The Path To Being Free

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When I first laced up, I wanted to be a Running Back. Fast, fluid, quick and could take a hit. I wanted the contact, and unlike Ted Ginn JR, our coaches never allowed us to run out of bounds. In fact, if you had a run for a lost or avoided contact, it’s a lap.

One big problem, I had stone hands. I could make the catch, but not always. The OC got too frustrated with me and asked me if I would be willing to switch to Defence. Apparently, my set plays on offence impressed the DC enough to request this position switch.

Coach Shields asked me in for a meeting. We sat and talked, on how he envisioned a defensive back court. Coach wanted the best athletes to be his blanket. He told me that both of our starting corner backs use to play RB and WR. Christie (lead the teams with 5 INTs, former RB) and Long (was a close second with 4 INTs former WR) both were in this meeting and told me that, we needed an Eagle in the outfield.

Eagle was the player call for Free Safety, Hawk for Starting Safety, Viper and Snake CBs, Lions and Tigers LBs, and Bulls DLs. Coach wanted a jungle, a disruptive wildlife that would attack its will on anyone entering the field. I know this sounds weird, but all coaches have some unique way of motivation. This ‘Jungle’ mentality was what Coach Shields was all about.

Rule 1 – Always grasp and envision what your coaches believe in. Without believing in what you are doing, you are nothing to a team.

We hit the field every day, 3 times a day. I never knew why Coach wanted to kill us and keep us out there for so long. Morning practice, we would run our standard base defence, afternoon same thing. Only during the night walkthroughs, did we see a new version or different base set. This went on for all of Off Season Activities (NFL OTA, College OSA) and well into training camp. After hearing all this talk about a jungle defence, we looked more like a sandbox for kids. We all had different attitudes on the field. Some players were loud, some calm and of course every team has a few super stars that thought they knew everything. Coach’s mentality was to be disruptive, and that’s what we were with each other. We all wanted to make the solo play, rather than make the play together. That was what our own definition of defence was.

Only reason why we saw this repetition was to break us. Learn and adjust to each other, to finally know what it was like to be in the other person shoes.

Rule 2 – Never let your definitions confuse team definitions.

Speed is the best asset a player can have on the field. Adjusting to movement and using that speed to shadow a player or a zone is the primary goal of a Free Safety. How is this taught, the hard way. Coach would ask the secondary to run twice as many laps than the rest of the team (-this included the RB’s and WRs’) All “conditioning” drills, we had to do twice. We couldn’t play the type of defence that coach wanted until, we had the speed to play it.

Once we obtained the speed – we stopped hitting the field and went directly to the class room. Shield’s had a playbook that resembled my first year Economic Text book. The playbook was full of definitions, rules, guidelines, coverage’s, blitz’s and the worst part – your name on every page. If you lost that playbook, and someone found it, you were cut. Regardless of your status, or sonority.

On the field, once we learned his playbook, if you didn’t run it correctly – laps and dummy bag (-tackling dummy). Mix up cover 1 to cover 3 or misread your man coverage’s or just flat out miss a play, might as well bring earplugs. It’s going to be a long day.

Rule 3 – Always understand the playbook. If you don’t know what you are doing, the team falls apart.

Worst thing you want from a Free Safety, stone hips. Getting trapped, like a catfish to a bright light. You never want to lose your sense of balance, when you see a WR/TE/RB coming at you. If you lose your balance, you lose position. How do you stay away from the light? Coach Shields asked me what I learned from playing RB, what was the number one rule never to stop doing?

Rule 4 – Regardless if you can catch or not, if you never stop moving your feet, you can always have a play on the ball.

Coach didn’t name his FS and SS as Eagle and Hawk without reason. Every player on the backfield was a former playmaker on the opposite side of the ball. We obtained the speed and knowledge we needed to now make the plays. Eagle was the eye in the sky. Watching the play unfold, Hawk was always the attacking player, faster and quicker than any other player. The Eagle position is the quarterback of the defence. Coach Shield said it was up to the Eagle to let his other animals know what to do on the field.

Tripps lefts, means that the Bulls should shift to wide spread,

Motion 1, in a zone call, means that that Tiger should break his zone and blitz

Motion 2, in a zone call, means that Lion should break and stunt Tiger

Split wide – Tarzan Tarzan – meaning someone in the jungle is trying to swing from vine to vine. Watch the pass. Tiger and Lion can show blitz, but back out. Bulls on DL, eat the QB.

FB motion – jade jade jade..is the sign call. Our Bulls on the line would know that they should bunch and get ready for the run.

Of course as the game goes on, we would shift our call signs. The few call signs mentioned above, were always my favourite.

Let’s break a play down in the eye of the Free Safety.

Nolan (using Coach Shields tag names) calls a 3-4 lion, cover 1 robber hit hawk

Brad Childress calls 2 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE, 1 FB double I lead motion

Responsibilities
Wake and Misi – got the RB and FB
Dansby is blitzing
Dobbins or Crowder get the TE
Bell is playing a hit on Adrian Peterson
Clemons – playing cover 1 robber.

Pre Set….Clemons doesn’t see anything but an ordinary double I set. Favre calls Shiancoe to come across on in motion. Clemons calls motion 1 jade jade jade, giving the green light to Dansby to blitz and giving the impression to the DL that this is going to be a run.

Shiancoe goes in motion, Bell creeps up to put the hit on AP, Favre hikes the ball, drops back and hand-offs to AP. Clemons comes down from his initial read, shuffles to the middle of the field – and watches the hand off.

Back to Favre, tucks the ball away – play action.

Clemons yells Tarzan Tarzan.

Dansby thinking run, is now cut off by the block, blitz is not working. Crowder is picked up on a RG pull. Shiancoe is drifting the middle of the field wide open.

Clemons is looking at the play, only player on the defence that didn’t take the read, and seeing the play unfold. Use’s his best asset; speed, makes the read on Shiancoe -either contains him or blocks the ball from being caught.

Rule 5 – Trust in your players to listen to you, but trust in yourself to make the play.

If I ever have the chance to talk to Nolan or Clemons, this is what I would say to them:

Rule 1 – Always grasp and envision what your coaches believe in. Without believing in what you are doing, you are nothing to a team.

Rule 2 – Never let your definitions confuse team definitions.

Rule 3 – Always understand the playbook. If you don’t know what you are doing, the team falls apart.

Rule 4 – Regardless if you can catch or not, if you never stop moving your feet, you can always have a play on the ball.

Rule 5 – Trust in your players to listen to you, but trust in yourself to make the play.

Now, let me play on Sunday.

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