RSP Writers Project Q&A: Dave Richard, CBS

Robert Griffin III might have won the 2011 Heisman Trophy, but Trent Richardson LOOKS like a new and improved version of the sculpture. CBS writer Dave Richard hopes Richardson gets well soon. Photo by Erik Daniel Drost.

Dave Richard works for CBS. His RSP Writers Team can be found here. His Q&A is below. He writes in short sentences. You’ll notice this tendency. Richard is economical. Get used to it.

Okay, not really. Richard is a busy guy and we appreciate the effort he made to contribute a team and add to the rich diversity of offerings to this project. I did asked follow up questions, but with fantasy football season nearing its peak I presume Richard is underwater with “who do I draft,” emails from the masses or readers in CBS leagues.

Seriously, Richard’s answers will probably be a refreshing to those of you that appreciate brevity but rarely get it here.

Describe your offensive system:

  • Personnel formations: 11, 12 almost exclusively.
  • Blocking schemes: Power blocking.
  • Bread and butter plays: G-power runs, lots of short- and mid-range passes off of play action.
  • Some of the pivotal players in the scheme: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Coby Fleener.
  • The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it: Greg Roman.

Describe your defensive system according to the same criteria above

  • Personnel formations: Will vary from week to week.
  • Scheme: Hybrid defense tailored to opponent and down/distance situation as needed. No commitment to 4-3 or 3-4.
  • Some of the pivotal players in the scheme: Kamerion Wimbley, Von Miller, Earl Thomas.
  • The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it: Ron Rivera, who has experience in both systems.

Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

The primary concern is inexperience as I’m starting five rookies and have a number of young players on offense without many veteran leaders. The trade-off in going with rookies is having cheap talent, and by having a cheap offense I was able to afford some luxuries on defense.

But I’m comfortable with the rookies I’ve chosen, namely because four of the five rookies worked together in college and aren’t really changing programs. When I decided to have Andrew Luck as my quarterback, I opted to build an offense around him that was similar, if not identical, to the one he ran effectively for three years at Stanford. There will be an emphasis on play-action and there might be fewer down-field shots in the first half of the game but the rest of the plan is simple: Utilize move-tight ends and have the smart quarterback identify mismatches from play to play. With additional impact from Luck, the offense should come together quickly.

The other concern I have is a lack of talent at running back and wide receiver beyond Trent Richardson and Demaryius Thomas. To that end, the game plan is to use Coby Fleener as a receiver almost exclusively while giving Delanie Walker the chance to play regularly mostly as a blocking tight end. That 12 personnel should afford me some chances to exploit one-on-one match ups with my receivers, both of whom are young and big, as well as with my running back, who can do anything I ask schematically.

Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

Because I wanted an unpredictable hybrid defense, my first move was to find three versatile defenders: A pass-rushing end who could also play linebacker, a linebacker who could easily play with his hand on the ground or with a tight end in pass coverage and a safety who could crush a running back or run with a receiver in pass coverage. Those players were identified and the rest of the roster was filled in accordingly including a plan in the event those three key defenders got hurt.

I would imagine the front seven will be tested quite a bit as I don’t have many stars up front. The (slightly) bigger investments were made in the secondary as a reaction to the league becoming more pass oriented, but even that investment didn’t come with a superstar shut-down cornerback. I’m hoping a rotation of big defensive linemen and linebackers can keep everyone fresh to hold up against the run.

Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?

Dave Richard has a ton of rookies on his squad, but he did make a wise choice to add veteran Matt Hasselbeck as depth. Photo by Matt McGhee

Andrew Luck was my biggest purchase for obvious reasons. He has the size, arm, brains and pedigree to make an impact in the league just as Peyton Manning did beginning in 1998. That’s the model I’m banking on.

Fleener was my next must-buy, and it made sense to go after other teammates of Luck’s to help him and the scheme I chose succeed. I also spent a pretty penny on his left tackle as I want to protect my investment. The receivers were added next with Demaryius Thomas the de facto No. 1 receiver. I had to do some roster juggling to get Trent Richardson in the fold but he’s worth it given his youth and versatility.

I also wanted a veteran quarterback to back up Luck. I could have gone cheap but in taking this project seriously, I wanted a passer I could legitimately trust to not only help Luck adapt to his new environment but feel comfortable starting in the event of a Luck injury. Matt Hasselbeck was the best, cheapest choice and though there were times I wanted to turn him into David Carr to save some money, I figured Hasselbeck would be worth it if this were the real deal.

I already addressed the three defensive stars at each level of the defense but I made it a point to add above-average players to the rest of the starting lineup. Bernard Pollard is one of my personal favorites.

Name some of your offensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Brandon LaFell is the first one. Big size, a few years of experience in the pros after playing in big games in college. For our offense to truly thrive he’ll have to be established early in the season and force defenses to make a decision on who they want to take away from us. If he can’t do that, he’ll draw single coverage all of the time and make it more challenging to move the ball.

Coby Fleener can’t be considered a lock to play well just because he’s still with Andrew Luck, so I’ll also pay close attention to him. He has to win one-on-one matchups too. I’m rather confident he can do exactly that at the pro level while working in an offense he’s familiar with. He’ll also have a similar impact as LaFell.

I really like Michael Egnew as a sleeper. He’ll begin the year as a backup to Fleener (save for a tremendous camp) but he could evolve into a receiving threat for the offense. Perhaps the plan for 2013 is for Thomas, Fleener and Egnew to be on the field at the same time.

Travis Benjamin is a definite role player. I would bring him along slowly and hope he can contribute as a regular receiver eventually. Let’s enjoy his speed on returns and on situational offensive plays for now.

Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

James Anderson is pretty underrated around football. He’s versatile and can play inside and outside. I think he’ll gain notoriety in this defense.

I’m planning an open competition at right cornerback between Tracy Porter and Ras-I Dowling. I think Dowling has some potential to be a player in the NFL and would like to see him develop.

Sean Spence is my favorite rookie defender. Loved watching him make plays in college. At the very least he’ll prove to be a good early-downs tackler and defender. George Iloka has rangy size and ability and could work all over the secondary as well as on special teams.

I don’t have a young, up-and-coming pass rusher because I have Von Miller, who already has established himself as a good threat in one season.

Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your rosters do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?

I think the biggest turnover might come at defensive tackle and interior offensive line. For this season I believe I have enough talent to survive at defensive line but anyone who sucks will get weeded out for fresh bodies next year. Left guard (Kevin Boothe) and center (J.D. Walton) are not sure locks to make it to 2013. Specifically the rest of the offense was designed to stay together for the next few seasons. Hasselbeck will be history after 2012 unless he takes a major pay cut.

What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?

I wish I could have had $10 million more to spend. I LOVED the challenge of putting together a team but making the pieces fit under the $150 budget was really challenging. Some players I had to move on without: Kellen Davis (replaced him with Delanie Walker), Jordan White (replaced with Tori Gurley), Joe Staley (replaced with Ryan Clady), Jordan Cameron (replaced with Egnew) and Bernard Pierce (replaced with Alfred Morris). I suppose I didn’t use much discipline putting the defense together since I didn’t replace anyone I originally went with. Again, making the challenge tougher was sticking with Hasselbeck but I insisted on having a more-than-capable backup and mentor for Luck.

Based on your roster what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium (describe the facility as outdoors, indoors, turf, grass, climate)?

I didn’t know that I got to pick the stadium, too! Cool! I wouldn’t want a track since I don’t have many track stars on my team. I want an outdoor stadium with FieldTurf but in a relatively warm place. We’re playing in Tampa Bay.

Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why (talent, off-field, age, injury, fit, etc.).

  1. J.D. Walton, for obvious reasons. He stunk last year but has a pretty decent-sized body and might benefit from a scheme change and some help from the guards. If he can’t cut it maybe Ben Jones can.
  2. Brandon LaFell. He hasn’t established himself in two NFL seasons but has some potential. I like his big frame and hands, he just doesn’t have a great track record.
  3. Andrew Luck. Obviously going with a rookie as not only the quarterback but the face of the franchise and the No. 1 reason for the offense chosen is a big risk. I think it’ll work but there will be bumps along the way.

Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why (see above).

  1. Bobby Wagner. Sort of the same reasons as Luck: Rookie in the middle of the defense could be a dandy or a disaster.
  2.  Jared Odrick as a defensive end in the 3-4 or the 4-3. The Dolphins are taking a similar risk with him this season.
  3. Quentin Jammer. I have him penciled in as our top cornerback just one season after he struggled. He claims he’s over some off-field issues and can refocus on football. If he can’t we’ll have a pretty big hole on defense because Buster Skrine is his backup.

Name a few players you really wished to add, but couldn’t find the room due to the
restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.

See my earlier answer.

Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?

List price was a factor for everyone on my roster. Not a single player was a “must-own” based on talent. It just so happened that my highest-paid guys — Luck, Clady, Miller, Thomas, Wimbley and Richardson — fit in. If I had to throw them back because I needed some cap room and someone comparable was available on the cheap, I would have.

How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of your resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?

I don’t think it does. The most money was spent on quarterback, pass rushers, blind-side tackles, key offensive threats and secondary. I don’t have the shut-down cornerback (or at least I’m hoping to get by with a good corps instead of one great guy and a couple of jobbers), but that’s a small price to pay for depth and good role players.

How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?

None. My special-teams unit stinks save for a few players.

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