So, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the NFL during this off-season. Yes, it is pre-season time again and that means the regular season will be here soon. Thank goodness.
The Olympics were awesome (as per usual), but I’ll be honest here: The sports played in the Summer Olympics are usually really obscure, really pedestrian or just boring. Maybe that’s just me, but you’ll never catch me religiously following the 17-day showcase of the world’s best athletes. I’ll watch the games when they happen to pop up on my television, but I won’t go searching for any specific event or keep tallies of how many medals Canada has won.
That brings me to my next point: When the NFL is gone, I get really bored. I don’t usually watch television other than for NFL games or for a couple NBA games. Sometimes I watch movies on the Movie Network or I’ll sit around and watch the Food Network and cry because I don’t have all that awesome food within my reach. My point is that since there was nothing truly interesting to me on television, I was sort of forced to really key in on the NFL and its off-season.
Now, after watching a few pre-season games, I think one can finally declare the NFL to be a small man’s league. Well, not really. Football is still an extremely physical game with many risks for injury involved. What I mean is that the NFL is experiencing the same change as the NBA is. The NBA no longer relies on big men the way they used to. The big, bruising centres of years past are essentially extinct. The only two exceptions I can think of are Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. Aside from that, they are no traditional, muscle-bound, back-to-the-basket centres anymore. Guards in the NBA are also becoming a little expendable. Traditionally, the point guard is smaller than the rest of the starting line-up (or the entire team for that matter) and is charged with running the offense and distributing the ball. That is no longer the case. Today, the NBA is filled with starting line-ups that are all more or less the same height. Every person (from point guard all the way to centre) is expected to be able to run the full length of the court, shoot the ball, defend their respective positions (or multiple positions), handle the ball and even be an adept passer.
The best example of such a line-up would be the one that the Miami Heat trots out:
PG – Mario Chalmers (he’s pretty useless, to be honest…)
SG – Ray Allen (assuming that he starts)
SF – Dwayne Wade
PF – LeBron James
C – Chris Bosh
All five players can distribute the ball, shoot the ball, handle the ball, defend multiple positions (or can defend their own position well enough), etc.
The NFL is experiencing a similar change in their defenses and offenses. The fullback position is nearly useless and extinct now. Tight ends are now viable receivers in the passing game. Tight ends have also effectively replaced fullbacks in multiple back formations. Linebackers are more lithe and smaller. Cornerbacks can almost fly now. Physical in-the-box safeties are a dying breed and a liability. Quarterbacks no longer stand in the pocket. Running backs are shifty and bounce like pinballs when they run. Receivers are also centimeters away from flying.
Let’s just pop in a video example. This is from the San Francisco-Minnesota game in week 1 of the pre-season. It’s a zone read play.
QB Colin Kaepernick, back-up to QB Alex Smith, takes the snap and quickly makes an awesome read. In this play, the halfback (#33 in red) could’ve taken the hand-off, but Kaepernick saw that the defensive end (#66 in white) had committed to pursuing his RB. You can see the massive hole in the defense and how quick Kaepernick is. I honestly didn’t think a man of Kaepernick’s height (6 feet, 5 inches) could run that quickly. And voila, a quarterback runs 78 yards for a touchdown.
Maybe I’m just seeing things because I’ve been watching the NFL a little too much.