I’d like a discussion about something that’s been on my mind for a while.
What do the terms “team”, “system”, and “team system” mean, if anything.
Terms like “team”, “versatility”, “intelligence”, “aggressiveness” and “toughness” are regularly injected into much of the communication that comes from the FO at Dove Valley. Are they just “jargon” and “pep talk (motivational) PR” or do they reflect a point of view that is significant and focused?
If you accept that they are intended to be more than jargon, can that help to understand what is perceived to be happening with the Broncos, especially now that TC has begun?
For the sake of argument (and the reason to post this article) let’s assume that these terms are more than jargon. What can we expect that will mean?
Here’s what I think I’m beginning to see.
All of these terms reflect a philosophy that emphasize a “team system”. But that’s only important (and not jargon) if this “team system” is distinct from a philosophy that emphasizes something else – i.e. an “individual stars” system.
For instance, a sport like baseball requires the most individual talent and the least team coordination of the major “team’ sports. The more stars that fill the baseball roster, the better the chance to win. Hence, teams like the Yankees spend unlimited amounts on as many stars as possible, because they have the money and consequently feel entitled to the championship. Teams like the Twins have little money and little chance to win championships (though miraculously they have fielded some great teams over the years – the only thing that for me makes professional baseball in the least interesting).
However, football is the ultimate team sport. Just the number of players used and that nature of each play require coordinated and complementary effort on the part of each and every player. Consequently, it would seem that, in building the roster of any NFL team, the concept of a “team system” should clearly take precedence over a concept of “individual stars”.
Yet this is not always so – it seems not even to be predominantly so. The popularity of the simple term “franchise player” would support my point that the “individual star system” overshadows what should be the ultimate team spport. That “franchise player” is regarded as a legitimate concept in the NFL, IMO, beggers belief.
One of the things that very well could be happening at Dove Valley is an attempt to recognize what professional football actually is – a “team sport”. The irony is that such an attempt is regarded by some as a “dangerously” or “fantasizingly” new concept when it should probably be a “dah!”
The Broncos, it should be mentioned, are not the only team that currently claims to stress the “team system”.
What the term “team system” actually means is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about. Suffice it to say that, as I understand it, a “team system” is built on the fact that a basic number of sets can have almost unlimited permutations if the personnel at each position is somewhat flexible, adaptable, versatile and interchangeable. In essence, it forces the opposing team’s defense or offense to recognize, not only the set, but the personnel at each position, plus the various skills each player bring to each potential position and any combination thereof. The result is that, even with only four or five basic sets, the permutations can rise into the thousands depending on the versatile abilities of the personnel involved.
If it sounds complicated that’s because it is. It requires intelligence on the part of coaches and players to design such a system and quick decision making (“football intelligence’) to operate it.
If the idea of “team system” is taken seriously and is becoming the defining identity of the Broncos, what are the implications?
1 – Obviously such a “team system” must be a system that can win. It must be able to develop advantages in most, if not every, scenario so that the opponent is beaten. Toward that end it must be flexible, imaginative and unpredictable. This requirement, by its very nature, will make the “team system” somewhat complicated and adaptable – i.e. versatile.
2 – it must be a system that recognizes and exploits the weaknesses of the opponent. Since each opponent will have different weaknesses it must again be versatile.
3 – it must be a system that maximizes the skill sets of the available players and that gathers players whose skill sets best fit the versatility of the team system. Again this would be a system that is as versatile as the players it hopes to field. The more versatile the players the more versatile the system.
4 – not all players acquired by FA or draft will have the intelligence and versatility to thrive in “the system”. Some may do better in “star” type systems (Hillis?). And some who did not thrive in “star” type systems may do well in the “team system” (Haggan?). In addition, it may take more time for some to develop than others. Patience (a pretty rare quality among fans) will prove helpful.
5 – salary allocation will be driven less by star value than by maximum value for players who fit the “team system”.
Some consequent thoughts.
I don’t know the exact numbers, but it looks like there are about eight players on the Broncos offense that are holdovers from the Shanahan years and maybe nine on the defense. For me, this indicates more than just that, in the eyes of McX, the team he inherited was pretty much bereft of talent. Some talent existed on the team, though it probably was not as extensive or deep as many of us believed, but, in many instances is was the “wrong talent”. Among the meager talent that did exist there were too many self-proclaimed “stars” and way too few “team system” players.
What does it mean specifically for the players?
QBs – Who knows which of the three QBs will adjust best to the “team system”. IMO it’s hard to tell. Hopefully at least one will. McD has three to choose from, pretty much for the price of one. In addition, if the “team system” is as adaptable as it requires the players to be, perhaps all three will thrive. Let’s say Orton has a great year (not IMO beyond the realm of possibility), at the end of which he decides he is a “franchise QB’ and demands the sky to re-sign. Since it is the “team system” that is foremost and not the individual star, he can (and probably will) be jettisoned. In favor of Quinn? Maybe. And then Tebow (who could be ready in about three years)? Again maybe. However, by that time there may be another relatively inexpensive option in hand.
In addition, since the “team system” is only as effective as it is adaptable and versatile, and the QB is the key, his ability to understand, control and run the system will determine his effectiveness. However, since the system is also somewhat adaptable, it can adjust to the skill set of the QB to a certain extent.
Specifically, QB skills can be triaged to some degree. First, of all is football intelligence – not IQ but the ability to make quick reads and quick decisions. Second, is accuracy – the ability to get the ball quickly to the receiver who may be open if for only an instant. Third, arm strength to extend the defense. Fourth, durability. Fifth, elusiveness and athleticism.
That Orton is regarded as the current best option does not take rocket science to know for obvious reasons. Quinn is almost certainly second at this point. That many in Broncoland salivate at Tebow’s elusiveness and athleticism IMO seems somewhat precipitous. It’ll take him a while to learn the thousands of permutations of the “team system”. And if he has the intelligence and accuracy, in addition to the arm strength and better athleticism, the permutations for him to learn will be increased simply because of his skill set (i.e. he’ll have to be that much more intelligent to be as effective as he could be). Some seem to think that he might be able to be the center of a new kind of offense that is based on a kind of “wild horses” concept, but I’m not convinced that’s the goal. At best, IMO, his athleticism will give him more elusiveness (and hence theoretically more time) to extend pass plays. At worst, he’ll become a slower, lesser version of Michael Vick.
While the first year is too early to declare any player in a “team system” a bust, it’s also too early to declare him the next savior, especially if he is a QB. We’ll have to see how well each of the QBs do in the system.
I actually think that all three could do pretty well.
OL – For several reasons, I already, before the 2009 draft, had misgivings about our OL and its fondness for zone blocking given the trends toward the passing game in the NFL. I even promoted serious consideration of drafting either Alex Mack or Max Unger, for which I was somewhat derisively dismissed. That McD announced a desire to switch to man power blocking with bigger linemen excited me. The current OL on the roster are all over 300 lbs.
However, IMO, it is currently the biggest weakness on the team, largely because of its youth (Hochstein is oldest at 32, Batiste is 28, Kuper is 27, Barton 26, and the rest 25 and under) and because of the injuries to Clady, Harris and Hochstein. With these three healthy, including Kuper, we would have to add only one new lineman, OC (either Walton or Fry), at the beginning of the season.
Though they’ll start out rather rough, just given their size and the emphasis on power man blocking I would expect the OL to begin at least adequate and improve over the course of the year, perhaps replacing Hochstein with Beadles as the year goes on, making for a very nice young line.
The one thing we did not have last year was a consistent pocket from which to operate (zone blocking is mostly a run blocking scheme) largely because Wiegman and Hamilton could not consistently provide it against the larger DL that are part of the trend toward defending the more pass oriented offenses. Hopefully, just the increase in size should help somewhat to provide a more consistent pocket.
However, given the injury situation, only Kuper currently seems solidly slotted, with at least four of the other nine on the roster looking to contribute extensively and adequately almost immediately. It will come down in TC to who fits the system better. Unfortunately, the developmental curve could be frustratingly slow, though the ‘youngems’ may surprise.
However, the up side is that most of the OL currently on the roster were selected for their potential fit into the system. Not all will make it, of course. But those who do will IMO be a noticeable upgrade to what we had last year and may develop into a very good unit, again hopefully sooner rather than later.
WRs – The cynical side of me believes that McD, at about game eight last year, decided that playoffs were not a realistic or coveted option and that marketing Marshall for as much as possible was a more realistically productive alternative (not only did he not want to be here, he was never going to fit the team system concept). Consequently, he was targeted whenever and wherever possible, the offense somewhat disintegrated (Marshall not the only reason), but Marshall got his stats (which he deeply coveted), and the Broncos got a nice trade.
(Aside – In Marshall’s second year I regarded him as the most phenomenal WR I had ever seen. He caught everything, took balls away from defenders, stretched the field – was absolutely amazing. Then he cut his wrist attacking a TV or something, and I never saw the same receiver again. He dropped balls, always faced the QB, and never stretched the field. Was it just me?)
Though mostly young and not truly battle tested, I like the current WR corps, especially with the “team system” in mind. I see more versatility than in the past, more speed, more athleticism and apparently more smarts. If the OL gives the QB enough time, I see the WR corps developing into a nice part of the system. While Royal and Gaffney will probably be the mainstays early, I expect both Thomas and Decker to develop rather quickly. Add two (maybe three, but probably not) of the following, Willis, Lloyd, McKinley and Stokley, and the WR corps should start adequately and noticeably improve during the course of the year.
In all events, I do not expect any one (or even two) to dominate the statistics. I suspect that the “team system” will distribute the targets pretty much according to what is given, to the dismay of any opponent that hopes to take away a “star”.
RBs, FBs & TEs – I’m starting to view these positions together in the “team system”. Running, blocking and receiving is emphasized with the final roster being a kind of mix and match of players to be able to provide as many permutations as possible. Since Larsen seems slotted in the FB/TE spot, it’s possible that they’ll keep only seven total in this combined category (Moreno, Buckhalter, Graham, Quinn, Larsen, Ball, Baker?, Hall? and Branson?). An eighth may arise in training camp, but, if so, probably will have strong ST capabilities. (I’d be tempted to place one or two on the PS to be available in case of multiple or serious injuries – i.e. Ball & ‘Baker?) It looks as though neither injury to Moreno and Buckhalter will keep them off the field for the start of the season. That’s good news. However, the scare might result in an extra RB on the TC and final rosters.
DL – A noticeable shift has taken place in “team system” philosophy on the DL and I love it. The biggest advantage of the 3-4 IMO is that the three down linemen can regularly play two gap. For that they need to be big, strong, and as agile as possible. When possible three DL should eat up five OL and still collapse the pocket and/or harass the QB. We did not have that last year. We had mostly one gap and much of that was inadequate after the first six games. So our 3-4 became 5-2, 4-3, etc. And we still couldn’t stop the run. I could hardly watch it.
Jamal Williams is exactly what is needed at NT. If healthy he is a huge upgrade. Adding Bannan, Baker and Fields as the core of the DL seems a vast improvement over last year. Add Green for flexibility and it starts to get interesting.
If they add two of the following: Thomas, LeKevin Smith and McBean, the rotations, mixing and matching should provide substantially more than we’ve seen.
But I’d be more comfortable if there were a backup to Williams. Perhaps it’s Baker; I hope it is. But until that’s in place, I’ll look for another upgrade in FA or the draft next year (if not yet this year). If I was cornered, I’d be tempted to admit that NT is the one position on defense that I would regard as close to “star” as the “team system” gets.
LBs – Doom is worth elite money only if he can match his pass rushing skills by equal, or at least good, run stopping skills. I thought the FO might let him play this year on tender and wait to sign him to a new contract until they saw him improve his rush defense skills. Maybe, part of what they saw in OTA’s was his determination to improve in this area or some actual noticeable improvement. That may be what we’re beginning to see in TC. If so, I’m stoked. If not, I’m not so stoked.
I like Ayers and expect him to nail down one OLB position. Moss intrigues me. He has the talent to be a good to great OLB. Whether it happens is a mystery. I suspect Alexander and/or Kirlew to show significant promise. And I haven’t even mentioned Reid or Atkins, both of whom I regard as pretty competent.
With regard to ILB, I’m comfortable with Haggan and Williams. Both need to settle into the role as their ‘entelechy’ (acknowledge purpose for life), but with better DL play, both should thrive. Haggan especially seems more suited to the “team system” than to a “individual star system”. Mays, Ayodele and Greisen intrigue me. Ayodele, as Doc has mentioned, has had problems with consistent tackling. But I’ve heard that the Broncos regard that as a correctible technique issue. It seems his appeal centers around his athleticism. Maybe it will mean something if they can fit it into the “team system”. IMO Greisen is underrated and Woodyard is undersized. I know little about Mays, but he may have enough skills combined with his apparent ST value to prove an asset.
In any event, I expect they’ll keep nine LBs: Doom, Ayers,Williams, Haggan and five more from the rest: Moss, Reid, Atkins, Mays, Greisen, Woodyard, Kirlew, Alexander, Ayodelle, and Bishop. TC will show who fits the team system better.
DBs – The primary issue here is age. Dawkins is 37 and Bailey, Goodman and Hill are 31 going on 32. Nate Jones, at 27, is perhaps a temporary answer. The rest pretty much are kids.
But the kids have talent. The aged veterans will not have to be replaced all at once. So the kids have a chance to develop and mature. Right now that group of kids includes at CB: Carter, Cox, Smith, Thompson and Vaughn; at S: Barrett, Bruton, McBath and McCarthy. I hear that McCarthy is a keeper (strong, quick, aggressive and smart) – but at the expense of whom???
If Bailey, Dawkins, Goodman and Hill are locks (or maybe not Goodman and Hill), then four or five of the rest will survive: Smith, Cox, McBath, Jones, Barrett, Bruton, Carter, Thompson, McCarthy and Vaughn.
I’d not like to have to make that decision, though it is a great situation to be in.
Overall, in the “team system” perspective, the ““team”” is the first consideration – i.e. the “franchise”. It replaces the concept of “star” or “stars” as “franchise players”. A player’s individual value is determined by how many system permutations he can participate in or even help to create. Intelligence, versatility and adaptability are as important, if not more important, than any single remarkable athletic skill (or even “intangible”).
The same is true of the coaches. They must be able to make the system as versatile and adaptable as possible, given the resources which they have.
It will be interesting to see how well the Broncos do this year and into the future.
So far I am intrigued by what I see.