September 10, 2009

Your questions answered: Q&A with Dan Neil

Former All-American offensive lineman and two-time Super Bowl winner Dan Neil is the newest member of the staff and one of the articles that he plays to contribute every week is a Q&A session with the Texas fan base. In this second installment, the Longhorn legend addresses the injuries to Oklahoma, the Texas running game and a number of other topics.

Q: (Jeffrink)- How much does a new QB impact an inexperienced OL? I know that the center generally makes the line calls, but does the QB have inputs into line calls? How do audibles impact the line calls?

Does the loss of Bradford slow the development of the OL?

A: The loss of Bradford slows the development of that whole team. Who makes calls depends on the team and coaches. Some teams have the QB call out the hot defender and direct the line turn. Other teams have the center make those calls. When you have an experienced line and quarterback you don't need to make many calls because they all know what to do. Where this comes in handy is when you are in College Station and you cannot hear yourself. Crowd noise is a factor when you are trying to communicate.

Also, when a team is in the gun you will see defenders shift when the centers head is looking at the QB's foot for his signal to snap. That way when the center looks up, its' a different defense and it becomes hard to make new calls because you start to run out of time. Good teams will have the guard make the calls on gun plays for the center. Communication and teamwork are the keys to good O-line play.

When teams decide to audible there are two different scenarios - at home and on the road. When you are at home, audibles are not problems, but on the road it's a different story. What most teams do is have one audible for certain plays in the game plan for that week. If the QB calls a play and comes to the line and sees a different defense, he calls one audible. That way all you need to know is that he is changing the play and you know the play he is changing to if you studied your play book. When you get real good, you recognize the defense and you are waiting on the audible. This is why Dlineman cannot play Oline. They would get confused and pull a muscle in their brain.

Q: (hookem233) - Could you give us some insight of how the Broncos o-line was able to stay so dominant for so long? As we all know, the NFL changes so quickly and you constantly have to come up with new schemes to stay ahead of the game, yet the Broncos seemingly could plug me in at RB and I could rush for 1,000 yards. What do you think made that system so successful and what made it so impossible to figure out. There is no doubt that y'all have a TON of talent, but it really is amazing how productive that scheme is. Thanks for your insight!

A: What made the system so successful is what makes all systems successful, well-coached, talented and selfless players. In other words, hookem233 probably could not have rushed for 1,000 yards… maybe 800 yards at the most. What people do not see are the little things. The way the receivers blocked downfield, the way the Oline worked as one unit, the running backs discipline to stay with their read progression and the blocking by the fullback. Everyone did their job and did their job well.

Were it all starts was the acquisition of talent. We had the cornerstones of our offense under long term contracts and the young guys we drafted in the early years were solid players that fit our system. We did not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. We had excellent college scouting and pro personnel scouting departments. With the salary cap the way it is today, you have to be able to find talent for a bargain price. Anyone can build a winning team with no salary cap. Just pay the players the most and they will come. Just look at the Yankees. With a cap you have to spread the wealth and find good players for cheap. When we went 14-2 in 1998 I was the second highest draft pick on the offensive side of the ball behind John Elway and I was a third rounder! Everyone else was either a low draft pick or not drafted at all. The Broncos could evaluate talent with the best of them.

Actually, the NFL really does not change. The plays are the same as when George Halas and Paul Brown coached the game. The huddle formation most teams use today was invented by Paul Brown. Trends change. When I first got to the NFL everyone was running a 4-3 defense. Now everyone is going back to the 3-4. The 3-4 was the rage back when Lawrence Taylor was dominating defenses around the league. We never changed our base offense. We got away from some of the things we did over the years and changed some schemes to answer other changes, but the base scheme never changed.

What made it hard to figure out was the play-action game. We were playing KC at home one year and they thought they could tell when we were passing the ball. Hey tried calling out "pass" and "run" in the first quarter and were wrong half of the time. All it did was confuse them more. They saw the Oline in a run stance and would call "run" and it would be a play action. We kept the defense off-balance and they would never figure it out. Of course, it helped when they were trying to stop John Elway and Terrell Davis. Who do you try to stop if you are the Defensive coordinator? Remember, John was a serious running threat. When he retired he was either first or second in all-time rushing yards by a QB. When the QB rolls out on play action, he has to have the ability to run to make it work. Basically, the backside defensive end must lose contain because he has to worry about the run game. The linebacker must try to tackle the QB because he is a run threat and that opens up whoever is running a route to the play-action side. If these things happen you cannot stop that offense. When it is working, it's fun to watch and unstoppable.

Q: (hookem82) - I am interested in your opinion given your long tenure in the NFL. Basically, has the strength and mass of today's players exceeded the body's capacity to absorb the abuse of a season and a career especially in the NFL? Rule and equipment changes have unquestionably helped to decrease certain types of injuries, i.e. changing from turf to grass to decrease knee injuries and turf toe, etc. What I'm specifically referring to are the repeated hits ball carriers get in a game and the pounding lineman dish out to each other. Thanks.

A: Great question that we do not really know the answer to. There is no doubt that the players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. A lot of people around football feel that something has got to give. I remember Emmitt Smith saying one time that he could not play in today's game. Emmitt Smith is not that old! That is a sobering thought. I often wondered if I had more injuries because of my size. I played at 285 and most weeks I was going up against the biggest guy on the field. That had to take a toll, at least it certainly feels like it did. There have been some changes in the game due to the size of players. There will never be another running back that's able to carry the ball 30-35 times a game again. Every team now goes into the season with two good backs. Even Minnesota even has a two-back system. The running backs just cannot take the pounding for 16 weeks and have a long career. Injuries will happen and you will end up having a short career with 3-4 good years.

Concussions are starting to get diagnosed more often and equipment manufacturers are beginning to address these injuries with new helmets. They discovered what playing on a rug on top of concrete does to the knees and back after it had ruined many careers and caused a lifetime of pain for some players. Carson Palmer even said that he believes someone is going to die on the football field soon because of the mass and speed of some of those athletes out there. Now, he could just be saying this because he fears for his life every week playing in Cincinnati. It does make you think and wonder if he could be right. Ask me this question again in about 15-20 years and then the research will be in and I will be able to answer it for you. That is if I am still alive and coherent.

Q: (HkmTxsLnghrns) - 1. How has the "behind the scenes" of being a Horn changed since you were in school--especially conditioning and practice regimen?

2. What do you like about: Texas o-line recruiting, practice and game preparation, and schemes?

3. What would you like to see changed about those same issues raised in #2?

4. As much as you can, honest appraisal of McWhorter--teacher, motivator, recruiter?

A: Let me start out by clarifying my access to the UT football program. I am a member of the T-association at Texas. Coach Brown has been gracious enough to allow the T-Association members access to the program if we choose. Livening here in Austin I have on occasion used this privilege to go to some practices. Here is the part where I am going to disappoint some of the fans out there. I cannot use any information that I have access to that the rest of the media has access to. If I were to report on anything that I see at a practice or at the facility I would be taking advantage of the privilege that Coach Brown gives the T-Association and could ruin it for all of us, not to mention my own reputation at the University. So, my inside information is the same as any other media member. Where I differ is that I played at UT and understand what the collegiate athlete is going through. I also was privileged enough to spend a few years in the NFL and have some insight into the game. I hope to bring these advantages to the readers of throughout the rest of the season.

Now, let me try to shed some light on the question. I think Coach McWhorter has done an excellent job at recruiting and preparation. He seems to like athletic lineman that can get to the second level with some quickness. I also like the zone scheme that they use in their run package. I would rather see them run some more one-tight end and two-back sets, but they seem to have some success winning games with the spread offense. I think a lack of a traditional power game can hurt them in the Red Zone.

From my observations, Texas seems to be well prepared for the season. I did have questions when we kept getting beat up by OU for that stretch. After the 2005 team proved by concerns wrong, I have not thought much about their conditioning. The only other time I thought Texas looked tired was the Tech game last year and they were coming to the end of a brutal four-game stretch. I do not care who you are, it is hard to play at a high level week-in and week-out. Texas seems to do as good as or better than most. This is a team that won the national championship game in 2005, was 12-1 last year and is No.2 in the polls as I write this. There is not a whole lot wrong with this program right now. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Q: (bnewnham) - Can you describe your version of the ideal running back? Would you prefer someone who is balanced and can fit into almost any scheme, or would you look for someone who excels at an elite level in one phase (the best power back in the country, or the shiftiest, the best receiver, etc.) to fit into a particular scheme?

A: Every scheme wants a different back. Adrian Peterson ran well at OU in the spread. He runs like the one of the greatest ever in the I-formation with a fullback. Barry Sanders hated the I-formation and excelled in one-back sets with the offense spread out. The good ones are good in any system. They can be great in the scheme that they fit best into. If I was a coach I would prefer the one that fits into my scheme, but I would take any back that can play. I do not get too caught up in size and speed. There is an art to playing running back that is hard to teach. You can have all the size and speed in the world and if you cannot find the hole you are useless. Basically, I want a football player that can make big plays touching the ball 25-30 times a game.

Q: (Austin_Eagle) - How successful do you believe a 175lb (D.J. Monroe) running back can be in Division 1 football? How would you grade each Texas offensive lineman's performance against Louisiana Monroe? How would you grade the Texas offensive line performance as an entire unit?

A: It is tough for a 215-pound back to be an every down back in the NFL. If you look at the NFL today, every down backs are dinosaurs. I consider Adrian Peterson at Minnesota and LaDainian Tomlinson at San Diego to be the best two backs in the league. Both guys have excellent backups in Darren Sproles and Chester Taylor that are expected to share the load. The size and speed of players today are making it tougher for a team to have just one back. That back will wear out and his career would be cut short. As far as DJ Monroe is considered, I feel he is an athlete that needs to get the ball in his hands. The term third down back came from a spread offense that teams used in 3rd and long situations where you can either throw to the back out of the backfield or hand off to him with the defense spread out and more lanes for him to find. Monroe fits this role well and would be a good fit for UT as long as he can pick up blitzes and not be a liability if asked to block.

I felt like the Oline played better in the second half. When I look at UT's front 5 after the ULM game, I feel they are excellent pass blockers and they need to improve in the run. They blocked well running the ball, but there was one break down up front and sometimes that is all it takes. They need to get to the LB's better and they need to do a better job cutting off the backside. I have no doubt they will improve in these two categories and I look for them to run a lot against Wyoming. They know they can throw the ball. They need to see different ways to use Monroe and give Vondrell McGee a chance to redeem himself after the fumbles he had against ULM. What I really like about Texas is when Huey got hurt, Davis Snow stepped in and they did not miss a beat. They are deep and well coached up front. If they can run the ball and give Colt time to throw, Texas is hard to stop.

Q: (mm957) - Did John Elway really drink Coors Original?

A: Sure. Everyone has to drink yellow bellies. My beer of choice today. Ironically, the beer sponsor of INVESCO Field of Mile High is Budweiser. Budweiser also provides all of the beer for the Broncos. I know this because it was my job as a rookie to ice down the beer for after practice film study. One more note on alcohol in the NFL - athletes and coaches are not allowed to endorse alcoholic products. The NFL takes this stance because they feel it is not in the best interest for role models to be endorsing alcoholic products. What they really mean is the owners want all the alcohol money for themselves.

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