Does rookie season help?

There’s a new “fluff” piece by J. Michael Moore on the Falcons official site. Not to detract from Moore’s writing, nor the brilliance of the site, but it’s June, and we know that football is in it’s annual down time that lasts until the final weeks of July. And all the official site can do is to run these “fluff” pieces that talk about how this player or that player is reading and rearing for the season to begin, and how this year may or may not be a breakout year for this guy or that guy. And of course since this website faces similar problems, I’ll use Mr. Moore’s article for some modest discussion.

Moore’s story is about Justin Blalock and how he’s ready to go for this year and all the positive expectations based off the relatively negative performance he had as a rookie this year. I’m not really going to get too much into whether I think Blalock will step up this year, I really just want to talk about the circumstances Blalock found himself in last year.

In my humble opinion, Blalock was thrust into the starting lineup too early. Bobby Petrino decided that last year was as good as any time to get some of the 2007 draft class ready to play, and basically decided to start Blalock after two maybe three days after the start of training camp. And that “waiting period” was simply because Blalock was the last rookie to sign and physically wasn’t in camp for a day.

I want to talk about this idea that coaches throw rookies and young guys to the wolves early and hope it pays off down the road. Personally, I don’t see why so many coaches do it. I don’t see much to indicate that players benefit to any significant degree. Sure, it makes perfect sense for why it should work, but if the proof is in the pudding, then I guess we’re skipping desert.

The idea is that all the struggling Blalock did last year, will better prepare him for what it takes to be a successful NFL player, and we will see that improvement in the very near future. And that’s all fine and dandy, but what happens if Blalock’s struggles weren’t first-year jitters, simply that he just wasn’t a good player? I just haven’t seen any good evidence that states NFL players that play very early in their careers develop into better players quicker than those that do not.

If Blalock goes onto have a solid 2008 (or whenever) season then I guess all my talk will be just that…talk. But how do we know that was due to his rookie season? How do we know that him being abused by Kevin Williams last year is the reason why he’s now (or will be) a good NFL player? How do we know for certain that his dealing with this adversity improved his game?

And if Blalock doesn’t develop into a good player, then why doesn’t anybody ever start to question this “sink or swim” policy that so many NFL coaches have? If Blalock continues to struggle, then people simply chalk it up as: “Oh, he just wasn’t good anyway.” If there’s a seeming causality between playing early and becoming a better player, shouldn’t that same causality come if that player doesn’t turn out well?

Obviously, this has relevance to what the Falcons will or won’t do with Matt Ryan this season. And I’m just wondering is playing a rookie a risk? And if so, is it a worthwhile risk? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? And if the payoff is so great and even likely, why aren’t the overwhelming majority of good NFL players all guys that started right away?

Am I just missing something?

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Aaron Freeman
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2 Comments on "Does rookie season help?"

  1. Anonymous | June 3, 2008 at 6:50 pm |

    Heya. Thanks for killing a little down time.

    With reagrds to Blaylock, you have to realize what a complete disaster last year was, not the least of which was a completely untried NFL Oline coach. I’m not sure you can read too much into what happened last year, as it was, in al respects a lost year.

    Asto whether r no it’s good o put someone in ASAP, well, how do you tell? People are pretty unique and it’s very hard to redo a year so how can one know?

    For me, the real question is what happens in 2010, when a new RT is in place and the left side has had some time to gel together w/ Matt and Michael.

    If I had to say yay/nay to whether Blaylock (or any rookie) would benefit from playing their first year: if they can handle it and are legitimatel the best player on the depth chart, play them. nothing teaches like participating.

  2. I’m not against young guys playing early. But I don’t think Blalock earned his starting position last year, at least not through a “real” competition for the job. In a “real” competition, I think the coaches have to give each player involved ample opportunity to win the job. I don’t think Fonoti was afforded that opportunity, and therefore the competition wasn’t real. Blalock may have won the job eventually even if there was a real competition, but I’d still would have liked to see him earn it.

    I just wonder if the value of early playing time is overrated. That’s not to say waiting until a player’s second or third year is automatically better. But I think it should be just determined case by case when a player is ready. And there are some guys that are ready right out of the gates. But I think the vast majority of rookies are not, and I don’t think it necessarily benefits them to have their development “rushed.”

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