Monday, May 12, 2008

Ranking the Positions: Offense

First, congratulations to the LSU baseball team for getting another series sweep this weekend. This time, we beat Mississippi State, and suddenly the LSU baseball team is #1 in the SEC West and leading by 1.5 games with one SEC series left. We get Auburn starting on Thursday. We have clinched a spot in the SEC Tournament, and the NCAA selection committee has to see that this is one of the hottest teams in the country.

I want to give my thoughts on a topic that often seems to come up. What are the most important positions on the football field? My thoughts on this differ from many other people's, so let me share them. On offense, I rank the positions this way:

1. Quarterback: Clearly the most important position on the field, and I don't think many people would argue otherwise. The quarterback handles the ball on every play. A good quarterback can make up for innumerable deficiencies elsewhere in the roster. If you get an outstanding one (like a Vince Young), your offense can be darn near unstoppable no matter what else you have going on. If you have one who doesn't have the arm strength, you cannot pass down the field at all. I'm looking in your direction, Brandon Cox. Even in the running game, the quarterback can be important, particularly if you run any option. No one else on either side of the ball is as important to his team's success as the quarterback.

2. Interior Offensive Line: This is where I part ways with a lot of other commentators. I think the key position-to-position matchup on any football field is the battle between the center/guard combination and the defensive tackles on the other side of the ball. Whoever can win the battle on the interior of the line goes a long way towards having success, both in running the ball and in throwing. If your interior offensive linemen can handle the defensive tackles 1-on-1, you will almost certainly have a lot of success on your offense. If you interior offensive line needs double-teams to keep the tackles out of the backfield, that frees up the rest of the defense to maneuver with several unblocked players. It's also great to have guards who can get to the second or third level and block linebackers or safeties, but I'll settle for linemen who can handle the tackles. I think interior offensive line is often overlooked, or it is believed you can just plug players into the position interchangeably. They certainly aren't paid nearly as well in the NFL at these positions as are the tackles, but I think you absolutely need these guys to have success in order for your offense to have success.

3. Offensive Tackles: Next up is a position a lot of people would have at #2 instead of #3. The tackles often go up against the best pass rushers for the other team. While tackles are important both in the running game and the passing game, they separate themselves with their pass blocking, at least on the left side, where defenses like to put their best pass rusher so he can go after the quarterback's blind side. A tackle who doesn't do his job in the passing game will really hurt his team, but one who can handle the good pass rushers will free up his quarterback to do a lot of things. The whole offensive line vs. defensive line matchup is crucial to the outcome of the game, and the tackles are a big part of that.

4. Running Back: We all know what a great running back can give you, but it is my considered opinion that the skill positions in general are a a highly dependent lot. You need good running backs, but there are a LOT of good running backs out there. Almost every team has good running backs. Few have great ones, but good, quality running backs are fairly easy to find. What separates the better running backs from the dime-a-dozen running back is versatility, in my opinion. A good running back needs to block. A good running back needs to catch passes. A good running back needs to hold on to the football. A good running back needs to be able to run inside or outside. If I'm the coach, and I have a running back who can't run inside, I have no room for him except as a specialty back, and he better be lightning fast. If I have a running back who cannot pass block, I'm not sure I have any role for him to play, unless he's Knowshon Moreno or Darren McFadden.

5. Wide Receiver: None of the headline grabbers on a football field are more dependent on others than the Wide Receiver, and even the really good wide receivers only get the ball in their hands 6-8 times per game. With rare exceptions for certain trick plays, wide receiver is absolutely dependent upon the quarterback to get him the ball. Because the quarterback is dependent on the offensive line, the wide receiver therefore has two different levels of dependence upon other players in order to have success. A great wide receiver with a bad quarterback is just as unproductive as a bad wide receiver with a great quarterback. A great QB or a great running back can elevate a team with otherwise deficient personnel, but a great wide receiver without good personnel around him is wasted. Like with the running backs, I love it when a wide receiver can block. This is how wide receivers really show their toughness, if you ask me. Please watch and admire as Brandon Lafell gets a devastating block on a Mississippi State safety:

6. Tight End: They're not blockers. They're not receivers. They're both. I admire the versatility, and I love Richard Dickson as a player, but I think good tight ends are a luxury. You can have a very good offense without one. A good tight end certainly helps a lot, but I think pre-Dickson we proved for years you can have an explosive offense while getting very little production from this position.

7. Fullback: Someone has to come in last.

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