A closer look at age of first exposure to football and later-life cognitive impairment in NFL players
This is in part a response to a thread a couple weeks back where I posted a link to the new study by Robert Stern and Julie Stamm et al in the journal Neurology that shows an apparent causal relationship between age of first exposure (AFE) to football and cognitive impairment in NFL players. The comments to the original thread hit a full spectrum that can be honed by a close reading of the study and past work on CTE. A few things have happened since that post that make this more interesting; the Super Bowl for one, John O’Korn transferring into Michigan for another and a civil lawsuit filed against the national office of Pop Warner football for the wrongful death of Joseph Cernach. I’m going to take a closer look at the actual data from the new study to refute some points made in the previous thread (including my own). Then, I’m going to apply this new data to previous studies and finally I will present my opinion as to where these and other recent events are leading.
First the latest CTE news story in which a suit has been brought in a federal court in Wisconsin against The Pop Warner Foundation stating that Pop Warner failed: to train coaches, to use safe helmets, to limit contact in practice, to teach players to use safety equipment and finally, failed to follow established concussion protocols dating back to 1997. The suit was filed by Debra Pyka, mother to Joseph Chernach who suffered from CTE having been diagnosed after he committed suicide at the age of 25 in June of 2012. Joseph played Pop Warner from the age of 11 in 1997 to 14 in 2000.
This is Joseph (a Michigan fan) with mom on the left and Joseph in happier times on the right. Photos are taken from Joseph's donor page at the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) website and from photos supplied by the family to news outlets.
Fixed tissues from Joseph were examined by Ann McKee at the Boston University Center for the study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE.) His case was classified as stage 2 - possibly stage 3 and remarked as one of the worst for his age. Joseph’s complete brain was evidently not sent, preventing definitive staging.
This wasn’t the only suit filed in the last weeks but it got my attention and brought back the issues put forth by the CSTE study that came out on Jan 28th. It is important to grasp what that study is saying if only because we are likely to get many more lawsuits like the one above in the near term as well as a continued flight from youth football (participation already being down 29% since 2008.) But these are not the only reasons.
The study in question is entitled
Age of first exposure to football and later-life cognitive impairment in former NFL players
If you haven’t read it and are able to do so… just do it. It’s not that technical. Pundits in the media, however, and others continue to misconstrue its conclusions and validity which is another reason for this diary. What follows here is my understanding of the data presented with sincerity if not authority. It’s clear from the comments to the original board post that many were interested in the work but didn’t have the time to research the journal article.
The study is a cross sectional analysis for causal factors to explain actual cognitive impairment found in a sample of NFL players. The researchers pulled only from those players who were known already to exhibit cognitive, behavioral or mood symptoms in the 6 month period prior to participating. That is what a cross-sectional study is – a cross section of a population. There is no control group. A control is not needed for this sort of examination.
The subjects were pulled from a group of about 150 players who were vetted so as not to have any previous central nervous system (CNS)disorders (no Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy or any other incoming disorder.) That cuts out quite a few.
The remaining subjects were then paired by similar age and different AFE to FB (one <12 the other >=12.) Current 10 year old (y.o.) FB players get different coaching and different equipment than 50 y.o. ex-FB players did 40 years ago. This pairing controls for the era of football – as the game has evolved year to year since it was first played but specifically in the living history of the NFL players in the study. The older players did not have as much opportunity to play youth football which further limited the possible pairs.
After all the selection is done only 42 players remained in the study population, 21 in each AFE group. There has been much talk about what exactly you can determine from a sample size of only 42 players. Well it turns out you can do quite a bit. Below is the breakdown of the demographics in the study taken from the article.
Looking over the demographics AFE to FB is the primary discriminate along with lesser but significant difference in duration of play(DOP). The confounding nature of DOP and AFE is a valid caveat to any conclusion drawn from this cross section of subjects. Maybe instead of the AFE it is the total number of hits taken that determines later life cognitive impairment. DOP (and age – which is not confounded due to the paired experiment design) was however accounted for and adjusted for in the analysis to focus on AFE.
Three tests were chosen for the analysis (given their focus on the theoretical cognitive deficits expected in CTE) and these were summarized in 9 scores. These are below in unadjusted and adjusted form in the exact data tables published in the journal Neurology.
All the tests are significantly lower for the AFE <12 group. While any significance is interesting, all of the measured outcomes being significant and lower is even more so. Yes, there are only 21 players in each group, but the significance of each of these scores is very high. Suppose you flipped a coin nine times and it came up heads all nine times… you would look at the other side of the coin wouldn’t you? Suppose it came up heads 189 times. That is all this preliminary study is saying. Youth football is a factor in the type of cognitive impairment associated with CTE in NFL players.
In retrospect this confirms a previous study on CTE in December of 2012 done by Ann McKee and Robert Cantu et al though the age of first exposure to the repetitive head injury was not suggested there. Let me suggest that now. That study was appropriately entitled
The spectrum of disease in chronic traumatic encephalopathy
The study included 85 recently deceased subjects known to have suffered repetitive mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) along with a control group of 17 subjects with no history of the mTBI. The brains of these subjects were donated to the study for neuropathological evaluation along with an independent and blind parallel series of post mortem interviews with next of kin to determine case history.
68 of the 85 subjects showed signs of CTE(80%), while 51 of the 85 subjects were diagnosed with CTE exclusively(60%.)
From the pathology a staging system is laid out to which the behavior and historical data are spliced. Part of this historical data is the age at time of death. I took the liberty to put that into an excel table below.
Here is the same data graphically represented next to the iconic images of the staging done by Ann McKee in this study.
What hadn’t occurred to me (and isn’t done in McKee’s analysis either for that matter) was to take this age at time of death data and extrapolate back to stage 0 which given the progressive model for the disease would be the time the CTE started.
Here’s the same data with a linear regression.
Admittedly this is an N of 51 and only 33 of these are NFL players. The implication, however, is that CTE started at age 11 and 3/4 years old on average. This is a possible reason for the new study in the first place.
All the studies are calling out for more longitudinal designs to be funded and carried out. That would be about right if two sorts of people were doing the calling out. One would be the scientific sort who are careful with their claims and mindful of their funding. The other sort would be the watchdogs of the sport. That would be the NFL executives and owners.
For the rest of us these cross sectional studies will do just fine. There is no way I would ever ever let my son play the game of football as long as he was a minor in my charge. You don’t need broad based studies to find cause. It wouldn’t take too much convincing if he showed resistance.
There is obviously much more to these studies than I’m relating here. I encourage you to look for yourself to ferret out the details you might be interested in.
Cherry picking studies and data from science journals is a good way to get off base and picked off on a college football blog. I do want to present this table however, again from McKee and Cantu’s spectrum snapshot in 2012.
This is tying together the case histories (gathered by Robert Stern who is another author of the Spectrum paper.) From this chart you can begin to get a clinical take on what the progression of this disease is like. I’m showing this because there were some people who responded with either denial, disdain or ignorance to the dangers here.
This is from the FAQ at BU CSTE
The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.
Roger Goodell in the many interviews from Super Bowl week was happy to point out that hits to defenseless players are down 68% in 2014 (yes they track that), concussions were down 25% and that concussions in the past three years have dropped from 173 a season to 111. I doubt they track or could track the sub-concussive blows that are likely the true culprit in CTE.
Still we got the Edelman hit with 11 minutes to play in the 4th with no concussion protocol or independent review during or after the game. It’s going to be impossible to take the football out of football no matter how much you deflate it.
This has already gone too long. I’ll save you my thoughts on where we’re going from here. But I do think Harbaugh took O’Korn and Oregon took Adams for reasons that aren’t entirely unrelated. You can’t have enough QBs in the games to come.
I want to start with a quick apology for missing last week. I was on afternoons, ticked about losing the game at the Joe and PISSED abouit the fiasco that was scheduled for last Saturday.
On with the show. Week 21:
Froday February 13
6:30 #55 Wisconsin @ #38 Ohio State
7:00 #20 Penn State @ #36 Michigan State
7:00 #15 UMass-Lowell @ #44 Mass
7:00 #54 Brown @ #42 RPI
7:00 #40 New Hampshire @ #3 Boston College
7:00 #8 Bowling Green @ #41 Ferris State
7:00 #21 Colgate @ #16 Harvard
7:00 #17 St. Lawrence @ #13 Quinnipiac
7:30 #19 Vermont @ #11 Boston College
7:30 #10 Providence @ #35 Notre Dame
8:00 #21 St. Cloud State @ #5 Minnesota-Duluth
8:30 #9 Denver @ #2 North Dakota
8:30 #25 Western Michigan @ #4 Nebraska-Omaha
9:00 #12 Michigan @ #13 Minnesota
9:00 #58 American International @ #51 Air Force
9:30 #7 Miami @ #48 Colorado College
11:00 #6 Michigan Tech @ #49 Alaska-Anchorage
11:00 #1 Minnesota State @ #32 Alaska
- Penn State travels to East Lansing trying to hold onto their Top 2 spot in the B1G standings (Top two seeds get first round bye in Tournament). Both teams play a defensive style of hockey with Penn State throwing anything and everything at the net in the offensive zone. Hildebrand will be in for a tough matchup against one of the top scoring players in the country (Casey Bailey). PSU should win both of these games this weekend and pick up 5 to 6 points but as we all know from the Duel in the D MSU just needs to block shots and play their crappy style of hockey and get lucky offensively.
- UMass-Lowell needs to rebound from a very tough stretch of games and keep themselves in the tournament picture. Lowell winning helps Michigan marginally as Michigan has played and beaten them this season.
- New Hampshire (a team Michigan holds a winning record against) goes on the road against a top five team in Boston University (a team that holds a winning record over Michigan). The odds of NHU pulling off this upset aren't good but if it were to happen it would help Michigan's RPI.
- Denver at North Dakota provides us with a top 10 matchup that could lead to Denver falling enough that Michigan could leapfrog them if everything goes our way (UND and Michigan sweep)
- Michigan @ Minnesota is the top series in the B1G. It is a matchup of top 15 teams (in the Pairwise rankings). Michigan needs to win at least one to boost their ranking back into the range where they are competing for a favorable seed in the tournament (being swept will hurt chances of at-large bid so much so that I think they'd need to win out). My prediciton for this series is that Michigan picks up 4 points (a win and shootout loss that counts as a tie in NCAA's eyes).
- 2 top ranked teams travel out to Alaska for series this weekend which always causes me a little concern.
Saturday February 14
6:00 #20 Penn State @ #36 Michigan State
7:00 #55 Wisconsin @ #38 Ohio State
7:00 #44 Mass @ #15 UMass-Lowell
7:00 #3 Boston University @ #40 New Hampshire
7:00 #18 Yale @ #42 RPI
7:00 #19 Vermont @ #11 Boston College
7:00 #8 Bowling Green @ #41 Ferris State
7:00 #33 Clarkson @ #13 Quinnipiac
7:00 #27 Cornell @ #16 Harvard
8:00 #12 Michigan @ #13 Minnesota
8:00 #9 Denver @ #2 North Dakota
8:00 #10 Providence @ #35 Notre Dame
8:00 #21 St. Cloud State @ #5 Minnesota-Duluth
8:00 #25 Western Michigan @ #4 Nebraska-Omaha
9:00 #58 American International @ #51 Air Force
9:00 #7 Miami @ #48 Colorado College
11:00 #6 MIchigan Tech @ #49 Alaska-Anchorage
11:00 # 1 Minnesota State @ #32 Alaska
Other Key Games:
- Wisconsin travels to Columbus in a matchup of the bottom 2 teams in the conference. Ohio State winning would be better for Michigan as we still have a road game down there and the B1G can't afford to have another team drop in the rankings. Wisconsin being so bad means its actually best for the conference if they lose out as they can't really climb in the Pairwise enough to help anyone.
- Ferris State has two shots to knock off a Top 10 team at home which would help Michigan's RPI.
- Boston College, who is currently ranked one spot ahead of Michigan hosts a hungry Vermont squad who are sitting just outside of the top 16. Vermont winning a game or sweeping will result in a great chance for Michigan to jump into the top 10 if they take care of business.
3 Things Michigan "NEEDS"
- A split on the road at Minnesota is crucial for a shot at a 2 seed going forward and obviously a help in the B1G standings
- Ohio State needs to sweep Wisconsin on home ice
- UMass-Lowell sweeping Mass and getting their season back together.
With the news of Peppers and Morgan getting a medical redshirt, it got me thinking about who of our current players saw action as true freshmen, and whether or not in hindsight it was a smart decision. I left out players who played as true freshmen but ultimately received a redshirt at some point (Morgan, Darboh, Peppers, Richardson).
Shane Morris (Jr): Was thrust into the backup position in 2013 for multiple reasons (Bellomy injury, no QB in 2012 class). He saw time stepping in for Gardner when he lost his helmet, and started the BWW Bowl. He was not redshirted out of necessity, and laregly based on what we saw this year, he could have used an extra year of development.
Derrick Green (Jr): Was the top rated RB in the '13 class. Started to show flashes towards the end of the season once his conditioning improved. Was the backup for most of the season, and started a few games at the end. His experience seemed to help him as he looked pretty promising this season at times before injury. Based on that, it was probably the right decision.
DeVeon Smith (Jr): At the beginning of 2013 season it didn't make much sense to burn his redshirt as he was behind Fitz, Drake, Green, Rawls, and Hayes; and we did not take a RB in the 2014 class. He saw pretty much exclusive special teams duty until later in the season. Looked like our best RB against OSU and ran with more power than Green. That experience seemed to help him out of the gate this season as he competed for the starting spot; eventually getting it after Green's injury. At the time burning his redshirt didn't make a whole lot of sense, but now with Isaac and the glaring evidence that Smith is who he is (good short yard back who runs with power but lacks speed) it isn't detrimental that he burned his RS.
Freddy Canteen (So): Massive-hype out of camp about him. Saw some time at WR making little impact. Too early to say whether or not he should have RS this past season.
Damario Jones (Jr): Appeared to be the WR with the most upside from our not-so-exciting class of '13 receivers. Did not contribute on offense. Only time his name was called was when a punt bounced off his leg vs UCONN and when getting a personal foul vs MSU. Jones doesn't appear to be a major contributor, so it is tough to say whether or not a redshirt would have made much of a difference.
Dennis Norfleet (Sr): Brought some excitement to our KR game as a true freshman, but ultimately didn't have too much of an impact as a true frosh. Dileo/Gallon could have done what he did in the return game in '12. Should have redshirted
Jake Butt (Jr): Strong production as a true frosh. Saw increased duty once Funchess moved to WR.
AJ Williams (Sr): Saw time at TE as frosh being used primarly as a blocker. Has been underwhelming in 3 seasons so far. At this point, he is who he is, and a RS would not have probably made much of a difference.
Mason Cole (So): Played exceptionally well for a true frosh at LT. Appears to be headed for All-B1G in the coming years.
Mario Ojemudia (Sr): Lack of depth led for him to have to play in the rotation back in '12 even though he was extremely undersized. Looking at DE depth it would be nice to have him as a RS Jr right now.
Taco Charlton (Jr): Same as Ojemudia. Would be nice to have him as a RS So now, but lack of depth led to him playing (sometimes quite well) as a true frosh.
Bryan Mone (So): Made an impact as true forsh. Appears to have a bright future ahead.
Ondre Pipkins (Sr): Another highly-touted recruit who saw quite a bit of action in his first season. Injuries have played a major part in his career.
James Ross (Sr): Rotation LB as true frosh. Showed a lot of potential (which he hasn't really improved on a whole lot in the past two seasons)
Joe Bolden (Sr): Same as Ross. Showed potential as freshman, has turned out to be a solid LB.
Ben Gedeon (Jr): Showed flashes as a true frosh, but looking at our LB depth, would be nice to have him with 3 yrs of eligibility left.
Royce Jenkins-Stone (Sr): To be honest, I don't remember him even seeing the field at all in '12. Should have redshirted.
Jourdan Lewis (Jr): Rotation CB in '13. Experience appeared to help him a lot for '14.
Channing Stribling (Jr): Like Lewis, saw quite a bit of PT as frosh in '13. Seemed to show flashes of potential. Playing time diminished this season.
Delano Hill (Jr): Only memorable moment from playing in his freshmen season was throwing a punch at an OSU player. Should have RS.
Dymonte Thomas (Jr): Super-hyped player out of HS. Made next to no impact as a frosh. Hard to believe he is a junior now.
Jarrod Wilson (Sr): Saw some time backing up Kovacs in 2012. Looking at how thin our depth is at Safety after this year, and judging by the minimal impact he made as a freshmen, it would be nice to have him as RS Jr now.
I know this is all hindsight, but I thought it was interesting to see how many of our players saw action as true freshmen, and how in some cases their contribution was minimal. I think with a largely upperclass team this year, we will not see as many true frosh playing this season, and hopefully as we move forward.
This week, I decided on a short diary outlining the probability of various scenarios in remaining games using the estimated probabilities provided at Massy Ratings. As you know, there are six games left, so there are sixty-four possible outcomes for the remainder of the season at present.
What that means, of course, is that looked at individually, many scenarios have similar chances of happening, but there are a few that stand out as more likely than others, although again none are good bets at this particular point. As for ones that currently stand out (if you can call it this – I wouldn’t):
1) 2-4, with the wins coming against Northwestern and Rutgers – 9.805%
2) 1-5, with the sole win being Rutgers – 8.695%
3) 3-3, beating MSU, Northwestern and Rutgers – 7.397%
4) 2-4, with wins against MSU and Rutgers – 6.559%
Conversely, there are some which are seemingly in statistical dreamland:
1) 4-2, with the losses being Northwestern and Rutgers – 0.060%
2) 5-1, with the sole loss being Rutgers – 0.068%
3) 3-3, with wins against Illinois, Ohio St. and Maryland – 0.080%
4) 4-2, with losses to Michigan St. and Rutgers – 0.090%
As you might have guessed, the opposite of the most likely scenarios are in fact the least likely in this case. Is this cumulative probabilities based on remaining wins:
Yes, at present it is more likely based on these numbers that we run the table than only losing to Rutgers down the stretch. One thing that came up, however, when I did one or two such diaries for football is that there is an assumption here that the outcomes are independent, and that’s for ease of calculation here, although Massey’s model does account for the interconnected nature of the season somewhat, as I recall.
So, looking ahead and pretending we beat Illinois – the picture would change only slightly. We would still would stand a decent excellent chance of going 3-2 or 2-3 in the remaining five games, ignoring changes to other teams’ numbers just for ease for a second. The individual scenarios above would see their relative likelihoods increase, but it would be approximately the same top and bottom four (some slight alterations allowing for eliminated scenarios), barring other changes.
NSD is over and it's basketball season, so of course I'm going to post a very belated and unprofessional football "analysis". But hey, the basketball team is rebuilding and spring practice is still weeks away so here goes.
I pored over Seth's "Run Fits" column partly because of the Harbaugh hype and partly because I wanted -- confession of selfishness here -- vindication of my indictment of Borges. If I'm right in comparing Borges' "27 for 27" to Black Adder's portrayal of Field Marshal Haig (clip since taken down), then Harbaugh should be the opposite, MANBAUGH be damned. I definitely enjoyed the read and agree with every bit of Seth's analysis, but I kind of saw things a bit differently. Harbaugh has this reputation for being an XXXTREME MANBALL coach, and the reason is far from inexplicable. Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA:
Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity. So why does it work? Granted you can just re-read Seth's tactical breakdown, but I wanted to examine this offense from a more strategic perspective, so I took another look at Stanford's 2011 Orange Bowl. First, the opening five drives:
Naked bootleg LEFT* for 11 yards
Tailback flat route for 6 yards
I-form run stuffed behind LoS
I-form pass blitzed, Luck rolls right and turfs it
I-form play-action blown up, Luck runs OOB
I-form quick pass to TE complete for 6
Pistol, go route caught OOB
Fake punt stuffed
I-form run left for 4
Pistol PA screen pass for 1
Pistol, out route + YAC for 20
I-form DOOM** left for 60-yard TD.
I-form run stuffed
I-form run left stuffed
1-back under center pass derped, safety
I-form run left for 5
I-form run right for 3
1-back under center pass to TE for 4
I-form off-tackle DOOM left for 26
I-form off-tackle left for 4
Wildcat right stuffed
Pistol 4-wide, 25-yard pass TD to TE
*Luck is right-handed, so I think VT was caught flat-footed.
**Seth explain this in detail but it's so much fun I'll say it again: Stanford shifted into an unbalanced formation, motioned the TE and then pulled the RG, launching well over a half ton of meat at VT's back seven.
Here's the rub: A stereotypical "MANBALL" team with a right-handed QB typically has a run-blocking RT and pass-blocking LT, sending the TE, FB, RB and a puller to the right side of the formation to create a meat avalanche. Stanford handed off three times in the first three drives, and while they were technically strongside runs, none of them went right. How is this an "XXXTREME MANBALL" team? The answer is, it isn't. Hoke is MANBALL. DeBord is MANBALL. This is what I refer to as SunTzuBall:
"Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend."
I'm not a coach, but if I was one, this would be my philosophy. Don't settle for predictable. Don't even take what the defense gives you. Make them think, "Ogod I don't know what's coming." (Edit: Got a bit flippant here.) Every OC says they want that, but some are better at poker than others.
This was NOT a bunch of brutes mindlessly slamming into each other, or even coached to "execute" mindlessly slamming into each other. Harbaugh's offense looks like MANBALL but is actually balanced. I don't think Harbaugh does anything to dissuade the perception; he wants people to think they're cavemen. His assistants will blather on about being a "physical" team and show that I-form heavy all day until your safeties are 6 yards off the LoS, but he's not going to give you what you want. If he runs the ball 10 straight times, it's not because he's willing it to work; it's because you're doing the damage to yourself:
"For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left."
The keys here are misdirection and mismatches. Borges tried to create misdirection but was downright infantile at it; Nuss used constraints but didn't exploit mismatches. In modern offenses overall, the "spread" is such a generic term that it hardly means anything anymore, but to pick on one aspect, the slotback is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties. It's tough for defenders who bulk up against the run to keep pace with a shifty slotbug in space. Combined with the zone read and the O-line splits, the essence of a spread is that heavy guys aren't quick. As Seth points out, MANBALL is the opposite: multiple TEs and a FB put the secondary in a bind because the defense doesn't have enough meat to go around. The defense compensates with speed, getting to the point of attack before the play can develop, but this means they have to act fast and make decisions faster. That's easy when the OC kindly gives you what you want, but MANBAUGH is none of that nonsense.
Here's Some Rope, Now Hang Yourself
With that in mind, let's look at a particular play in the second half of the Orange Bowl (jump to 1:33:38). Up 19-12 late in the 3rd quarter, Stanford is pinned on their own 3-yard line and shows their classic I-form. Unlike in the first half, the TE motions to the right side. The situation calls for a conservative play and the formation is MANBALL to end all MANBALL. VT's defense had been torched several times, but also scored on a safety and otherwise kept Stanford in check. So they're wary of strongside runs, but they're not scared of Stanford imposing their will, toughness, physicality, blah blah blah any of that stupid crap we've heard for the last four years. Nope, they're champing at the bit to swarm whatever gap that FB is going. Marecic is going to eat helmet. The ghost of the still-living Borges is blushing with pride. Only problem?
It's the wrong read. In the mic'd up clip at 1:21, Harbaugh's yelling "backdoor". Harbaugh knows VT is overplaying (also mentioned in MGoPodcast 6.15, 9:00-11:00), but I don't think Taylor is even reading this -- they're deliberately running a bait-and-switch. On the snap, the FB runs strongside and VT follows. Marecic is working his way outside and can't find a gap. Even the RB's track is initially to the right, but (I think) this is a feint because after the mesh he immediately cuts around Luck -- no bounce -- and past the edge blocker (LT?) who casually escorts his defender into the mosh pit to create a gap even the legendary Yoh Momma could fit through:
The result is a 56-yard run. The next play Stanford again shows a heavy formation, then tosses the first of three long TD passes to the TE. VT does not have enough defenders to stop everything Stanford's throwing at them, and it's game over.
"If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us."
Space Coyote will probably be the first to point out that fundamentally, these are all plays available to a conventional "pro-style" offense, and I don't dispute that. The killshot was just a backdoor cut. We can also digress into an argument about execution, and I do have my thoughts on that as well (might post them later). But to stay on point, I don't consider Harbaugh's plays "exotic". The ball still goes in any direction available to a venerable pro-style offense. The important aspect is that, contrary to his MANBALL reputation, he doesn't "impose his will" or use some plays only as constraints to "keep defenses honest", but do him a favor and go right on telling people that. His strategy is physically less stubborn and mentally more vicious. He doesn't pound his head against brick walls or even take what you give him. He gets inside your nightmares, and if MANBALL is your bogeyman then he'll happily wear that mask.
Jamie Moyer is a retired MLB pitcher who reignited his career in his mid-30s by inverting his approach. A formerly washed-up power pitcher, his repertoire wasn't different from his peers -- fastball, curve, changeup. But whereas most "power" pitchers try to blow by hitters with a fastball to set up off-speed "out" pitches, Moyer realized he was terrible at that. So used his changeup to set up his fastball en route to sub-4 ERAs in 7 of 8 of the most home-run happy seasons in MLB history, culminating with a 3.27 ERA and 21-7 record in 2003. That is an elite season, and he did it in the boomstick American League, and he did it at age 40 with an 85mph fastball.
As I've said here and there, "3 yards and a cloud of dust" was not a conservative offense; it was an aggressive approach during a bygone era based on the premise that overwhelming talent can turn a predictable run into a sure thing. There was no need to do anything else. Today, it's the "washed up" power pitcher. Except in rare cases, you can't get away with it. You can't dare everyone with fastballs down the middle any more than you can run into a stacked box over and over again. Stanford didn't. They didn't overpower anyone with their roster of 2- and 3-star recruits. It's not imposing will, toughness, blah blah. Their "MANBALL" was the football equivalent of an 85mph heater thrown from a 40-year-old arm with veteran sagacity and exquisite precision. Harbaugh is the Jamie Moyer of the pro-style offense. That fastball may be 85mph, but you won't be able to hit it because he's smarter than you.
With the hiring today of "Mama" it seems the potential exists for 5th year senior Stanford DB Wayne Lyons to be headed to A2. Until today I was trying to figure out why a (mostly) starter for a very good defense, at a great academic institution, with great weather, in a good conference, playing for a staff who develops defensive players well - would uproot his life for 1 year, but it now makes sense.
Anyhow here is a little I unearthed. Unlike Michigan football, Stanford football is not rich with blogs and website covering every little breath so it was not easy to find too much. RuleofTree - their SBNation blog - which I found a lot of good info on their prior coaches, and Kevin Hogan is my main source of all things Lyons ... and even then there were basically 2 stories remotely related to him this fall
Also I only cared about what I could find the past 2 years - what he was ranked in HS means absolutely zilch. (He was the 6th best rated S if that matters to you) I do hope S.C./Magnus can look at his film and offer their own scouting reports. There is not much (positive) on his NFL prospects in terms of scouting but that is a harsh bar, and again the # of sources is limited - whereas I could find 15 opinions on Blake Countess quite quickly.
Stanford bio here. 6'1, 193 lbs.
Best as I could tell working backwards is Stanford had a first year DB coach this year and Lyons - despite starting in 2013 - was not a top line starter. While a competent player he sounded like a starter by default perhaps paralling to a guy like Raymon Taylor. A decent college player but one apt to make mistakes and who has holes in his game.
His 2013 to 2014 journey actually sounds a lot like James Ross III if we ignore the position. Ross I believe was the 2nd leading tackler in 2013 (Lyons was the 5th in 2013 for Stanford), and saw his playing time eradicated quite badly, partly due to formations that focused more on nickelback rather than 3 LB sets and partly due to (????). Lyons had a similar falloff in that he was a part time starter - 7 games started as a senior. A blurb from ROT blog writer Jack Blanchat:
....his college career thus far has been more average than stellar. If this is indeed Lyons' final year at Stanford, perhaps he is looking for a starting opportunity after being forced to split time at cornerback this fall. Under first-year defensive backs coach Duane Akina, Lyons appeared to grow as a player, but some costly lapses may have forced Akina to restrict his playing time.
Blanchat was a bit more kind in his end of year wrapup of Stanford football writing in December:
Alex Carter was fantastic, Wayne Lyons finally took a leap, and Jordan Richards was great against the pass and the run. The only weak spot from time to time was Zach Hoffpaiur, who has never been particularly natural in coverage. (But he was good at stopping the run as a nickel corner.) I think Duane Akina proved to be an asset to the Stanford coaching staff right away, and I think the added physicality from this unit was attributable to his coaching philosophy. The fact that he finally got Wayne Lyons to break through his plateau was most impressive to me.
So the positive is Lyons seemed to make some progress from a plateau. The negative is the writer seemed amazed by it. And even with that progress he was still forced to split time.
One other thing to keep in mind was the other CB in Stanford's system was Alex Carter who apparently is good enough to declare early for the draft as he has. So it seems Lyons (or other CB on field that Lyons lost playing time to) would be the target of opposing QBs). But other than that Lyons was surrounded by a lot of talent - while Stanford fell off record wise their ills were mainly on the offensive side of the ball. So he has no excuse of playing in a weak defense and not getting help.
I am going to put 2 scouting reports to end this and again keep in mind these are just individual opinions, and 1 is very scathing but to each their own - again I hope Magnus and S.C. can come and offer their views, not that we want to sugarcoat his abilities but the more views on him the more of a complete picture we get.
First, Walter Football with an updated view of him in 2015 v last year:
2/7/15: Lyons had 30 tackles with three passes broken up and zero interceptions in 2014. He didn't impress against USC and struggled versus Notre Dame. Teams generally targeted Lyons instead of throwing at Alex Carter.
5/30/14: Lyons has good size and strength on the edge while also being a special teams contributor. The junior totaled 69 tackles with two passes broken up and an interception in 2013. To rise in the rankings as a senior, Lyons needs to show the speed and athleticism to cover speed receivers. He was beaten too often last year and allowed too much separation.
Second... and again this a random Lions blog from last July... but it doesn't sound too different than Walterfootball - just more detailed...
At 6’1” 195, Wayne Lyons has size on his side as a cornerback prospect. Stanford utilized him exclusively on the right side, rotating out with senior Barry Browning last year. Lyons is entering his second season as a starter in 2014. His first did not go as planned.
Lyons was often picked on when receivers could expose his poor athleticism and technique. The Michigan State game is the prime example. Lyons’ hips are too stiff in transition. His footwork is sloppy in and out of his backpedal as well. Receivers who can quickly enter his comfort zone can get him spinning in circles and gain big separation out of breaks. He will then extend his cushion to inappropriate lengths to make up for it.
Though he has two interceptions a season ago, both against Notre Dame, Lyons doesn’t have great ball skills and isn’t often in position to play the ball in the first place. That means his size doesn’t become a benefit enough. Getting physical with receivers is the equalizer for him as with most technically challenged cornerbacks.
For Lyons to become a viable prospect at all, he must stop stumbling around the field in coverage, make his backpedal and leveraging more consistent, and tighten his space with receivers. He’s a senior prospect who still needs to master the basics.
So that's what we have - sounds like a guy who had a new coach come in last year, helped improve his game at least modestly but even with that was losing starting time to other guys. And his running mate in the CB backfield left early for the NFL. So these things also make sense as to why he would leave Stanford in his 5th year, other than Mama coming home.
Projected role on UM: With Lewis locked down at 1 corner, and Peppers apparently moving to S there is a vacancy at the other CB. Lyons sounds a lot like a taller Raymon Taylor - he is serviceable and a good 1 year stop gap which hopefully Stribling can push hard in his 3rd year and RS FR Brandon Watson can also push. (Some might say Blake will be the other corner - could very well be - but I'd rather just see him be the nickel). The defensive coaching at Stanford is generally very good so would not expect some quantum leap due to subpar coaching.