Stills: An NFL Europe season to remember

Former Packers safety Ken Stills finished his fourth season as an assistant coach for the NFL Europe champion Frankfurt Galaxy this past spring. Stills offers his thoughts on why the Galaxy were successful. He also comments on a few players allocated by the Packers and their chances of making Green Bay's 53-man roster this season.

As most of you know I've been in Europe for the past three months coaching with the Frankfurt Galaxy of The National Football League - Europe. Players from six teams fought for the coveted World Bowl crown and an opportunity to come back to the United States a more seasoned and savvy football player. Hey, ask Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme, two past stars of NFL Europe. This league jump-started their careers.

It was an exciting season in NFL Europe. It came down to the last game of the season to decide who would play in World Bowl XIV. The Galaxy clinched the final spot in the final game of the year to play the defending World Bowl Champs, Amsterdam Admirals. Frankfurt went on to beat Amsterdam 23-10 in World Bowl XIV, NFL Europe's version of the Super Bowl.

Frankfurt has now won more NFL Europe Championships than any other franchise in NFL Europe history.

Since my involvement with Frankfurt we have reached the championship game three of four years. We've been very fortunate to win two of the three. We beat the Rhein Fire my first season in 2003, lost to The Berlin Thunder in 2004, and beat the Amsterdam Admirals in 2006.

The NFLE draft
This past season began with the NFLE draft, one day after Super Bowl XL. All six teams prepared for the draft. Each draft room resembles a large mirage of names and numbers of players most of us never heard of. There were some well-known names, like Timmy Chang the NCAA Division I All-time passing leader and Chad Hutchison, a quarterback drafted by Dallas in 2005, who opted to play pro baseball. For the most part it was a list of players looking for that one opportunity in the NFL. That's where our job comes in. The job of NFL Europe. Teach these players a new system in a two-week training camp, take them to Europe, play a 10-week schedule then send them back to the U.S. ready to make an NFL roster. No problem.

When the draft was over our staff felt we had put together a good group of men, that were solid football players. The key to our team success was to draft players with character. We felt that if our players had a good working relationship first, then working and living together for the next three months wouldn't be a problem.

On offense we had three quarterbacks, but no household names, just guys who didn't mind putting in a good days work. Jeff Otis (Cardinals), Craig Ochs (Bills) and Bryson Spinner (49ers). Most NFL teams think you need a great quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Well, these guys proved that theory wrong. Not one of these guys was outstanding but as a group they proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Our wide-receivers were big and fast while our running backs were quick and elusive. The real strength of our team was the offensive line. These guys had the best offensive line in NFL Europe. Will Vitek (KC), Rob Droege (Ravens) Charles Missant (Jets), Jason Nerys (Tampa Bay) Matt McGhghy, Isaac Snell and Emanuel Akah. These are all guys that should make a impact on their respective roster this season in the NFL.

Top-ranked offense
Our offense finished the season as the number one ranked offense in NFL Europe. We really didn't light up the scoreboard, but we scored enough points to win. We ran the football and controlled the clock. We passed when we had to, but the running game was our bread and butter. Our offense broke the league rushing record for most yards in a season and dominated the time of possession against almost every team we played. Our running backs, Roger Robinson (Cardinals) and Butchy Wallace (FA), both enjoyed outstanding seasons. Butchy had an excellent second half of the season and eventually was named MVP of World Bowl XIV. He signed a free agent contract with the Falcons at the end of the season.

Solid defense
On defense we were small but quick. We took advantage of our player's strengths. We installed a Bear package early in training camp. This allow us to use our speed to pressure the quarterback. A few small wrinkles combined with our basic defensive philosophy and we felt we could have a solid defensive campaign and we did. We finish the season as the number 1 ranked defense.

Statistically the Galaxy finished either number one or number two in every category. We were No. 1 in total offense and defense. No. 1 in red zone offense. No. 2 in red zone defense and No. 2 in the give-away/take-away ration.

I'm not real big on stats but there are a few common dominators where statistics tell something about your team's success: When teams do well in certain categories, like ball possession, turnovers, fewest points allow and field position, then teams have a real good chance of being in every game. Success in the running game allows them to control the clock. If you can minimize your mistakes, whether its penalties or turnovers and play solid defense and special teams then your team has a chance statistically.

Playing well as a team
Sound great right? Well I forgot to tell you the one main common dominator in all this - players. Without good players it doesn't matter what offense or defense you install, or what high price coach you go out and hire, if they can't perform it doesn't matter. One of my favorite quote is, "Plays don't make a players, Players make plays."

Remember when the Packers roster consisted of Reggie White, Brett Favre, Ahman Green, Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera, and guys like that? That team made history. Since then for whatever reason - money, injuries, retirement -that team just hasn't been the same. Just look in the wins and loss column. Without great players year in and year out, it's hard to be a consistent winner.

In the past four years that I've been with Frankfurt, we have drafted an entirely new team - 48 new players every year. We don't just lose one or two players to free agency, we lose our entire team. It's a major challenge trying to install a new offense or defense every year to new players.

With that being the case our philosophy is to try and install the simplest offense and defense so that our players have the opportunity to have success on the field without thinking about their assignments. My point in telling you this is to emphasize the importance of "The Player."

In 2003, my first season with Frankfurt, we installed a basic defensive package. Four defensive fronts, four pass coverages, a two- and four-minute defense and prevent defense. We went on to win World Bowl XI and finished the season with the No. 1-ranked defense in NFL Europe.

In 2004, we had the exact same defensive scheme, but 48 totally different players, and we had similar success. We finished with the No. 2 defense in the league and a disappointing lost to Berlin in World Bowl XII.

In 2005, 48 new players, same defensive scheme, but a 3-7 record and a defensive ranking of No. 6. Wait a minute, the same defensive scheme that took us to two World Championship. What happened? What happened was we didn't have the same caliber of players to execute the system.

In 2003 and 2004 we would win the close game because our players were better. It wasn't the scheme or our play calling ability it was our players. In 2005 the other five teams had better players and that was the difference.

In 2006 our staff set out to make sure we drafted players who wanted to compete. Players who were going to raise their level of play when the pressure was on. We studied each player's personal profile. We called our NFL contacts and really focused on putting together the most talented group of men we could. Goal accomplished. We ended up winning World Bowl XIV.

Our goal was to draft the best available players in the 2006 draft because plays don't make a player, players make plays.

Packers in Europe
In World Bowl XIV, the Packers had five allocated players who played in the game. The Amsterdam Admirals had four Packers on their roster. Wide receiver Vince Butler had 13 catches for 174 yards and a 13-yard (per catch) average in 2006. He's a solid NFL Europe receiver, but in my opinion he'll need to step up his game and make plays in order to make Green Bay's roster. At one point during the season Amsterdam led the league in total offense. With only 13 catches Vincent wasn't a big part of their offense. He'll need to show great strides in training camp to have a chance.

They also had another receiver, Chad Lucas, who led NFL Europe in touchdowns with eight. He was second on his team in points scored with 48, the kicker had 71. He also was 4th in the league in receiving yards while averaging 16 yards per catch. Chad was a playmaker. He found ways to get open in the red zone and get into the end zone. If he continues this in training camp he could end up being a third or forth receiver for the Packers.

Next was tight end Tory Humphrey, who had 19 catches for 206 yards and one touchdown. He also played on Green Bay's roster in 2005 for one game. Troy is more of a blocking tight end who runs well, but has average receiver skills. He's a tight end you can use in goal line and short yardage and on special teams. If Tory plans on making this roster again he needs to prepare to work his tail off, get in shape and show massive improvements in his entire game.

The last player Amsterdam had on their roster allocated by Green Bay was safety, Atari Bigby. He led the Admirals' defense in tackles with 61, and recorded one interception. Atari also played one game on Green Bay's active roster in 2005. In my opinion Atari is a guy who can make this roster again. He's a physical player with excellent range, good feet and good quickness and a nose for the ball. He's also a player that loves contact. He was a standout player on special teams and if he looked for the football a few more times instead of trying to knock the receiver's head off, he might have a couple more interceptions.

Defensive end Jerome Nichols, allocated by the Packers, played for the Galaxy. Jerome was the NFL Europe sack leader and a unanimous 1st team all-NFL Europe selection at defensive end. He was seventh on defense in tackles. Jerome had two sacks, five tackles and a safety in World Bowl XIV. He's a solid player but very undersized for his position. In NFL Europe his speed and quickness were his best assets. Against season NFL offensive lineman I don't know if that will be enough. I expect Jerome to give a great push in training camp for a job, but it's going to be tough to crack the 53-man roster.

Speaking of rosters, in my next article I'll try and give some insight to this year's Packer roster, their 2006 draft picks and free agents.

I just want to say, it's great to be back in the United States and I look forward to a exciting and special 2006 NFL season.

Ken Stills
Editor's note: Ken Stills played safety for the Packers from 1985-89. E-mail Ken at

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