Play recognition - can it be taught?

<p class=txt>Given the recent play of our LBs, the issue of poor play recognition has arisen more than once on this board. So, the question is, can good play recognition be taught? The answer is emphatically, Yes!

From game films and experience, coaches develop keys to look for. It may be the guards in one formation, the FB in another, or a sequence of keys. Then you practice it by repition, repition, repition of various plays and from different formations. 

As I think about this issue, however, great play recognition or "having a nose for the football" really can't be taught. You either have it or you don't and it's different from the robotic-like visual cues practiced each week.

Here's an example of what I mean about having a nose for the football. You practice all week on one of the bread and butter plays of your next opponent - the sweep. As the offside LB, you must quickly flow down the line but not over pursue to prevent any cutbacks. Your opponent breaks the huddle and comes to the LOS in the formation they like to use for running the sweep. The down and distance coincides with their tendencies to run the sweep. At the snap of the ball, both guards pull to your right - 1st key. The FB goes in the same direction as the guards - 2nd key. The QB reverse pivots and hands the ball to the HB who runs in the same direction as the FB and guards - 3rd key. But, rather than flowing down the line quickly like you've practiced all week, your body refuses to move. Your frozen in place. Something's amiss but you don't know what it is. Suddenly, a huge hole 5-7 yards wide materializes right in front of you. Now you know something's wrong and you involuntarily step forward into the hole. Just as suddenly, you're face to face with a wingback or slotback carrying the ball on a counter play. You're both surprised - you because all your training and practice should have put you in another place on the field, and him - for the same reason. You nail him good right in the middle of this huge hole for no gain. 

Despite all the congratulations for making such a super play, you remain perplexed why doing what was wrong turned out to be exactly right. Not until seeing the game films do you realize what happened. Even though all the keys dictated a sweep, 10% of the picture wasn't right. Out of the corner of your eye, barely in your peripheral vision, one little guy wasn't moving in the same direction as everyone else. You don't even remember consciously seeing it, but you did and it overcame all your practice and training and put you in a position to be in the wrong place at the right time to make a play that would have otherwise gone for a long gain and possibly a TD. After a couple more similar experiences, you learn to quit worrying about it and to simply trust your instincts.

This same gift, or almost the same, isn't limited to the defensive side of the ball. It occurs in great kick returners and RBs. Why was Deltha O'Neal so great in returning kicks or interceptions? There's lots of players out there who were faster, stronger, etc. than Deltha but couldn't come close to being as dangerous as he was. It's because of his vision and instincts for where daylight will soon be rather than where the daylight is right now. 

The 1st time I ever saw this gift up close and personal was against UCLA in '62. Kermit Alexander (whom I regard as among the best all-around FB players I've ever seen - he played MLB on their goal line defense) came through the line on a draw play. I stopped retreating into my short zone coverage and came up to tackle him for a 7 yard gain. What made me mad at the time was that even though I was head up on him and the nearest tackler, he never looked at me as he came through the hole. He looked past me, downfield to the next potential tackler. I took this as showing no respect. Later that same year, while tackling Gayle Sayers in Lawrence, KS, he did the same thing to me as Kermit Alexander. I then realized that all the great RBs let their instincts take care of the guy that's about to tackle them while they keep their vision downfield and remain concerned with how they're going to break a long one. 

And, if having a "nose for the football" or "running to daylight" isn't an unconscious thing, it's at least subconscious. I remember seeing a Beyond the Glory program about Gayle Sayers and, after seeing himself make one of his great runs on film, he said he didn't know why he made some of the cuts and moves he did. 

Whether it's having a "nose for the football" on defense or "running to daylight" on offense or kick returns, these gifts can't be taught and are very similar - except they're simply the opposite of each other.

Maybe Maningo has the gift and I hope a few of the youngsters yet to play have it too. 




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From game films and experience, coaches develop keys to look for. It may be the guards in one formation, the FB in another, or a sequence of keys. Then you practice it by repition, repition, repition of various plays and from different formations. 

As I think about this issue, however, great play recognition or \"having a nose for the football\" really can't be taught. You either have it or you don't and it's different from the robotic-like visual cues practiced each week.

Here's an example of what I mean about having a nose for the football. You practice all week on one of the bread and butter plays of your next opponent - the sweep. As the offside LB, you must quickly flow down the line but not over pursue to prevent any cutbacks. Your opponent breaks the huddle and comes to the LOS in the formation they like to use for running the sweep. The down and distance coincides with their tendencies to run the sweep. At the snap of the ball, both guards pull to your right - 1st key. The FB goes in the same direction as the guards - 2nd key. The QB reverse pivots and hands the ball to the HB who runs in the same direction as the FB and guards - 3rd key. But, rather than flowing down the line quickly like you've practiced all week, your body refuses to move. Your frozen in place. Something's amiss but you don't know what it is. Suddenly, a huge hole 5-7 yards wide materializes right in front of you. Now you know something's wrong and you involuntarily step forward into the hole. Just as suddenly, you're face to face with a wingback or slotback carrying the ball on a counter play. You're both surprised - you because all your training and practice should have put you in another place on the field, and him - for the same reason. You nail him good right in the middle of this huge hole for no gain. 

Despite all the congratulations for making such a super play, you remain perplexed why doing what was wrong turned out to be exactly right. Not until seeing the game films do you realize what happened. Even though all the keys dictated a sweep, 10% of the picture wasn't right. Out of the corner of your eye, barely in your peripheral vision, one little guy wasn't moving in the same direction as everyone else. You don't even remember consciously seeing it, but you did and it overcame all your practice and training and put you in a position to be in the wrong place at the right time to make a play that would have otherwise gone for a long gain and possibly a TD. After a couple more similar experiences, you learn to quit worrying about it and to simply trust your instincts.

This same gift, or almost the same, isn't limited to the defensive side of the ball. It occurs in great kick returners and RBs. Why was Deltha O'Neal so great in returning kicks or interceptions? There's lots of players out there who were faster, stronger, etc. than Deltha but couldn't come close to being as dangerous as he was. It's because of his vision and instincts for where daylight will soon be rather than where the daylight is right now. 

The 1st time I ever saw this gift up close and personal was against UCLA in '62. Kermit Alexander (whom I regard as among the best all-around FB players I've ever seen - he played MLB on their goal line defense) came through the line on a draw play. I stopped retreating into my short zone coverage and came up to tackle him for a 7 yard gain. What made me mad at the time was that even though I was head up on him and the nearest tackler, he never looked at me as he came through the hole. He looked past me, downfield to the next potential tackler. I took this as showing no respect. Later that same year, while tackling Gayle Sayers in Lawrence, KS, he did the same thing to me as Kermit Alexander. I then realized that all the great RBs let their instincts take care of the guy that's about to tackle them while they keep their vision downfield and remain concerned with how they're going to break a long one. 

And, if having a \"nose for the football\" or \"running to daylight\" isn't an unconscious thing, it's at least subconscious. I remember seeing a Beyond the Glory program about Gayle Sayers and, after seeing himself make one of his great runs on film, he said he didn't know why he made some of the cuts and moves he did. 

Whether it's having a \"nose for the football\" on defense or \"running to daylight\" on offense or kick returns, these gifts can't be taught and are very similar - except they're simply the opposite of each other.

Maybe Maningo has the gift and I hope a few of the youngsters yet to play have it too. 




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============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to CyberBears so that you can participate in the CyberBear Insider community - and get access to the premium content across the entire Insider's network.

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