If you watched or followed the NFL Draft at all last weekend, you likely heard an interview with a drafted player whose response to being drafted included the statement "I can't wait to get to work." Now, we all know these players are working hard every day, training with professional trainers to maintain their peak physical shape. So what exactly do these players mean when they say they can't wait to get to work?
The game of football, like most other sports, requires more than just physical ability. Some of the most athletic players will never make it to the NFL if they struggle with the mental aspects of the sport. The speed of the game requires each player to make split-second decisions every play based on a number of variables, and one wrong decision can blow up the play for all 11 players on your team. So teams spend significant time studying their playbook, watching game film, and preparing for their next opponent to predict what they'll do.
When a player joins a new team, whether through the draft or free agency, their biggest hurdle is learning their new playbook and ensuring they are on the same page as all of their teammates when they step on the field. This includes formations, shifts, assignments, progressions, and the "team language" used to communicate these things during the game. It's not uncommon for teams to have some of the same plays in their playbook, however the names of those plays can be widely different. This is where players need to get to work as soon as they join a new team.
We've seen firsthand what happens when a player neglects to study their playbook and how detrimental it can be to that player's career. Case in point, Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2014, and just recently in an interview on The Dan Patrick Show he opened up about how he failed to take studying the playbook seriously. He admitted he "wasn't an X's and O's guy" and claims the Browns should have known this and didn't push him hard enough to learn it. His lack of preparation led to the decline in his confidence, which ultimately led to the quick downward spiral of his career.
In this year's draft, the Cleveland Browns found themselves with the #1 pick and a handful of options at QB to fill a glaring need on their team (again). For weeks leading up to the draft, rumors focused on Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold as the likely choice to fill that need, however many of us were surprised when Cleveland announced Baker Mayfield as their future QB. My initial reaction to the pick was "Wow. Could this be another Johnny Manziel situation?"
Watching Baker Mayfield play at Oklahoma last year, I saw a gritty QB who could scramble out of the pocket and make plays on his feet, similar to the Johnny Football experience. And on top of that, we witnessed the on-field antics of Mayfield that reminded me of Johnny's wild personality. So why should we expect Mayfield to be more successful than Manziel when he enters the NFL?
The answer is in the playbook. As Peter King pointed out in this February article, Mayfield possess an understanding of the X's and O's that Manziel did not. Sure, the offense Mayfield ran at Oklahoma may not completely translate to the pros but as King points out, Mayfield displayed a comprehension of protection reads and progressions that will help him transition to the speed and complexity of the NFL much easier.
So now the question is, will Baker Mayfield "go to work" on his new playbook in the off-season and show up to camp with a headful of knowledge? My magic eight-ball tells me "It's Likely", and I think I believe it.
If you're a player who needs to learn your playbook, check out how fun that could be with SMASH Routes - The Playbook Game. You could be the next Baker Mayfield - but with the XP and gold medals to boot!
If you're a coach, consider implementing SMASH Routes for your team and watch how much time and effort they put into their playbook. You'll also get a view into your team's strengths and weaknesses to help tailor your practices and focus on the biggest needs, as well as balance your roster while maintaining equal playing time at all positions.
For more info, go to www.smashroutes.com.