A friend of mine was at a panel discussion recently where a few NFL players were around to answer questions from fans. My friend asked Rams RB Steven Jackson what his philosophy is when it comes to hitting his teammates in training camp. Without hesitation he said, “They ain’t my teammates until week one.”
Patriots T Nate Solder was also there and continued the thought, “If you don’t go full steam, someone will take your job.”
Those two quotes perfectly reflect what training camp is all about. Together, they capture the kill-or-be-killed mentality that is in these players’ minds, even as they’re beating up on guys they are sharing a locker room, possibly a dorm room and several meals with. For now.
A few players are safe, a few others can probably count on remaining on the roster at least, but most of 90 men at St. Joe’s have to fight. For the bottom 68, these next few weeks will be their best chance to prove their worth. For the bottom 45, this will likely be their only chance – 37 will be cut and the best eight will receive practice-squad offers.
Although this keeps them on the team, it all but ensures that they will have no shot of playing this season unless there is a catastrophic series of injures at their position. They will spend every practice this season trying to quickly learn a few plays and formations that the Chiefs’ opponents run that week, and will be trying to emulate those for the starters’ benefit. They will not spend time learning the Chiefs playbooks or breaking down game film. They will essentially be human tackle bags.
The preseason is a strange time because of this dynamic. On one hand, it’s the first glimpse of football us crazed fans have seen since the first week of February. On the other hand, it’s not real football.
When the starters are on the field, they are essentially testing their chemistry and trying not to get hurt. When the backups come on, it’s like some sort of disorganized Thunderdome.
From the fan perspective, it’s great because it’s the only chance we get to see our depth players in action. From the starter’s perspective, it’s awful because they get little pay and no glory for essentially the same risk of injury. For those fighting for a roster spot, it is the Coliseum.
I say all of this as a drawn out preface to everything else I am going to be talking about for the rest of the preseason. We have to understand that everything we see from backup and auditioning players in preseason games is like a peek into bizarro world. You can’t take it for face value, particularly at the quarterback position. Opposing backup DB’s are bad, but the 2nd and 3rd-string O-lines are just as bad. QB’s both have to dance around behind comically dysfunctional blocking while throwing to receivers slicing through similarly discombobulated coverage.
Nonetheless, through this crystal ball we must look to determine whether or not we think these players are worthy of the NFL – a league where the gameplay is totally different than this preseason silliness.
I looked back at all of Rickie Stanzi’s 2011 snaps to see how he did in preseason bizarro world. Overall, he did not bad – especially considering the truncated offseason programs. But, if he is going to beat out Brady Quinn and put some heat on Matt Cassel, he is going to have to improve quite a bit.
Pre-Snap, Pocket Presence
Stanzi was a known for his quickness at Iowa, and routinely made great throws off of scrambles and bootlegs. Posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.93 at the Combine isn’t bad for a QB, but that doesn’t qualify as speed in the NFL. In both the 2011 preseason film I watched from him and the reports I’ve seen so far from 2012 training camp, Stanzi has been off target on the run. At this level, DB’s are simply able to keep up with receivers, even if the QB extends the play. If he is going to continue to make this a key part of his game, he has to get a lot better at it.
He also had trouble sensing the rush last preseason – he either panicked and got rid of the ball unnecessarily or held it too long. In his defense, our backup O-linemen played awful.
He also seemed to be in over his head in making pre-snap adjustments. Cordell at The Film Room (a must-follow for you Twitter people out there) said, “Thing I liked about #Chiefs Tyler Palko was pre-snap…in preseason rarely ran a bad play…Stanzi was opposite, plays routinely blown up.” That’s right, when you’re being negatively compared to Palko, we have a problem.
But, that is what I often heard last year – that Palko was more confident and comfortable running the offense and making good decisions. Therefore, he started over Ricky. Still, the fact that Palko couldn’t throw a ball accurately more than seven yards should have also come into play in that assessment.
I’m not QB expert, but I saw Stanzi several times making the type of weird side-armed throws that Brett Farve and Tony Romo are known for. If you can be accurate with them, then it’s no problem. But, usually it is one of those college habits that needs to be unlearned as the player adjusts to exponentially better defenders.
Decision-Making, Throw Power
Against the Rams last year, Stanzi really put it together. Granted, St. Louis had one of the worst defenses on the NFL last year and Stanzi was playing their backups. Still, he showed poise and good decision-making. Although he definitely made some bad reads in the game, he diagnosed some good throws and executed them quickly. He relied heavily on TE’s and receivers going down the middle. My real concern was his arm strength, however. He took a couple of shots with long bombs, but both were lobbed as if they’d been fired from a mortar. When I looked back at his college tape, I saw much the same thing. All of his deep balls seemed to be from extremely high arcs. Furthermore, he threw a few balls that were a bit wobbly even on intermediate routes.
This to me means that he has roughly the same physical ceiling as Matt Cassel, which means he’s automatically out of the elite range of NFL QB’s even if develops all his other skills. However, if he can get better at all of the other things, there’s no reason he can’t be a very productive quarterback in this league. If he can outplay Quinn and Cassel with good, quick decision-making and accurate passing, we may even see him on the field this season. With big receivers and a run game that sets up play action well, he may not need to fire lasers deep.
What’s more, if he can get really good and fast at the short throws, he has a chance to be successful in the same way that Kurt Warner was able to be in his comeback as a Cardinal. This would mean that Stanzi will have to act and think like a veteran quick, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Either way, there are few players that I am more interested to see out there on the field for this round of bizarro world football than Ricky Stanzi.