other players.
J.R.: If you ask fans of any NFL team other than the Saints, many probably think that Kenny Vaccaro is a dirty player. If you ask me, he's tough, a pesky player with an attitude, which makes him the great player he's on his way to becoming. I think great players always flirt with the invisible frontier that separate tough plays and dirty ones. As long as their intention isn't to outright injure the opponent, I have no problem with my favorite players being called dirty.
KS: Tough and dirty is a blurry line, but it comes down to technicalities. Dirty players deliberately bend the rules to suit their needs, whereas tough players bend their needs to fit the rules. A tough player cuts through the line, reads a play, makes a form tackle, hears the whistle, and stops. A dirty player cuts under an O-lineman, launches himself like a missile at a player, and punches him after the tackle. When he gets caught, he employs a new tactic to inflict as much bodily harm (not physical pain, actual bodily injury) as possible. Tough guys can talk after a play, that's fine, especially if it's part of their "persona" or whatever. They'll try to hurt your pride. Dirty players try to hurt you (looking at you Brandon Meriweather).
This concludes our first round table discussion! Please take some time to answer our questions in the comment section. Feel free to speak out on the subject and leave suggestions for future topics as well. As always, thanks for reading - Peace!