Futures: The Inner Game & the 2015 Class

Photo by James Santelli
Photo by James Santelli

I host a weekly show on YouTube called The RSP Film Room. I suppose this is an indirect promo, but that’s not the intent. There’s a larger point to broaching it here.

Typically 60 to 80 minutes long, the show is a Google Hangout where two football analysts watch a prospect’s cutups. We comment on a player’s technique, his athleticism, and his understanding of his position and the game. We also discuss the broader demands of a position, the differences between college football and the NFL, and what we value from players.

The guests make the show. They share a seemingly endless supply of instructive nuggets: How Lance Zierlein sees athletic parallels between offensive line play, basketball, and boxing. The physical and mental exercises that former MAC Offensive Player of the Year Chad Spann put David Cobb through last offseason to help the Minnesota running back improve his overall game. And the way Ryan Riddle and Sigmund Bloom discuss the emotional and psychological side of the game.

It’s this inner game beyond technique, strategy, and athleticism that fascinates me most. Whether it’s present or absent in the tape, all of my guests value it. The common threads underlying all of these interactions are Football IQ, toughness, and the wisdom to balance aggression and restraint.

These are qualities — physical, mental, and emotional — of good football players that we often hear can’t be taught or captured in a scouting report. I agree that a strong inner game doesn’t come through formal instruction. It can be shown, but it won’t be learned as much as it is unearthed over time.

Most players competing for an opportunity to play professional football possess a baseline amount of inner game. However, professionals at the top of their field often possess an inner game that’s a cut above their peers.

I also disagree sharply with the notion that the inner game cannot be identified and quantified. Toughness is a good example.

This week, I’m sharing my thoughts on the Inner Game — highlighting the concept of Toughness — and then sharing associated thoughts I’m having about several players from the 2015 class.

Football Toughness is Physical, Mental, and Emotional

Here are some general behaviors on a football field that indicate an elevated level of toughness that separates the best from the rest:

  • Performing well with a specific injury.
  • Taking physical punishment on the field and rebounding with smart, calm, physical effort afterwards — even elevating their performance.
  • Relishing the delivery of physical play as the aggressor or recipient.
  • Remaining calm, poised, focused, and effort-driven when the game or individual performance is going sour.

While a lot of unknown variables on and off the field can affect a player’s performance and require toughness to overcome, there are enough criteria inherent with each position where a higher degree of toughness can be monitored. Here are some that I have built into my evaluations:

Read the rest at Football Outsiders

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