Few things are harder for a coach than coming up with the final roster. On an emotional level, it's hard to cut a player who has worked his butt off. On a strategic level, it's not always cut and dried who the better player is.
Player one may be a better player than player two, but player one (depending on if he's pro, college, or HS) may have an injury potential, or may have academic issues, or may have a contract issue (costs too much), or may have potential behavioral problems, or may be a drag in the locker room or during practice. Maybe player two isn't as skilled, but he's more versatile because he can play two positions, or is a special teams ace, or maybe he brings leadership or team building qualities that raise the play of those around him. Maybe a player has value as an "every down" player, but another player is an amazingly elite player - but only on limited downs.
These are some of the issues that we as fans don't always get to see during the decision makng process.
I'm going to use the Denver Broncos defense as a stating part for putting together a depth chart. It's not meant to be an accurate prediction, nor is it meant to convey which players I'm advocating. Instead, it is my hope that the chart and my write-up will spark conversation that shows the complexities of putting together a team.
- I limited myself to 25 players. While not an accurate way to limit myself, I did this with the idea that (for the purpose of this discussion) we will have 25 players on offense and 3 STs players (K, P, LS)
- I assumed (with nothing to go on) that we will use a system with predominantly 1 two-gap DT and 1 one-gap DT for our base 4-3 formation.
- I tried to include our rookies as much as possible, since they are interesting as unknown qualities. As fans, we know less than the coaches do because they see much more. By bringing in an unknown quality I hope to simulate (to some extent) the difficulty coaches have.
- I assumed that any player put on the practice squad would get gobbled up by another team.
For a description of the meaning of the color legend terms, see this link.
So what made this chart difficult? Let's start with the assumption that I may only have 25 players (again, for the purpose of our discussion). Look at the SAF position. Is Hamza my best player at FS? It's possible that Manuel is. But Hamza is still young, still developing, and familiar with the team. Manuel may be more expendable if he has a one year contract. Barrett may be the worst SAF of the group, but his potential is very strong. He may be worth a risk.
On the other side (at SS), there is no way we get rid of Lynch. He improves those around him because of attitude, leadership, and even some on-field coaching talent during plays. He is also insurance if the DT group can't stop the run. McCree (as a player type) may be the closest thing to a run coverage SAF to back Lynch.
CB was simple. Bailey is obvious at #1, and Bly at #2. There was some talk on other threads about demoting Bly, but this is risky both in terms of actual play considerations, as well as the human element (messing with a solid player who is under contract). Pay passed Fox (in my estimation) at nickel back. Fox is the best player to back up Bailey, and this leaves rookie Williams to learn the ropes backing Bly.
LB was harder. Much harder. Styg50 wrote an excellent piece sounding the alarm over the potential problem at SAM. Comments under the article went on to flesh out the difficulties of which players to place in certain back-up positions. I made a tough call. DJ is our WILL starter, no doubt about it. I also believe that Winborn has the speed and talent to do the tasks of a WILL LB. Niko (aka K2) is a solid start at MLB, and Boss at SAM.
What do I do with Beck, Webster, and Larsen? When doing my chart I left these three on the table, and then came back knowing that I had to cut one. Seven LBs is too much. Beck is an excellent STs player, and a good back-up at MLB. Larsen was just picked up in the draft, and has ILB skills. Webster is a natural MLB, and has played (out of position) at SAM as a starter. None of these players is meant for the SAM role.
Webster is probably the best MLB back-up of the three. Unfortunately, he's the only one with solid SAM experience. I had to put him at SAM back-up. This leaves Beck and Larsen. Beck proved himself on STs, but never as a starter. At least Larsen may have the potential. At worst, K2 goes down, Larsen doesn't work out, and we have to move Webster over to MLB. I cut Beck, and hate myself for doing it.
DE was cake. All five players are obvious keepers. Doom stays on the field, and Moss relieves him. On the other side, older (but run stuffing experts) Ek and Eng rotate to keep each other fresh. Well rounded (and future starter) Crowder comes in on obvious passing downs, and to spell any of the other four DEs on either side of the ball. While Doom is our best DE, and a potential pro-bowler, it is Crowder that gives the coach the most value on the defense.
I made a few difficult cuts at DT. Harris was the toughest cut, and Burton and Petterson were done too. Thomas stays, with the hope that he can keep improving. DRob is the one gap specialist opposite Thomas.
Now comes an injury and contract consideration. We don't want to overplay DRob because of his injury potential, and because our trade for him costs a higher draft pick if he is used on too many downs. Thus we rotate in McKinley.
Mallard is the player I selected to put our hopes into as our "tough guy" back-up to Thomas. I put him in a spell role, hoping that Thomas can hold up for most downs. If not, I switch Mallard to a rotational role. Powell is a rookie with a lot of potential, so I want to keep him. But I don't want to risk games on a first year player with several solid players in front of him. I want him to stay at R-DT where he can play 2-gap to pull the LG away from our pass rush, but I would have liked to put him at L-DT, where he has a better shot of getting playing time (spelling either of the rotational DTs). If his training is ahead of schedule, perhaps he can do both roles, but this is asking a lot of a rookie.
Ask me tomorow, and my depth chart might be different. There is a lot to be critical about on the chart, and that's ok. We'll just use the above chart as a starting point. What I'm really hoping for is that folks share their thoughts on:
- What would they do differently, and why
- What they would do the same, and why
It isn't the article that will be instructive, since it only forms the construct. It is the convesation that I hope is valuable. We can discuss contract issues or the human element if we consider promoting Fox over Bly, or discuss the defensive systems that might change the DT allignment. Perhaps someone is much less concerned with potential (Larsen, Barrett) than with medicrocy (but with medicrocy that is safe).
As always, this is the place if you have any questions about the game of football. Leave your questions in the comment section. Also, any ideas for a University article you would like to read, please give me your ideas.
Everyone have a great weekend, and a terrific Fathers Day!