Archived Story

Rookies’ first impressions lasting longer in NFL

Published 10:28am Friday, December 21, 2012

By Ed Bailey

Well, hello there.
I’m going to guess that you probably were expecting a more familiar face in the sports section.
Well, with J.D. moving on to ad sales, someone was needed to take up the mantle, and lucky for me I’m that guy.
Don’t worry, while there’s a new face in the sports section, rest assured that I have every intention on continuing to put out a quality section five days a week, with the help of coaches, players and readers, of course.
If it’s up to me, sports won’t miss a beat.
To my knowledge, I haven’t screwed things up yet, so we’re off on the right foot.
Speaking of not missing a beat, I’m sure a good amount of you football fans have noticed that there’s a youth movement within the NFL these days.
Sure, there’s Adrian Peterson’s mad dash to one of the most hallowed records in pro football and Peyton Manning’s MVP-type season, but something else has my attention.
What has stuck out to me is how the young stars of the NFL have torn up the competition right out of the gate.
Young signal-callers Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have their teams humming along towards the playoffs.
Not only that, they’re putting up stats that some veterans would be jealous of.
Griffin is second in the league in quarterback rating at 104.2. He’s put up nearly 3,000 passing yards in addition to rushing for 748 yards.
Perhaps even more impressive is that he’s only thrown four picks as the Redskins hold the advantage in the NFC East race.
Luck is on pace for well over 4,000 passing yards and more than 20 TDs.
With him directing traffic and performing well in clutch moments, the 9-5 Colts are poised to become the unlikeliest of playoff teams.
Wilson has the 9-5 Seahawks in the driver’s seat for a NFC wild card berth while throwing for 21 scores and posting a 95 QB rating.
It’s not just quarterbacks, though.
Second-year pass rushers Aldon Smith and J.J. Watt are threatening the single-season sack record.
Should one of them surpass the mark, one would assume that a defensive player of the year award would surely follow.
Meanwhile, fellow second-year man Von Miller is quickly becoming one of the most disruptive defenders in the game.
The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that this isn’t just a one-year aberration.
As Miller’s defensive rookie of the year award, Cam Newton’s prolific rookie season and Andy Dalton’s leading the Bengals to the postseason showed last year, the new crop of players are finding it not-so-tough sledding in the early going.
Why is that?
Based on personal observation, typically, rookies (sans running backs) are eaten alive by the smarter, wiser and more experienced opposition.
They don’t typically make the leap to competency, let alone excellence until year two or more accurately, year three.
But the players I mentioned earlier have blown that preconception to smithereens.
Smith racked up 14.5 sacks as a rookie. Miller had 11.5.
Newton’s rookie season was statistically one of the best the NFL has ever seen.
But in discovering the reason for their success, two main reasons come to mind.
First, and this is probably the more obvious of the two, is simply that the players are better.
They’re more prepared due to colleges running pro-style offenses.
They’re bigger and stronger than they used to be and thus, the learning curve can be compensated for just by raw ability.
The second reason however is more interesting in my view.
In particular with “RGIII,” Newton and Dalton, coaches have begun to adapt their systems to the strengths of their players.
Rather than forcing players to learn their system, they tweak, poke, prod and collaborate in order to create a plan of attack that accentuates what those players are most effective at.
As a result, the young players are more comfortable on the field.
They’re “protected” in a sense and are able to expand their knowledge and execution of the playbook when they show the capability to do so.
I’m not exactly sure when coaches stopped being so stubborn but hey, it’s a more than welcome development in my view.
I guess the only downside is that the next batch of first-year players will have quite the shoes to fill and expectations to match.
Then again, with the idea of “custom-fit” being the trend in this day and age, maybe that task won’t be so arduous for them after all.
Bailey is sports editor for The Outlook.