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Put Your Best Guy on the Field, or Not?

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It sounds crazy, but do you always want your best guys on the field? Why or why not? Who wouldn't want to see the stars of the team on the field doing what they do best?

Let's face it, we love to see our most talented and gifted guys on the field. We also love to see the excitement that is brought with having these guys in play. But where we as fans desire to see excitement and top notch players, coaches prefer to do what brings the team the best shot of winning.

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Here's an example; we love to see DEs who pass rush. They are more fun to watch than run stopping DEs, and they demonstrate a tangible reward for the viewer, which is to say sacks and hurry ups. For Denver fans, few things are more exciting to contemplate on the DL than pairing sackmaster Doom with potential superstar Jarvis Moss. Imagine the excitement of watching both DEs dart in from both sides and disrupt play after play! But is this sound?

Consider some of the reasons why we are not likely to see this tandem working together on the field. For one, if both players are on the field, the offense may likely audible to run plays. They might run up the middle, and use the tackles and TE to jack (hit) the DEs, and lessen their effectiveness in later plays. Another consideration is that the two DEs are being used together and wearing down together. We now have less options when we need a definite pass rush on another play. This isn't to say there won't be rare instances when we can afford the luxury of playing both guys, but the risk is still there.

What excites me is the prospect of rotating Moss and Doom at DE (on the weakside) through the game. In this manner, both players are fresh and presenting constant presure on the weakside. Crowder (being a good blend of pass rusher and run stuffer) makes for a great spell DE who can relieve either side.

This brings me to another player, which is Crowder. Folks are excited about his ability to both rush a QB, as well as holding the DL. "Let's rotate him in at DT!", is a reasonable sounding call. But here's the problem. First, we have DTs for the job (DRob, Thomas, Powell, McKinley). The rush is more difficult from the center of the DL, so why put in a decent rusher at a disadvantaged position? Particularly when the offense is going to be running most of the time, and typically up the gut. Crowder's gift to the DL is the ability to play rush and hold indifferently as a DE. As a DT he is limited to rushing, which isn't the best role at DT.

Another player that folks are excited about is Royal. I'm excited too! If he can return punts well and do nothing else then we have gotten our money's worth. If he can return kicks too we really have a great deal. If he can play at slot receiver we should be very grateful. I'm in the camp that says he does two of three well, and that's still a very wonderful thing. I'm guessing he plays punt return, and perhaps slot receiver. I'm hoping he gets a shot at backing up Stokley, who is (in my opinion) the best slot receiver in the game.

Note that Stokley was good enough to play as the #1 WR for Denver, where he held his own. But also note that when he did so (covering for the Walker injury) he got injured because he was on the field too much. Stokley is a specialist. As good as he is at what he does, we don't want him on the field for too many plays. It isn't a matter of being too small. Shanahan apologized after the season for using Stokely in an everydown role, which Stokley performed admirably, but wasn't built for.

I look at Royal in the same manner. Why even consider putting the guy in as a number 2 WR, or starting him at slot this year, and risking our best chance at punt returns (which means field position)? At least give him a year as a back-up (to improve his route running and pro level skills) and let him be a STs ace. Then throw him in to the game next year. Remember, a player has value as a starter, but has a lot of value as a back-up too.

Another player often thrown into the "over use mix" (in my opinion) is K2. Niko is a STs ace that would rack up the tackles on kick/punt coverage. He has the speed and the tackle ability. But he's also our starting MLB. If he goes down, the entire LB corp will suffer. Remember Bailey being used in STs coverage last year? He was excellent, and racked up a lot of plays. But I also remember cringing, worrying that our top CB was about to get creamed.

The same discussion comes up at RB. I like Henry as our starter. But I also like the idea of protecting him from injury. Injury is his only weakness, and we will double the games we get from him this season if he rotates. A lot of folks are hopeful that Young can be an everydown back. But why? Yes he has bulked up, but is "everydown" his best role? Let's instead use him in rotation with Henry. Everytime he comes in he has the benefit to the team of changing the pace (which hurts the defense), but both he and Henry are protecting each other from getting worn and injured. It's an excellent relationship.

Torain, Pittman, or even Hall can spell either player. And one of the three can come in and play rotation if Henry or Young goes down.

These are the points I would make about caution in using players:

  • Overuse heightens injury risks
  • Overuse leads a player to wearing down (and less effectiveness)
  • Overuse of a key player keeps other players from developing evenly
  • Overuse can lead to holes on a team (too much pass rush means too little run defense).

On the other hand, good rotation keeps all of your players fresh and focused. It lessens injuries.It spreads development and experience to other players. It helps to build quality depth.

You don't put an excellent sniper on the front lines. You don't use your best pitcher for the entire game. And you really shouldn't use the flashiest players on every down (unless you want to lessen their effectiveness).