Simpler football doesn't mean worse play

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
6:47
AM ET
The lockout is forcing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to scale back his plans. Eagles head coach Andy Reid is sure we’ll see a worse product when the NFL resumes action because of what will have been missed.

You know what I hear there? Coachspeak. Coachspeak that, at least on some level, is about self-importance and self-preservation.

Look, I know that’s the popular thinking: Cut into a coach’s beloved installation time, erase blocks of the calendar where he’d have control of his guys, and we’ll see jailbreaks and fumbles, blown coverages and dropped passes galore when we get to actual games.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis' Jerraud Powers
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJerraud Powers (25) said a simpler game plan can lead to great football since all players can grasp it.
Mine is a contrarian's view for sure. But where is it etched in the Seven Blocks of Granite that simple football is automatically bad football?

I’m not suggesting we play the first game 10 days after the labor impasse ends. But offseason workouts and training camp are way, way overrated.

"Simple is not necessarily bad," one coach told me. "But the game is infinitely more interesting now than it was 30 years ago when it was a novel idea to use three wide receivers. And a big part of that is the complexity of the game."

That sort of complexity isn't all put on players' plates for the first time at a season's first OTA, though. They've grown up in a more complicated football world than their dads did.

I asked Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston about the idea that less complicated football could actually be better football.

"I've always wondered why coaches preach 'execution, execution, execution' and have 500-page playbooks," he said. "It's hard for those things to coexist.

"The Colts, who most fans think have the most complicated offense in the league, in reality, don't do a lot inside the 20s. But they execute better than everyone and thus are as consistent moving the ball and scoring as it gets.

"I can't say with certainty that no OTAs will lead to better football. But I also don't think if we don't have full camps it will be as bad as everyone is saying."

The example Winston cites, the Colts' red-zone offense, may suffer some from lack of repetition. The ability to precisely repeat plays against different defensive reactions is a big deal. Peyton Manning said last season that missed OTAs would lessen the ultimate quality of the game.

Still, I think an offense led by a quarterback who borders on obsessive with diligent skill position players around him isn't going to fall off. Those defenses the Indianapolis offense will be facing, after all, will have equally less time trying to get ready.

Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers is heading toward his third season. His initial response to my question was to ask if I was saying it’s possible for players to get better during the lockout. (That’s not what I was saying, but I don’t think it’s impossible, either. It’s certainly possible for them to not get oversaturated during the lockout.)

Upon clarification, he offered this:

“I think the good players have great work ethic, that's about as simple as it can be, because they will shine. If it's simple enough for everyone to understand, it's a lot easier. ... A game plan means great football if it’s simple enough for everyone to grasp.”

It’s not a ringing endorsement of my thinking, but it does show a player’s capacity to appreciate things that are less complicated. (By the way, you can follow Powers on Twitter here: @jpeezy25.)

Belichick and Reid are better coaches than most, coaches who have their guys ready a vast majority of the time. With changing parameters, I bet they will still be better coaches than most. They can have their guys ready even with less time and less control.

And all of this simplification will benefit coaches like them who have some of the best and smartest players -- players who will still be able to digest more than a lot of their counterparts.

It will also, sadly for all coaches, dent the whole beloved, storybook idea of football as rocket science and football coaches as Einsteins in headsets.

One coach's simpler system, installed several fewer times than usual, and a simpler game plan will have to beat another coach's simpler system and simpler game plan.

I’m not convinced it can’t be good for the players. I’m not convinced it won’t actually be good for the games.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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