Greg Cosell is the co-author of The Games That Changed the Game with former Eagles quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. The senior producer has watched decades of NFL coaches tape – the all-22 angle that very few people gain consistent access. In Part I of this conversation, Cosell graciously undergoes a voir dire of his knowledge of nearly two-dozen current players. In this portion of our conversation, Cosell supplies his take on the Patriots duo of second-year tight ends, quarterbacking in different eras of the pro game, and his thoughts on several rookies from the 2011 Draft class.
Waldman: Tell me what you observe with the Patriots offense and its use of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Do you feel they will compete for opportunities or do you think they complement each other? Or maybe a better way to ask this question is how do you see each player best used to attack opposing defenses?
Cosell: I think Gronkowski is an all-around tight end who can do everything. I think he’s a better Jason Witten because he’s a little more athletic. I’m a big fan of him based on what I’ve seen and I saw a lot of him last year. I think he’s better on the line of scrimmage.
Hernandez is a “Joker,” that’s a term I use for a guy that lines up all over the formation. He’s more of a wide receiver in the way he moves. My guess is that you’ll rarely see him lined up on the line of scrimmage in a traditional tight end formation.
I really liked Hernandez coming out and I was surprised that he was drafted so late given the NFL the way it is now with the way that he can line up all over the formation and create mismatches for himself and others. And he’s a young kid so there’s room to grow.
I don’t know if they will compete for balls. I think the Patriots have a very multidimensional, diverse offense where they use a lot of people in a lot of different ways. But I think they are different players.
Waldman: The way I see Hernandez in today’s environment is the fact that you can put him wide, in the slot, occasionally on the line of scrimmage, on the wing, or as an H-Back that he could see a lot of balls this year.
Cosell: Yeah, but again due to the nature of the offense I don’t know if anybody is going to catch – with the possible exception of Welker – 90 balls. But I could be wrong, you never know with the Patriots.
Waldman: Is quarterbacking today compared to when you started at NFL Films a completely different animal?
Cosell: Totally different animal. That’s not me talking, that’s Ron Jaworski talking because we’ve had that conversation 100 times.
Waldman: Do you feel like quarterbacks of the `70s or even of the Unitas era could have performed at their level of excellence in the modern game?
Cosell: I think they’d become what the game is today. No one can say what would have happened to quarterbacks who were great back then, but when you hear about Johnny Unitas and his work ethic and how important it was to him you’d have to believe that he would have done what was necessary for him to succeed today. But obviously the defenses are totally different.
Back then there were two or three coverages and when anybody blitzed it was all Cover 0. I don’t want to say it was a simpler game because it’s not simple versus complex. There were less elements to it and that’s what you dealt with. I’m sure Johnny Unitas would have dealt fine with today’s game if this was the era in which he was playing.
Waldman: Switching gears, if you had a rookie quarterback you’d want to pick and develop from this class, which one would it be?
Cosell: Without time constraint? He doesn’t have to be ready Week 1?
Waldman: Yes, as if you were the GM and didn’t pressure the coach to have a time limit to get him on the field.
Cosell: Let’s then assume that personality/character isn’t a factor because I don’t know anything about the personalities of these guys. I never talk about character because I don’t know these people. So lets just go off what I see on film. I don’t know about their work ethic and all that stuff.
Maybe it’s from hanging around Ron Jaworski all of these years and talking about arm strength, but I would pick Newton because I think Newton throws the ball very well. There were times I was troubled with his erratic accuracy, but I think that’s correctable. There were times when the ball comes out that it reminds me of Warren Moon – it’s a pretty throw. He’s got a big arm, which I’m a believer in. If I could just mold Cam Newton as if he were a fresh piece of clay assuming he had the work ethic and would do all of the right things then I would say him.
Waldman: Speaking of rookies, what did you think of Von Miller?
Cosell: I liked him a lot coming out. I thought he was a pure pass rusher. I don’t think he’s a strong side linebacker. I guess time will tell. I think he’s an open side pass rusher. I think he’s a DeMarcus Ware-type of player. I hate to compare somebody to a great NFL player just because that’s the highest level that he ultimately is.
Waldman: Right, that’s his ceiling of potential.
Cosell: Correct, and I think he’s an open side stand up pass rusher.
Waldman: What other rookies have caught your eye?
Cosell: That’s a very open-ended question. Let me get my book out because I’ve been watching a lot of preseason games. You know I loved A.J. Green, but I have been disappointed with him in the preseason because he’s had a lot of drops. But I thought he was a big-time NFL receiver with quickness, speed, and hands. I thought he was the best player in the draft. I guess time will tell with that.
Let’s see…I loved Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith – putting aside the personal stuff, which I don’t know enough about. I thought he was the best press-man corner in this draft. I thought he was the physical prototype of press-man corners at this level. He reminded a lot of Revis.
Guys who really stood out, not just guys I liked…there is a guy I really, really liked. A guy I didn’t know anything about before I watched tape and I made the effort to watch tape before the Combine this year. I was totally unaware of these players and I try not to read anything before I watch them because I don’t want to be prejudice when I watch. I tell you who absolutely jumped out from me was the d-tackle from Illinois Corey Luiget. He just was like wow, this guy’s a good player.
Waldman: Chad Reuter is a guy I get a chance to talk with at the Senior Bowl…
Cosell: I know Chad real well.
Waldman: Yeah, Chad’s a good guy.
Cosell: Great guy.
Waldman: Well Chad and I have had some conversations in recent years about the game and player evaluation. While we were having dinner after a Senior Bowl practice I asked him if there was a player in this draft who he was really impressed with and the first name that came out of his mouth was Luiget. He probably spent a good 20 minutes talking about him.
Cosell: Yeah I really like him. Another example of a guy who wasn’t a high pick but I really liked him and in some ways he reminded me of Andre Reed and people forget that Andre Reed was an undrafted free agent when he came into the league. But I thought that Dwayne Harris of East Carolina reminded me of Andre Reed.
Waldman:Funny that you bring him up. I really liked what I saw of him at the Senior Bowl. He wasn’t lighting it up there, but he improved with every repetition in practice. His approach to getting better was evident and he was catching onto instruction with techniques he really didn’t have to learn as a slot receiver in ECU’s scheme.
Are there any players you’ve seen that aren’t on the radar of the general public that you think will emerge into known entities?
Cosell: Boy, another one of those we could go anywhere with that question because there are so many teams.
Waldman: I’m just trying to exhaust you today.
Cosell: I know…that’s a tough question. This guy just signed a big contract so he’s not unknown, but in the context of his team I think he might be a bit and that’s Lawrence Timmons of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After Patrick Willis, Timmons is the most athletic inside linebacker in the NFL, and maybe even more purely athletic in terms of speed. He’s a very good player, but obviously on that team he gets lost because of other players.
I don’t think this guy is a surprise to anybody but he got hurt last year so…but I think Jermichael Finley is a freak. That probably isn’t a surprise.
Waldman: What did you think of James Starks?
Cosell: I think he’s a back up at the end of the day, because I think he’s a little upright. I think he’s a solid runner in that one-cut, zone system that they run. But I’m not sure he could be that guy for all 16 weeks. Then again, he could be, but I’m just not sure. I didn’t immediately see him as wow, this guy’s good.
It’s so hard when you ask a question that is so open-ended like that.
Waldman: I know, but they’re fun question for readers.
Cosell: I know they’re fun, but they are hard.
Waldman: I appreciate you taking the time to do it, but I don’t want to slant them in one direction where I lose out on a take from you that had no influence on my end.
Cosell: You know who I really like from what I’ve seen even though it’s way too early and he’s a rookie and you never really know when the real bullets start flying and how he’ll fit into the team’s game plan? I really like that Greg Little kid. And I personally believe that the reason Cleveland made the trade with all of those picks for him when Julio Jones was sitting there is because I don’t think they see a huge difference between Julio Jones and Greg Little.
Waldman: I think Julio Jones will make a nice starter in this league, but I’m not as enthused over Jones as others. I always thought Jones had issues catching the ball when he knew that contact was coming.
Cosell: That’s a good point and I think it’s valid. I like him on film. I liked AJ Green more, but I agree with that. And by the way, I don’t think there is a huge difference between Julio Jones and Greg Little. My guess is that Mike Holmgren saw a little Sterling Sharpe in Greg Little in terms of body type and movement.