Ask the Experts: Grab Bag

Scout's NFL experts answer questions about a number of subjects, including: Will the Patriots try someone else at QB? What happened to the coffin corner punt? And why is officiating taking center stage?

Q: Do you think the New England Patriots should bench QB Matt Cassel for the rookie QB Kevin O'Connell, or should they keep hoping that Cassel gets better? - George from Massachusetts

Patriots QB Matt Cassel (Getty)
Chris Steuber: I think it's a little too early to bench Cassel and, in all fairness, he's taking on the near-impossible task trying to replace a legendary player like Tom Brady. Even though his statistics warrant a trip to the bench, I don't think it's realistic for a third-round rookie like Kevin O'Connell to come in and lead a veteran group like the Patriots.

Adam Caplan: It's too early to bench Cassel and they're 3-2 so it's not panic time. They have to give Cassel time to develop with the receivers and the rest of the offensive players. They are high on Kevin O'Connell but they aren't looking to play him this season unless they have to.

Tom Marino: The Patriots are the defending AFC champions and even after losing to the Dolphins and Chargers are still the odds on favorite to capture the AFC title. The last thing the Patriots want to do is go to war with a rookie QB at the helm.

I didn't like first-and-goal effort versus the Chargers, when the Patriots started from the one-yard line. Brady would have put the ball in the end zone, but most of the Patriots problems has hardly been the fault of Cassel. Sure, he's going to get better, but I'm not sure the same can be said for the woeful work of New England's offensive line, both pass protecting and running the football. The same can be said about the cornerback position where the Patriots had to replace both starters from the 2007 AFC championship team (Randall Gay and Asante Samuel). Hang in there, though, I have a feeling the Pats are not done just yet.

Ed Thompson: Unless the Patriots are ready to throw in the towel on this season's playoff hopes, I think it would be a huge mistake to put rookie Kevin O'Connell in there at this point. Remember, this is a quarterback who is a bit of a development project and who only completed 47 percent of his throws against primarily third-string talent in the preseason. Meanwhile, Cassel is completing almost 65 percent of his tosses. He's not getting much help from his offensive line, and the Patriots' running game isn't taking enough pressure off of him, either. New England is currently ranked 18th running the ball. The Patriots were absolutely nuts not to have better QB depth behind Tom Brady, and the whole team is paying the price for it now.

Q: Is Linebacker Matt Mayberry from Indiana the best overall athlete at the linebacker position right now? I have been reading and hearing a ton of positive things about him. - Dan from Denver

Indiana LB Matt Mayberry (Scout)
Tom Marino: He's a big "Mike" linebacker and appeared to make a good many plays, but to be honest with you I've only seen him on a TV game and since he is an underclassman, I really didn't study him to any degree. Let me say this, though: inside run stoppers with size and range are at a premium. Each year in every draft that I was involved with (34 in all), the list of WR's, DS, OT's and DS's was endless, while the numbers at the mike backer and QB position was usually less than the number of fingers on both of your hands.

Spoke to a close scouting friend of mine after I received your e-mail and he told me that Matt has a great looking body and was an outstanding prep running back. He likes what he has seen thus far, but again is only going to comment in detail once he makes a decision to forego his final year of eligibility.

Ed Thompson: Mayberry is a talented prospect, but is far from being the best overall athlete at the LB spot. He's off to a fine start this year, but doesn't have the experience or the stats of some of the nation's best LBs right now. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis is my pick as the best overall athlete at the linebacker position. His size, speed, agility and football-smarts helped him win the Nagurski Award (country's top defensive player) in 2006 and the Butkus Award in 2007.

Chris Steuber: Is Matt Mayberry the best overall athlete at linebacker in college football? No, but he has a chance to be special. Mayberry, who is a junior, is probably one of the fastest linebackers in the country and is continuing to improve on the field every week. But when you play the same position as James Laurinaitis, Rey Maualuga, Aaron Curry and Brian Cushing, Mayberry isn't even on the radar.


P Ray Guy (AP)
Why do teams, and punters, never go for the "coffin corner?" I remember in the 80's, Raiders punter Ray Guy was amazing at it. Other teams/punters did it as well. You would think in this day and age, with all the practice time and specialization in sport, a punter would be able to loft the ball into the coffin corner at will. What gives? - Murreh from Qatar

Chris Steuber: Being able to punt with accuracy and pin the ball in a corner is an art, and I don't think a lot of punters these days take the time to perfect the craft. Players like Sean Landeta and Ray Guy were unique and understood the nuances of being a punter. Today, I think a lot of the punters worry more about their hang time and distance and forget about placement.

Adam Caplan: Directional punting is more of the way punters go now and they also go for hang time which seems to be the most important key these days.

Tom Marino: You know, that is an excellent question. This is an art that appears to be long forgotten. What most teams try to do today is depend on their gunners (outside men on the punt team) to cover and for the punter to elevate the football. Remember the coffin corner (inside the five) is a very narrow window and most special team coaches believe they have a better chance of downing the football with their gunners than the kicker controlling the football with his leg. By keeping the ball in the middle of the field, there is also a chance that for a punt returner to muff the football.

Ed Thompson: For the punters who were good at it, the coffin corner punt was highly effective. But it's more difficult to accurately nail the proper angle than it is too simply get the right hang time to allow your team to get under the ball to stop it from rolling into the end zone.

Q: What is going to happen to the raiders? are they going to get a new coach ? - Charlie from Oakland

Chris Steuber: It's a shame that the Raiders are the most dysfunctional organization in professional football, because they have a nice young team that just needs some direction. Unfortunately, the direction they need has to come from an experienced coach, and I don't know what seasoned coach would want to work for Al Davis.

Raiders owner Al Davis (AP)

Adam Caplan: Until they get a good personnel man in there who the owner is willing to let make decisions, don't expect the Raiders to be a good football team. As for the coach, expect them to interview a lot of candidates after the season is over. Tom Cable will likely need to win at least 5-6 games to keep the job.

Tom Marino: Yes they will indeed have a new coach next season, if they can find somebody that actually wants the job. Over the past two decades, it has proven to be a coaching wasteland. Two years ago a number of coaches including Mike Martz took their names out of consideration after meeting with Al Davis. Charlie, unless Al decides to adapt a an entirely different philosophy (not likely at the age 78), this franchise is going know where.

Ed Thompson: Charlie, that's a great question that I wish I had the answer to, but I think we all know that all you can count on from owner Al Davis is unpredictable decision-making. He'll stick with Tom Cable as long as he can bear it, but don't be surprised to see him name yet another head coach if the Raiders don't win a game over the next four weeks or so. Davis isn't getting any younger, and I don't think he wants to see yet another season go by as the owner of one of the league's worst teams. But I think he's also going to have to come to grips with the fact that he made a mistake in making JaMarcus Russell his new franchise quarterback. Until he faces up to that, it may not matter who he puts in charge of his team on the field. There also won't be a bunch of truly talented coaches lining up to take the head coach job after witnessing the meltdown with Lane Kiffin, a coach and person who I respect.

Q: After watching Ed Hochuli make one of the worse officating calls I had ever seen (week 2 San Diego vs Denver), I thought there must be a way the NFL can fix this problem. Watching the Dallas vs Arizona game, I see it again. Not the infamous tuck rule (which must be done away with) but the sack and fumble by Romo in the first quarter that was not allowed because the whistle had blown. So my question is: Is there anything that can be done that can eliminate these terrible calls? - Mark from South Carolina

Chris Steuber: It's a judgment call, and I agree with you that the calls you mentioned were horrendous. So my solution would be if a ball hits the ground, rule it a fumble. Even if you know for a fact that it isn't a fumble, call it anyway. The coaches have the luxury of challenging a call and if the NFL adopted this scenario, you'd have reward teams with more challenges during a game. That's fine. It may slow down the game, but it would make it more efficient.

Ed Hochuli (Getty)
Adam Caplan: Because of the human element in officiating, there's not much you can do other than have instant replay. The competition committee will meet again next year and will address rule tweaks and revisions.

We're not seeing as many missed calls on the whistle being blown as in previous years.

Tom Marino: Mark, on September 16th, I wrote a story titled "The Official View" for scout, dealing with this very issue. Here are some of those thoughts on the matter.

Granted an NFL official, working a maximum of five pre season games, sixteen regular seasons, three playoff, the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, will still officiate in less than one-eight of the games of their baseball and one quarter of the games of their hockey and basketball counterparts.

I firmly believe that the NFL, beginning with the 2009 season should implement a policy where all crew chiefs (referees) are to be employed on a fulltime basis within the league and depending on their years of service should be compensated at a minimum, base-rate of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.

Crew chiefs that choose not commit to full time employment within the league will be given the single option of either accepting a lesser position within the crew or being terminated.

Commencing with the start of training camp, each of the sixteen crew chiefs will spend a week in no less than two training camps where he will work along side local and young developing officials under consideration for consideration for employment within the league.

Throughout the entire regular season, the crew chief duties would be well defined. Monday's would become self-scouting day, where the referee would review the work of each member of his crew and prepare a detailed report for the league on his crew's performance. On Tuesday, the crew chief would prepare a similar study for the league, evaluating the work of another NFL crew. On Wednesday and Thursday, the crew chief will review the last two previous game tapes on next week's game opponents. He will look for offensive, defensive and special team tendencies. He will also prepare for each member of his crew his own personal check-list, along with a detailed evaluation of the crew member's last week performance for the purpose of review. Provided that his work is complete, Friday is an official day of rest. Saturday is a travel day, tape review with the rest of the crew and stadium walk-through when possible. Sunday is game day, the culmination of a week worth of preparedness and coordination.

Will the actions proposed to you today eliminate bad calls in future games? Hardly, but what it will do is create a system from which the league can significantly cut down on the margin of error and provide to the public with a more creditable product.

Ed Thompson:  Hochuli has been a reliable official for a number of years, so it's a shame that he made such a high-profile blunder. The early whistle has been a problem for years. Fortunately it hasn't raised it's head too often, but as long as officials are human, you'll still have blown calls every week. 

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