Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room examines NFL Draft prospect Kedon Slovis working through a rough start against Oregon in 2020. The performance is illustrative of how a few bad plays can leave a passer in mental/emotional/physical quicksand that’s difficult to escape.
I’ve returned to studying music after a 30-year absence. As I’ve detailed here countless times in articles and podcasts, there is a strong and deep tie between football and the arts because they are performance crafts.
One of the most relevant is that all performers have to develop their skills to a depth where they can perform at the speed of instinct. It needs to be as natural as breathing, blinking, swallowing, and walking.
When this breaks down during a performance, the audience notices immediately. Even if they can’t pinpoint exactly what happened.
The best performers can make the most incredibly difficult tasks look easy. Still, veteran professionals have moments where they are forced to perform in difficult circumstance and they lose that ability to perform at the speed of instinct.
With quarterbacking, it can be a defense delivering the combination of pressure and coverage during a play or series of plays that confuses or rushes the passer’s process. It’s enough to test how ingrained those skills are.
Although I have performed in professional environments a long time ago, I’m not a professional musician. My skills and knowledge are in many ways better than they were in the past, but there are clear gaps in my overall tool box that will take years for me to address before I’m playing at a consistent, professional level — if ever.
One area where I’m sorely out of practice is performance. Performing in front of people requires practice because the environment feels different and it can be distracting. Learning how to focus or re-calibrate after a mistake so you don’t completely lose concentration and compound the issue is a skill.
I’m not performing in public right now, but I see my present rust with performance when I tape my lesson assignments for my teacher. I’ll spend hours each day working on new skills to the point that I’m feeling confident about the progression and I can perform the drill or exercise as close to perfect as I can get whenever I pick up my horn.
The real test is when I turn on the tape.
If the skills I’ve been learning aren’t fully ingrained, I can experience those quicksand moments. And when I do, I’m struggling to execute something at a quality slightly above “what the fuck was that?”
It’s the same thing that I hear scouts and coaches discuss when they talk about players who look like worldbeaters in practice but something changes when the lights come on.
So, when I watched Kedon Slovis face Oregon last year, I can empathize. Slovis fell in football/performance quicksand against the Ducks.
The Replacements is a dumb, but fun football movie with a scene worthy of belonging in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday — an entertaining film with a serious bent (maybe too serious). It’s Keanu Reeves monologue during a meeting where he defines the football version of “quicksand.”
“You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand. “
This week’s RSP Film Room studies Slovis’ quicksand experience against Oregon last year. Fans of a player going through a bad stretch, especially those way too invested in what’s said about the player in the media, will lobby for the public to ignore the game.
It’s best to do the opposite when evaluating his performance. If this game is the sole quicksand moment in a player’s college career, additional film study will bear this out. Even if it is the only experience, it’s worth determining if the opponent did something unique to foil the player.
Regardless of how many times the player has fallen in quicksand, there’s valuable information to glean from the player’s performance. How does the offense attempt to extricate him?
In Slovis’ case, there were specific plays that USC used and it highlights what he executes the best. Of even greater value were the moments during these positive plays where Slovis still struggled to execute perfectly and underscores the flaws in his game that not only weigh him down the most, but are tasks that are the least ingrained in his game.
For many inexperienced evaluators, if this game is their first or last exposure to Slovis, it could derail their perspective on the player. This was my first exposure and while it raises serious questions about his fundamental ability to discern what is open or covered with specific man-to-man principles, I realize this is only one game.
Even in this rough outing, Slovis shows a lot of positives:
- Vertical game accuracy.
- Creativity off-script.
- Opposite-field velocity and accuracy.
- Release footwork and throwing motion for the quick distribution of the ball.
- Potential to complete multiple progression reads with greater accuracy and efficiency.
- Effective red zone management.
- Feel for tight windows of zone coverage in the middle of the field.
Obviously, I also want to see if he can execute tasks in other games that he couldn’t do against Oregon. When you’re in performance quicksand, it can impact skills that deeply ingrained in your game. The next step for me as an evaluator of Slovis is to watch more games and determine what about this game magnified Slovis’ flaws and whether these flaws are consistent on a weekly basis.
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