Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hybrid Players, Antonio Brown Won't Hold Out Next Year, And Another Episode Of "BEN Being BEN"

As the offseason and OTAs roll along, we get lots of TMZ, yellow journalism and "As The World Turns" type news thrown our way, even amongst the local writers at times. What do you expect, though? This is the offseason and it isn't as if there's game preparation, strategies and injuries about which to write. But there is still good reporting and still good articles being disseminated to us.

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote a column Thursday regarding the role of hybrid players in the Steelers new offense. He focused on Baron Batch and Chris Rainey in particular. http://t.co/BheHb5YY

One thing Kaboly wrote was that "only a fraction of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system has been installed through the first two weeks of organized team activities."

He went on to say, "Even so, one critical concept has become quite clear — a player who can line up as a running back, motion out of the backfield and set up at the slot receiver position is going to be extremely valuable."

When asked about his role and whatever that "hybrid" role may be, Batch said, "Wherever they need me, whatever I can do. I've always been type of player that is unselfish and willing to do a lot of things....Special teams is definitely something that I feel I would be able to contribute on, I really feel like I could help on offense."

Chris Rainey, the other side of the focus of the article, is just the type of player you want if your definition of hybrid is "scary." You know that dream that most of us have had where you realize too late that you went to school, work or church naked? (I apologize to any former catholic altar boys for any repressed memories I've caused to surface.) Well, that's what Chris Rainey is: so fast, so elusive and so quick that most defenders are left feeling exposed, naked and stripped of their dignity. That's something that the offense could definitely use.

Speaking of skills that can definitely be used, I segue from the offensive to the defensive side of the ball. Because this concept of the hybrid applies to defense too.

The Steelers third round pick Sean Spence may be the perfect example of that on the defensive side of the ball. Though I personally was looking for a Buck linebacker in the draft, I can't deny the athleticism that I see when I watch the various clips of his play. Coach Mike Tomlin refers to him as having very good "see-to-do", and that, coupled with the aforementioned athleticism, is going to be needed when dealing with those pass catching tight ends.

Spence has safety-like abilities in that linebacker body and will be used a lot in coverage. Once he gets involved with the Steelers training system he'll gain about five pounds or so of muscle and will be played in the box as much because his sideline-to-sideline prowess can't be denied. What's Spence looking to do in the meantime to get playing time? "My head is all the way in the playbook and also on special teams. I just want to get better each and every day." Good to hear, Spence.

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With all the talk of Mike Wallace's OTA holdout, one of the things I've said for some time now was that I truly didn't think that Antonio Brown (nor Emmanuel Sanders, for that matter) would be the type to do the same next year. Well, he's come out and confirmed my beliefs.
 
In an article by Ed Bouchette, Brown was quoted as saying, "It's definitely a learning process for me, being that I could be faced with the same circumstances next year. I tend to learn from it, take notes."

Brown, the sixth round pick out of Central Michigan, went on to say, "Whatever the case may be, I plan on being here." Thank you, AB, for making me look good (because that was obviously the reason you said it in the first place). http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/on-the-steelers-wrs-brown-sanders-may-be-in-holdout-mode-next-spring-638467/

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Ben Roethlisberger never met a microphone he didn't like. And (un)fortunately there was another in his face this past Wednesday after the team wrapped up practice of their second offseason OTAs. Once again he made a few Ben-like comments that some having interpreted as a shot to the fans as well as Todd Haley.

Roethlisberger was asked by Joe Starkey if it was just a matter of getting on-board with Haley after he seemingly didn't like the change of coordinators this past offseason to which Big Ben replied, "Yeah, absolutely. You have no choice and like I said we're coming along and everyday it's getting a little bit better and we're learning and we'll be running the ball a lot this year, so fans should be happy."

To confirm what he'd just heard, Starkey asked Big Ben if indeed the Steelers will be running a lot this season. "I think so", said Big Ben. He added, "That's the way it seems. So we've got some good ball carriers and I know Red (Isaac Redman) is excited for the opportunity, and I know the fans want it, so it looks like they'll be getting their wish."

In the same interview Big Ben reiterated what he's said in past interviews, that learning the new offense is uncomfortable as it includes change. He also said that he and Haley are still learning each other as well as the offense.

Was this just yet another case of Ben being Ben, or is it a valid complaint? I'll keep this short for you: it's Ben being Ben.

I see it as Big Ben, yes, doing a little purposeful pouting and whining. Because if it doesn't work out, he then will have the opportunity/ability to say that it was new offense and that he just didn't get quite comfortable enough. At the same time, though, with what I've been able to glean, it's also smoke and mirrors. I believe there will be more balance overall. There will naturally be more running at the beginning of the year as they're all still getting used to the timing of the new offense. Pass blocking, routes and timing with the receivers doesn't come as easily as run blocking, punching the defensive lineman in the nose and the running back's stepping on his neck as he's busting through the hole. The run will set up the pass, especially early on. But Haley also wants to use his weapons and he knows that he has two Pro Bowl wide receivers, an underrated tight end and a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback who knows the art of play action. Thus, smoke and mirrors.

Look, it's very obvious that Big Ben reads the papers and listens to talk radio, but not all of the fan base wants to run 40 times a game. Most realize that the NFL is now a passing league and that you need to be able to spread teams out at least somewhat. You don't, though, need to lead the league in rushing to win or compete for a Super Bowl. To that point, the Steelers passed the ball 57.2% of the time last year, 52.6% in 2010, and 54.7% in 2008. When they do run, though, they need to be effective and balanced. Having only 28% of your offensive production coming from the run game is unacceptable and unSteeler-like.

So, expect more of the occasional passive-aggressive blustering from employee No. 7...As The Burgh Turns.

 Aside: I must correct some figures I threw out on at least one other blog when I wrote that the Steelers ran the ball only 32% of the time last year. I was wrong in two ways. They actually ran the ball 43% of the time (42.8% to be exact). Where I further erred was that the percentage of offense from the run was not 32%, but 28%. I don't know how I could have erred so egregiously, but I do apologize to all who follow my blog and possibly depend on stats that I provide.

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One last thing: Some fans are still clamoring for the Steelers to go out and get a "traditional" fullback. Stop it. It will not happen. The league has shifted away from the traditional fullback now. Period. Even Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said as much after the draft when he said, "Everybody is using tight ends as fullbacks and sometimes they use them when trying to lead and sometimes they don’t. A lot of stuff today is mis-direction and trying to fool you or out-number you one way and then give you a different look coming back the other way."

The fullback position is not the fullback position of 10 years ago, just like the tight end position has started to become more of a hybrid position. (There's that word again.) So don't expect it, even though the position, whether called H-back or fullback, will be utilized.