Attacking the Ball & Thinking Long-Term


Photo Credit: David Kadlubowski / AP

In this morning's post-game thoughts, Nestor highlighted a couple of interesting points that I think need to be expanded upon.  First, when Derrick Coleman went down with injury, an increasing number of Bruin fans have been clamoring on the message boards for Jordon James to get in on the action, despite Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones being in the mix.  Obviously, as I'll explain below, that's pretty short-sighted. 

Second, Nestor highlighted that our WRs need to be more aggressive in attacking the ball rather than being passive and letting the pass come to them.  If our receivers could help Prince out (who, in fairness, was guilty of some pretty poor high throws) by going up, using their size, and winning some balls, that would be huge not only next week (against a Texas team that will challenge us to beat them in the air) but throughout the season.

Break down after the jump.

First, let's talk about Jordon James.  As Nestor put it:

Speaking of the running back spot, it was good to see Damien Thigpen return at the F-Back spot. He also clearly provided a spark. It will be interesting to see if he can keep that up. If Thigpen continues to be productive from the F-Back spot, I wouldn’t mind seeing Barr shifted over to defense, where he can used at the Will LB spot given his size, speed and athleticism. Just something to think about.

Why is Thigpen so crucial?  Besides providing a spark at the F-back position, he gives us another option in the backfield.  JetSki and Jones were able to carry the load, leaving only a few carries for Thigpen.  So, if the coaches decide to go ahead and burn James' redshirt season, is it worth it for only a few carries per game?

As N highlighted earlier this week:

CRN mentioned that if UCLA was going to use James he wants to make sure "he's going to play a lot this year." He added that the coaches "want to get the full enchilada so to speak with his eligibility."

In other words, the coaches aren't going to waste a year of James' eligibility for a few carries a game.  Given how well JetSki ran last night (and held on to the ball), the only real issue in the backfield is getting Jones (who runs very well, always falls forward, and has all the makings of a future feature every-down college back) to learn to hold on to the rock as he fights for extra yardage (which is a typical freshman issue).  If Prince is healthy, that gives us another running option, not even counting for the occasional Thigpen carry, or hand-off to Barr or Embree on an end-around.

BTW, it's a name we have not heard a lot of lately (because I'm guessing practice performance is sub-par), but the coaches also have Christian Ramirez at their disposal, who is capable of stepping in and taking some carries.  So, again, why the urge to burn the redshirt of a kid we'll need in the future?

James is going to be a good one for the Bruins, but it's going to help him to have an extra year to get bigger, stronger, faster, more in tune with the offense, and more familiar with the speed of the college game.  Also, if you look at how our depth chart projects the next few seasons, you'll see that by the 2012-2013 season, if we don't bring in another true running back (and so far, we're not really targeting any in the current recruiting class), we'll only have JetSki (as a RS SR), Jones (as a true JR), and James (as a RS SO).  What else do you see there?  I see some pretty nice spacing for the tailbacks, which will keep us from being in a position to start young guys at such a critical position in the offense.

In other words, the folks clamoring for James to see the field, need to sit back and think about the long-term implications for the program's viability rather than their own instant gratification.  I have no doubt that James could come in and contribute right now, but do we really need him now?  As mediocre as this season has been, I don't think so.  I mean, let's be real: we're not going to win the national title or the Pac-10 this year.  This season we need to focus on getting better for next year, being bowl eligible, and preparing to really make a run at the conference title next season.  Shooting off everything now (I was thinking about making a crude man-related prematurity joke there, but I'm trying to keep it PG today) isn't going to change the ultimate outcome of this season and will hurt us down the line.

Moving on, our WR play has been less than stellar.  Ricky Marvray did make a very nice catch yesterday in traffic, but there were way too many drops by open receivers, and far too often, our larger possession receivers (Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree) were waiting for the ball to hit them in the hands rather than attacking the ball in the air and winning the ball. As N brought up:

But [the wide receivers] need to get way more aggressive in attacking the ball. They just seem passive as a group (except for Marvray) when the passes are thrown to them. This is something that Reggie Moore has to teach and instill in his unit. While they took some baby steps last night, they are still way behind in terms of optimizing their talent level.

If you look at the great wide receivers in the NFL right now (which is why I led off with a picture of Larry Fitzgerald winning a ball in coverage), you'll see that they consistently use their size and height to go up, attack the ball in the air, and win it over the man covering them.  Watch some game tape of Fitz, or Anquan Boldin, Terrell Owens in his prime, or Andre Johnson.  You'll see what I mean.

This applies particularly to Nelson Rosario.  He's a big man.  He's 6'5" and listed at 218 pounds, which in reality probably means 205 pounds to 210 pounds (in comparison, Fitz is 6'3" and 218, Boldin is 6'1" and 223, TO is 6'3" and 228, and Johnson is 6'3" and 223).  On more than a few occasions, Rosario has preferred to let the ball fall to him rather than going up to win it, which has let the man defending him bat the ball away.  Now, if he would turn his body, leap over his defender and snatch the ball out of the air (since most of the corners covering him are at least 5 inches shorter than he is), he's help Prince out a ton, and give us a great red zone option on the fade route.

All that being said, obviously Fitz et. al. are pros.  They've been trained and taught at the highest level, so the blame doesn't fall totally on Rosario, but also on receivers coach Reggie Moore.  There is a wealth of talent in this unit (Rosario, Embree, Johnson, Carroll, Marvray, Smith, etc.) so there is no reason for this unit to not be producing.  If our receivers don't start fighting for the ball and using the tools they have to help our offense out, then CRN will need to seriously think about bringing in a wide receivers coach who can instill that in these guys.

Rick, you have at least one wide receiver with a connection to a guy who could teach these kids a few things about how the position is supposed to be played.


Photo Credit: Deanne Fitzmaurice / San Francisco Chronicle 1994

If our kids could play with just a fraction of The Great One's ability, our passing game would be looking a lot more stout, even with our issues re: consistency from Prince.

Finally, since you're here, I'm going to throw out a couple other random thoughts after yesterday's game:

I’d love to see Anthony Barr at WLB, given the issues Sean Westgate is having. It’d disconcerting that Love hasn’t been able to make the job his own, but Barr has the speed and size to do the job. If Thigpen and Morrell Presley can get the job at the F, then we should move an incredible athlete like Barr back to defense (which I’ve been advocating since his recruitment).

Where are all the trolling, "sky-is-falling" posts today?  This time last week, BN was flooded with morons proclaiming the end of our season and calling for Neuheisel's head.  Where are you folks now?  Thanks for not ruining our fun last night and do us a favor: STFU.

The second-string is definitely not ready for the college game yet.  They looked pretty poor during their time on the field and committed way too many stupid penalties on defense.  That needs to be addressed.

Damien Holmes.  Not cool, man, not cool.  The penalties were bad enough, but to yell at CRN after your stupid bonehead plays?  Everyone is entitled to a bad day, but get it together kid.

That's it for now.  Throw up your thoughts in the thread.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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