Getting Comfortable

It’s only October, just seven weeks into the NFL season and already this blog is slipping into the background at the bottom of my ever growing to-do list.

Luckily though I have a topic in mind that requires zero research and prep-work, but just a little bit of memory access and simply staying awake long enough to finish the post.

That topic is the new season for the Rhinos, the team I play defensive back for in the Irish American Football League (IAFL).

When I first started playing the game I was a wide receiver.  I didn’t necessarily choose that position but rather ended up there by default.  I was fast, had decent enough hands, and my first team was stacked at defensive back, so if I ever wanted to see the field it was going to be as receiver. I wound up as a receiver and did OK there, scoring a touchdown in what I think was my first game, one-handed (which seems to be a bit of a theme with me, oddly), in the back of a muddy end zone in a blowout win:

The problem is I never really had the temperament for it. I never had that supreme confidence in my own abilities that receivers have, and need to have to succeed. If I ever dropped a pass, the feeling of letting my team down stung worse than any individual failure. My hands are fine for the level I’m playing at, I can catch a ball, but as a receiver I drop more passes than I’m happy with, and that was always going to cap how well I could play on that side of the ball. I may be just as good or better than most people at this level, but I don’t like doing things I can only be ‘good’ at.

When my first team folded and I moved to the Rhinos, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to switch to defensive back, the area I felt I was probably more naturally suited to.

Skipping through a few pages in the story…we’re now entering a new season with the Rhinos. Pre-season training has begun and I’m going along to try and maintain my fitness levels during an otherwise brutal PFF/NFL regular season so that I won’t be playing catchup when the real football starts.  The PFF schedule is such an ass-kicker that the sheer weight of hours sat on my ass analyzing games means but for the weekly training sessions with the Rhinos it wouldn’t be long before I could forget about playing defensive back and start working on my lineman fundamentals.

Last season between lack of fitness and a couple of knee injuries suffered early in the pre-season I wasn’t really 100% until the very end of the season. I got beat a bit early in the season as my mind struggled to catch up to what my body was no longer prepared to do, and as soon as I was getting into my stride we crashed out of the playoffs and that was it for another year.

I think that I’m now finally getting more comfortable as a defensive back, playing both corner and safety when the need calls for it.  I always had a pretty good eye for reading the play, but it took me a while to trust what I saw and react to it immediately and instinctively.  There was too much thinking time involved.

As a safety I would hesitate half a beat and cheat myself out of some distance to the football. As a corner I would honor my zone or man a little longer than I knew I had to just to be certain it was going where I knew it was going.

If this week in training is anything to go by, I’m looking forward to the new season. I hauled in one of the best catches I’ve ever made in warm up drills, catching a ball over my shoulder one handed as I lay out for it before hitting the ground and maintaining control. I was also robbed of a one handed interception because apparently the quarterback was “sacked” before throwing it (sounds like his problem to me, he threw the ball!).

My favorite play of the day though came when we were playing Cover-3, and I abandoned my deep third at LCB to cut across the field and break up a deep post route that originated from the WR split to the far side of the field.

The only thing I want to work on going forwards is completing the play by catching the ball, rather than simply settling for breaking it up. I’ve got pretty good ball skills (and it turns out the ball is WAY easier to catch when it’s not intended for you), but there are times where I’m so intent on just getting to it that I neglect to go aggressively after it to pick it off myself. I settle for depriving a receiver of the football rather than making sure I get it myself.

So here’s to a new season in the IAFL, and here’s to increasing my tally of 4 picks from last year.  Here’s to anyone that wants to take a shot into my coverage, cos this year it just ain’t happening.


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