EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets looks on during the game against the New York Jets on December 24, 2011 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Spring time in the NFL overflows with optimism as coaches and players promise new beginnings. Which statements should you take with a healthy dose of skepticism?
Television represented a staple of my diet growing up in the Midwest. Yes, it was a window to the outside world far away, but, more truthfully, it was just something to do in between all the other idyllic pursuits of childhood. A steady regime of sitcoms, cop dramas and sports gave me a pretty good eye for tropes.
Tropes are simple plot devices, relatively standardized in the world of television. In the sitcoms of my youth, new kids in school and just saying 'no' were common ones. The NFL spits out more tropes than a roomful of television hacks could ever imagine.
Spring time in the NFL, as teams bask in the glow of free agent signings and new crop of rookie draft picks, is stuffed full of timeless chestnuts sure to inspire, or gag, fans of all stripes. If "Diff'rent Strokes" taught me anything, it's that no amount of life lessons from Mr. Drummond can keep a teen star from going off the rails.
Our handy guide to offseason NFL tropes should help you sniff out the real and the imagined as the season gets closer.
"He's got a chance to start."
Last weekend, the next zero-to-hero was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle's 3rd-round pick in this year's draft. Carroll's irrational exuberance for middling quarterbacks is an issue in and of itself, but all coaches need to have a little Zig Ziglar in their DNA. Theoretically, every player has a chance to start. It wouldn't be very productive for a coach to tell the media that most of the guys at last week's rookie minicamp are going to have to fend for themselves with nothing but a sports management or communications degree.
There is a fairly obvious formula for which rookies have the best chances to start. The 1st-round picks, for the most part, should be starting this season. Chances to start decline as you go further down the ladder, with each team's crop of undrafted free agents facing the longest odds. Jacksonville's punter, 3rd-round pick Bryan Anger, should be fine though.
"He was the player we wanted all along."
Broncos president John Elway threw out that chestnut on Tuesday referring to the team's 2nd-round pick, defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. In this case, it might very well be true. Wolfe might have been there later in the draft. The Rams said the same thing about Appalachian State wide receiver Brian Quick, their 2nd-round pick.
That's probably a more tactful way of telling a million draft "experts" to stop complaining about the pick in 140-character increments. Heaven forbid that such a statement actually mean that a team panicked and pulled the trigger too soon, or that said player might even represent Plan B.
"He looked great out there."
I'm sure Raiders wide receiver Juron Criner is going to be a very fine NFL player. Reports from Oakland's full quad OTAs blurred the lines between a few acrobatic catches on the practice field and the second coming of Tim Brown.
Go to any NFL city and you'll find breathless reports of highlight-reel work in spring camp. Players are not wearing pads in spring camp, beyond a helmet. Receivers are not seeing the same kind of physical press coverage a regular season opponent would provide. All players who make the cut from college to the pros should look pretty good under those conditions.
"He Bulked Up Over The Offseason."
Nowhere is the addition of eight pounds as celebrated as it is each spring in the NFL. Everyone from Matt Ryan to Aaron Maybin is slipping an extra protein shake into their day since the end of last season. Ryan is an established player. Maybin finally had a breakthrough year. For those two, adding a few pounds is just another way of saying they did something in the offseason to focus on their play.
Reports of marginal players or high draft picks on their last chance gaining offseason weight feel a little more desperate. Is five pounds really all these players have been missing? Somehow, I doubt it.
The only "bulking up" that really matters in the offseason is when a player follows the JaMarcus Russell plan.
"He's really making the most of a second chance."
Horatio Alger stories come cheap in the NFL offseason. Free agents and draft picks all own similar stories of long odds, and beat writers can only do so much with the same basic set of answers collected at an introductory press conference. In May, boot strap tales take a slightly different angle, spotlighting players getting another chance.
Vontaze Burfict reported to the Bengals' (of course) workouts slim and trim, ready to prove his doubters wrong after watching his draft stock fall like Las Vegas housing prices. Randy Moss impressed everyone working out on the field without pads and local caterers to distract him. The road from May to September is a long one, with many distractions, check back in October to see how those second chances are progressing.
"I'm going to be more involved as a coach."
Slim, trim and feeling foxy, Jets head coach Rex Ryan vowed to play a more active role in his locker room. It must be the offseason because nobody bothered to ask Ryan where the hell he was last year when his locker room turned into an elementary school playground. Statements like this one are softer, passive aggressive ways of taking some responsibility for the team you're being paid to coach. To his credit, Ryan has owned up to his team's shortcomings in the past. The real question is whether or not anyone will remember his offseason filler quote should the Jet, or any team, encounter trouble.
New coaches and coordinators promising to turn things around are a corollary to offseason coaching chatter like Ryan's. In fact, Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is one of several new hires destined to right a sinking ship this season. According to Dustin Keller, he's running a "tighter ship," similar to how he ran his ship in Miami, I'm sure. The tightness of his ship aside, he still has to deal with Wayne Hunter protecting Mark Sanchez.
"I want the rushing title."
That was Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush on Monday. I applaud the man for having goals. I wish I could say that I was equally ambitious at 27, but I was realistic, to a fault. Bush has never been the kind of running back suited to 20+ carries per game. That will not change this season, especially if Daniel Thomas is healthy and rookie speedster Lamar Miller likely to cut into Bush's work on the outside.
Between minicamp and the start of the season, a few players will set forth lofty expectations for themselves. It's unlikely that any of them will meet those expectations. Injuries happen, and statistical titles for things like rushing and receiving are dependent on too many factors outside the player's control. Maybe next winter we can look forward to someone asking Bush or whoever what happened on their way to a trophy.
And now, I open the floor to you, dear reader. It's been a busy offseason, busier than usual as the league scrambles around its first spring following last year's lockout. Did I miss any offseason tropes? I'm sure I did. What about some others spouting off tropes along these lines? I know Rex Ryan isn't the only one promising to turn things around this season. What about bold player promises that don't pass the BS test? Let's discuss.