It's been a while since I posted so I guess it's time to toss my own viewpoint of the draft out there. And with it some thoughts on how the new coaches seem to be looking to me.
Rick Spielman, Coach whisperer?
No. Clearly if he was that then Frazier would have been on his 2nd run to the playoffs, and we would be contending with a revamping roster already. Not like he can be blamed for Puntf__ker either, as Klink was brought in before him. In retrospect it was a mistake. When he earned his moniker it was a great mistake. His extension took things almost to a 'THE mistake' type level, just prior to everything imploding.
So Rick gets a chance to do a full on coach search and it looks like he found a fairly good coach. One of the ways this worked out of course is that he gets a coach who is really into looking for the better players to actually play. Leslie was a good coach who looked out for his guys, but he had blinders or at least let the players play long after it was obvious the players were not in the right place or just not playing well. Zimmer I think also will look out for his players, but he has no qualms about making sure the play on the field sets his roster. This is a vast improvement in at least we should get to see the best players out there, and if someone struggles they will get replaced to see if the next one can improve the team. Sounds fine in theory, but how will it work in practice? That's the part no-one really knows yet. But it's a good start for how Zimmer is presenting himself to the fans and the team.
But what makes this hire even better is that Zimmer certainly got better coaches into the system. Once again Frazier seemed to hold on long after it was obvious that the under coaches might be well out of depth, or just not as good as he seemed to think. Musgrave was not a good OC, size of the card meant nothing, it was the lack of being able to string the offense together that did him in as an OC. Some good play design, poor calling, and it was clear that while it worked, when it came time to lock away that win, the offense was not able to hold the ball or run up the score. Same thing on defense, which was Fraziers forte, when called upon to lock away that win (usually the same one) it wilted or came up short. Zimmer starts off with quite a decent set of coaches under him, most of which do seem to be upgrades over who we had last year. And the good coaches we did have seem to have been retained by the NEW coach. So that's looking really really good.
Coaches coach, players play, can we get the right ones coaching/playing now?
So I have to say I am impressed with Zimmer, and its certainly deserved after Leslie's failure to keep the team on an upward path. While I have discussed in the past how I feel Leslie was an improvement over Puntf__ker, what really surprised me is how much of an improvement it seems Zimmer is over Leslie. Frazier had his issues with young players playing, but there were a couple it seems he decided needed to play over vets even when it felt apparent that they should not be out there. While some have shown improvement (Fusco certainly has), others have not (Ponder), and others looked to be in the wrong place (Robinson). And so far that philosophy seems to be gone now, as it should have been all along. While it remains to be seen if Fusco is as good as some have presented, or is still one of our weaker lineman (as I think) but at least he is no longer the flat out worst player in the line. I still wish we had kept Schwartz, who was better than Fusco in my own opinion, but keeping Fusco was a good move, while keeping them both would have been the best move. I will freely admit I am unsure if we could have plugged Fusco in for Johnson, but I don't see how Fusco could have been any worse. Johnson still makes a better guard than tackle, but it is clear that he is not playing well enough at this point. And keeping Schwartz was not a coaches decision. Playing him was, but getting / dumping him wasn't. I think if Spielman continues to get good players and the coaching staff uses the talent they have, this team can be a force. Not later, not in a couple years, but now. But Spielman has to hold on to the good players he gets in free agency, not just the ones he drafts.
Almost all that starts with playing the best players, and not the best in the film room, or in the game planning, or in the understanding of the playbook. The best players will not only be the ones getting it right at Winter Park, but also the ones who do it better on SUNDAY, at TCF, and elsewhere. Some comments about Ponder improving are great, but while I understand that a better coach might be able to help, Ponders problem with the game was never in the film room, or during planning, or playbook, or design. It was on Sunday that he fell off in his ability to handle things like pressure, and vision. All the coaching in the world will not help him acclimate himself to the speed of the game, and look beyond his initial read (and no there should not be an s for plural there). So while I am happy that we have better coaches, my worry is that they are seeing the same things our old coaches did, a grasp of the playbook, an understanding of the scheme, but not yet able to see if it will translate to game day. Of course I don't think Zimmer will be giving Ponder full reign, and then standing by hoping he somehow 'gets it' during a horrid stretch. Part of that is depending on making sure the draft goes well and part that we patch well in free agency. And once again we end up back at Spielman.
Spielman knows good players, except in free agency (True/False!)
At least that's what it's been looking like for the past few years. Overpaying for players that have not been up to par with what we are paying, sometimes not even in the same zip code. Bringing in the 3rd tier player to patch a 1st tier hole. Resigning players who spent a couple years proving .. . well nothing. But looking over the last 2 years there is a subtle change. While the big WR signings kept falling away we waited and brought in Jennings, who even without being targeted (and yes he was OPEN!) has been an extremely good signing. Sure some others are head scratchers, but this year in particular his free agency has looked more like . . . . well the last few years of his drafting. Certainly this year the signings appear better than usual. Carlson was supposed to be a great signing and turned out more like 'meh' than anything. It really wasn't the signing so much as the cost he took up on our salary cap, oh who am I kidding, it wouldn't have been a great signing even at half the cost to me. Of course this year even if the players don't play up to what they have in the past they are still upgrades over what we have been plugging in. Oh Captain, Vike's Captain . . . That's an upgrade. CLEARLY! Linval signing over Letroy is CLEARLY an upgrade. I would have preferred to see us sign Williams back, as a platoon with him and Linval, Sharrif, cycling would be just beastly, especially with Robison and Everson coming off the edge. It finally looks like we got hole plugged in free agency instead of rice papering over and hope no one runs through.
Of course there's still yet to be meaningful football to be played, so are we in good shape really? It certainly seems to be better than past years, so I'm willing to say yes. But until the games actually count we won't know if Spielman is still thinking that some player can be salvaged fro the scrap heap, while we wonder why not sign a better player to begin with and actually . . . UPGRADE!
To draft or not to draft . . is a question applied to Rick . . . so why both?
So the last few years have shown that Rick seems to find a number of good players, but he is also capable of making the same mistake here that he makes above. Trying to outsmart everyone is truly in his job description, as the GM needs to be able to find players in the draft that help the team. So what did Rick do this year? Well he traded out of the 8 spot to pick up an extra pick (not the best but any pick is one more) allowing the Browns to take what I consider a ready capable linebacker. Then we picked . . . a project. Wait we are picking in SINGLE DIGITS in the draft and we picked a PROJECT? Just what are you smoking Rick? While he has insane upside, the start of the draft is not where you pick upside project players, or are we going to revisit Troy yet one more time? Do I like the player, well yes of course I do, and seeing highlights make me think this guy will be a great player . . . Someday. But we let a player ready to play TODAY slip past in order to do that. I don't get it, especially when the player we so hugely NEEDED (a quarterback) was there.
So let's discuss the quarterback he chose. Teddy Bridgewater was there, and we needed him, but passed on him and the one player I was thinking was a better choice, Manziel. Why do I think JFF was a better choice when clearly he is not the 'better' quarterback? Well I'm glad I asked myself that, because I really did not know. Seriously did not know why I would bypass the 'only decent quarterback' (prior to his pro day) to select a wild canon. Did I think he was the 2nd coming of Fran? No. Did I think he had better upside? No. Did I think he would fit a Norv Turner offense better? No. Was I flashing back to all the things said about Ponder? Hmm, distinct possibility. See the last 'Pro Ready' quarterback we took was Ponder. The last cerebral quarterback with a nose for seeing things was . . Ponder. The last quarterback we took expecting him to step up . . . Ponder. And I think that set off my sense of dread that we are back to going that direction again. So what was it about Manziel that seemed to click for me? He was able to make thing happen when everything goes into the toilet. Which is reminiscent of Fran, even though I know Manziel will not be Fran 2.0. And that's what I want to see on the field, a player who can make things happen when the crap hits the fan. Instead we passed . . . on BOTH!
Rick Spielman it's official . . . You ARE the weakest link
The draft at this point is in full crash and burn mode and Spielman is thinking he really is Anikin flying half the ship down into the ground without a motor, or wings, or decent heat shielding. Meanwhile the Emperor is behind him going "HEY DIPSTICK I FORESAW US DOING SOMETHING GREAT NOT CRASHING AND BURNING" in the loudest mental scream that can be heard by everything with higher brainpower than a wounded moose. So somehow Spielman uses the force, burns 17 lifetimes worth of Dali Llama luck, or sells his soul (probably the Gold KIA one) to somehow draft again in the first round to pick the player he missed on not once, but TWICE as we got outbid by the BROWNS (THE BROWNS . . . . The F'ing BROWNS!) for Teddy. Not only did they get a better prepared linebacker they also got a play maker at quarterback. And we . . . . once again . . . got 'Pro Ready' quarterbacking.
How come we could not match the Browns on that? Well it's just numbers, I mean after all the Browns had the most picks (or it seemed like it) even before they added the other half of the draft in the Bills trade. And to think we did not expect them to be able to move up? Seriously? When all they gave us was a 5th pick, something they had printed up and gave away to the crowd just so other teams had a chance to pick on day 3? And we had to give up a 4th to get a QB that we just as easily could have gotten earlier without all the fuss / muss / tossed mugs and damaged livers that now are rampant in Viking fandom.
Rick Spielman its Official . . . You are a freaking Genius
Wait, say WHAT? Okay, do I think he made a mess of the draft, yes, but let's really look at what we have here in thedumpster. The linebacker can flat out PLAY, especially when things break down. You can teach technique, you can't teach drive, desire, and pure freakish talent. Barr has those last 3, and from all reports he WANTS to get better, which is exactly the kind of football player I want to see in purple. With the upgraded coaching staff we have, I do actually think that he will pan out, and all the angst and liver damage I have done will be worth it.
And looking over our QB situation let's really examine where we sit. Ponder is at best a 3rd in my opinion, someone who can flash a little ability now and then, but who does not 'make plays' often enough. He's unsure about throwing into tight windows, bad footwork, incapable it seems of going through a REAL progression when it counts, although there are the rare (Live Yeti at dinner rare) times when he gets past his first option. He does not see player who are open if they are not in the progression, EVEN AS THEY RUN ACROSS HIS FIRST READS ROUTE. Seriously, how can you miss Jennings running 5 yards open when he CROSSED the route you were watching. So how much better will Teddy be than Ponder? Well think about how many points we put up with a QB that could not actually play the game at the NFL level. Teddy is ALREADY better than Ponder at some of the things that Ponder is horrid at, his footwork and his ability to make a progression read, oh and lets not forget pocket awareness. Cassel looked better than Ponder when he played to me even in his disaster games. So if Teddy is just a little bit better at the position than either of them, then we go from a 5-6 win team to a 9-10 win team, possibly even 12. And that's with Teddy being basically a non franchise QB. If he lives up to his billing as best QB of his class? . . . Well now.
And what are the first things I hear from Arif on his podcast? That Teddy is the same kind of player that WANTS to get better. He is improving, listening, and above all coachable. So teh two players that we picked for 'upside' are looking like they might actually pan out. This is absolutely true Jedi mind tricks at work here. While I think the browns had a better 1st round draft than we did (just my opinion), I do think the Spielman got better potential players than they did. And I think we have better coaching right now, which means those players have a better shot at hitting that potential. Which is exactly what Spielman was after. And this doesn't even count the next couple players that I thought were excellent pickups like Yankey (who probably starts in place of Johnson before the year end), and Crichton who could be a real defensive stud, or even Exum who might be a great addition to our D-backs.