In the NFL, imitation is often a form of flattery
NEW YORK – Troy Vincent pounds his fists on a conference room table and smiles.
“We are a copycat league, you bet,” he says. “If Peyton and Philip and Brees and Brady are doing something that’s good, then go out and try to do the same thing.”
Easier said than done if you don’t have such star quarterbacks, but Vincent’s point is well taken. The NFL’s head of football operations, a star player for 15 pro seasons and former president of the players’ union, recognizes that trends always will be a part of the sport.
Some burst on the scene and then fade quickly: the wildcat or alternating QBs, for example. Others – the zone blitz, the nickel back – have staying power.
In 2014, there will be plenty of plagiarism between the lines, on the sidelines, in the coaching boxes and even in the marketing departments.
NO HUDDLES: The no-huddle offense has been a part of pro football since John Unitas pretty much invented the two-minute drill. It normally was reserved for late portions of halves and games.
It’s running rampant through the league now, its popularity buoyed by the record-smashing seasons Peyton Manning and Tom Brady recently put together.
Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms, now an analyst for CBS, says it’s here to stay.
“Faster offense will be a part of the NFL,” Simms says. “What was a talented offense from 10 years ago is so much less so now because it is harder to run the ball.”
Simms believes teams will pass more than ever, combining that with the no-huddle.
“We’ll be seeing out of these offenses all these screens, trying to tire out key defensive players,” he explains. “That’s a matchup the offenses can win, and it is almost a must by an NFL offense to have.”
Simms says offenses need to do something different because, “you won’t win 17-13 anymore in the playoffs.
“And what’s unique? Well, go as fast as you can.”
PLAY CALLING: Rich Gannon, the NFL’s 2002 MVP while leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl, thinks the faster pace will affect the ones calling plays.
The traditional system of relaying a play or formations from the coordinators to the quarterbacks or defensive leaders is endangered, Gannon predicts. So is a quarterback calling just one play.
“Years ago, offensive coordinators were trying to guess right,” says Gannon, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio and for CBS. “They would find a set of plays based on preparation during the week and on their knowledge of the percentage defenses did certain things.”
That’s changed, he says, and modern offenses need a quarterback who can adjust on the line.
Denver, New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, a few others – they don’t have to worry.
Other teams will continue searching for a quarterback who has a great arm and the intelligence to make the right call while the play clock is ticking.
“We’ll be seeing quarterbacks calling multiple plays in the huddle. When they get to the line, they use the play that fits,” Gannon says. “It’s not an audible, but it’s the quarterbacks being given the freedom they need to get into the right play.”
TECHNOLOGY: “There is only so much you can do differently on the field,” Vincent reasons. “So who gets the edge might depend on who is willing to let technology become a positive.”
While the league is allowing teams to use tablets on the sideline for everything from play calling to reviewing what just happened, not everyone is readily embracing it. He senses that some coaches entrenched in the past might not make a smooth switch.
Until, that is, they recognize that an opponent is getting a competitive advantage from the technology.
“We’ve seen things copied through the years, from traditional lineups to the run-and-shoot to the zone blitz to the wildcat,” Vincent says. “Now it will be in technology, sorting through information quicker, using it for practices, schedules, scouting.”
ELSEWHERE: Teams are learning from each other when it comes to such areas as in-game entertainment – player introductions, cheerleaders, game day hosts, even the music – merchandising, ticketing and stadium development. A club planning a new home or renovating the existing one typically uses comparisons of other stadiums.
“Teams share their best practices, and the league encourages such information sharing,” says Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting firm SportsCorp and a close observer of league business. “Because in most nonfield operations the teams do not compete, they are generally happy to share information and copy each other openly.
“Of course, there are a few teams that are trailblazers and innovate more than others. But often the safest approach to job security for team executives and managers is to mimic what other teams are doing. And so they do.”