The Times West Virginian


March 23, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Times are changing in today’s NFL world

MORGANTOWN — If NFL Pro Day at West Virginia University’s Caperton Indoor Facility symbolized anything on Friday morning it was changing times … changing times at WVU and even more so changing times in the NFL itself.

In years past, NFL Pro Day created a flood of scouts and general managers and even coaches to descend upon Morgantown in a pre-draft stampede to see Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Bruce Irvin or whoever else might be the potential No. 1 draft choice du jour.

But this year there were fewer scouts, and even Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert opted not to drive the 70 miles, instead hiring local people to do some up-close video taping to study rather than to get a feel of their own from a personal appearance.

And then there were the players, far fewer, far lower-profile than normally, with perhaps the two drawing the most interest not even being players off last year’s Mountaineer team, the one that finished 4-8.

One was Noel Devine, the one-time running back sensation who has been hidden away in Canada, and the other was defensive end Howard Jones of Shepherd, who was good enough to be invited to the NFL Combine and who opened eyes by running a 4.6 flat despite a slight stumble, causing scouts to begin thinking of him for the draft.

Of the Mountaineers on hand who caused the most interest were, of course, running back Charles Sims, who is sort of updated version of Devine coming out of the kind of offense that is taking over in the changing NFL, and defensive end Will Clarke, who is a lot like Shepherd’s Jones in that he is long and fast and has them perplexed whether to use him as the defensive end he was in college or as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

Clarke was worked out as both, a down end and a linebacker, much the same as Bruce Irvin was after playing D-end at WVU and winding up a first-round draft choice of Super Bowl champion-Seattle as a linebacker as teams across the NFL shifted to a 3-4 which emphasized pass rushing out of the linebackers rather than the ends.

He’s not sure what the NFL really wants of him.

It depends on the scheme,” he said. “I’ve heard 3-4, gain weight, play that defensive end. And I’ve heard some teams in the 3-4 where I’m standing up and moving some.”

If the NFL is changing its defensive look, and going more to the defenses that are being run in college football, it is because the offenses are going toward the collegiate style of offense, the wide-open spread which features more hybrid-style backs like Austin or Devine or Sims.

Running backs as you came to know them over the years are becoming extinct, dinosaurs if you will.

Think about it for a moment. Last year, there was not a running back drafted in the first round of the NFL draft.

The year before that, 2013? Nope.

You have go back to the 2012, when quarterback Andrew Luck was the first pick, to find a running back drafted in the first round.

You look at the teams and you wonder if Jim Brown, Earl Campbell or Bo Jackson would have been running backs, for today they don’t do much running between the tackles. They put Percy Harvin or Tavon Austin off in space and flip him the ball, let him make someone miss and he’s loose.

You suspect a Brown, Campbell or Jackson would make some pretty good linebackers in today’s game, while a player like Sims isn’t sure where he fits in after one solid season at WVU after a strong career at Houston.

“You want to be able to stay on the field all three downs,” said Sims. “It showed me being able to be versatile, catching the ball out of the backfield, lining up as a receiver. Make plays; make plays.”

As difficult as it is to imagine that an offense with an empty backfield might be more dangerous than one with Jim Brown back there, that is how the game has progressed.

“Speed kills,” is the way Devine put it, after he ran a 4.24 hand-timed 40, showing once and for all that he has maintained the speed that made him a high school sensation who carried it over to WVU, but did so playing out of a different offense than is now being played by Dana Holgorsen.

Of all the games, football is the one that has showed itself to be most susceptible to evolution, one trend following another from the flying wedge to the single wing to the wing-T to wishbone to the I to the spread, each causing the defensive to evolve along with it.

Rules changes have come along with the changes in play, safety creating any number of changes in the game that make it not only harder to defend but that make it difficult to predict what the game and even the uniforms might look like in 15 or 20 years from now.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

Text Only
  • Big ‘I’ golf coming to Pete Dye

    The Trusted Choice Big “I” National Championship will make its first trip to West Virginia when Pete Dye Golf Club hosts the 46th annual installment of the event Aug. 5-8.
    The Pete Dye course, ranked No. 45 on Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s 100 Greatest Courses and No. 9 on Golfweek’s ranking of Best Modern Courses, will host 160 of the best junior golfers from 40 states during the 72-hole stroke play event.

    July 30, 2014

  • Scott sees swift title contention for Lakers

    Byron Scott was a key component of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Showtime teams, a smooth shooting guard with sizzling competitive fire. He believes his purple-and-gold championship pedigree makes him the ideal coach to return the struggling 16-time champions to NBA contention.
    “This organization is all about championships, period,” Scott said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at (NBA) championships. And we know we have some work ahead of us, but I’m excited. ... I love challenges anyway, so this is going to be fun.”

    July 30, 2014

  • Opinion: People running NCAA may not be bumbling idiots

    Two down, one big one to go.
    And with it a growing realization that maybe the people running the NCAA aren’t the bumbling idiots everyone has been making them out to be.
    The NCAA’s agreement Tuesday to create a $70 million fund to diagnose concussions and brain injuries does more than just give some former and current athletes a bit of peace of mind — if no real money. It also extricates the organization from another serious threat to its existence, one that could have potentially bankrupted it if everyone who ever suffered a concussion playing college sports were somehow able to cash in.

    July 30, 2014

  • Steelers Camp Footbal_time2.jpg Bell looking for more decisive, productive season

    Le’Veon Bell kept watching the tape over and over, equal parts pleased and puzzled by what he saw.
    There were times during his rookie season when the Pittsburgh Steelers running back would place his hand on an offensive lineman’s back and wait patiently for the hole to open.
    Sometimes, one would appear. Sometimes it wouldn’t, mainly because whatever sliver of daylight existed had already been swallowed by darkness while Bell was still trying to read the blocks in front of him.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • smallwood-wendell(1)-2.jpg Charges against Smallwood dropped

     West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood took to Twitter mid-afternoon Tuesday to express his feelings after charges of witness intimidation against him were dropped by the state of Delaware.
    It took him only three words to say what was on his mind: “God is Good.” Smallwood is now free to return to West Virginia and rejoin his Mountaineer teammates when they open camp for the 2014 season Thursday.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • dungy0725 (1).jpg Rice, Dungy sideshows stain NFL

    The National Football League guards its reputation as aggressively as lineman are paid to protect a quarterback.
    So, as training camp opens around the country, how odd is it to see Commissioner Roger Goodell’s 32-team NFL empire battling bad headlines and stinging criticism from all quarters?
    Anyone want to talk to the new quarterback for his early assessment of playing with the best and biggest players in the land? That would be business as usual. Nothing has been routine about the early days of camp this season.

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • Post 17 #7 Post 2 #12 mw.JPG DeVaul wraps up final season as Post 17’s leader

    If you were to ask players on Fairmont American Legion Post 17’s roster who they looked up to, you’d find a familiar pattern.
    Sure, you may get some Andrew McCutchens or some Derek Jeters as replies. But if you want to find out the real answer, just look into the dugout.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Big ‘I’ golf coming to Pete Dye

    The Trusted Choice Big “I” National Championship will make its first trip to West Virginia when Pete Dye Golf Club hosts the 46th annual installment of the event Aug. 5-8.

    July 29, 2014

  • Charges against Smallwood dropped

    West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood took to Twitter mid-afternoon Tuesday to express his feelings after charges of witness intimidation against him were dropped by the state of Delaware.

    July 29, 2014

  • Return to Mountain State exciting for new sports writer

    When I packed my belongings out of my Morgantown apartment in May, fresh with a journalism degree from West Virginia University, I thought I had ended a chapter of my life and closed the book on my experience inside the great Mountain State forever.
    It wasn’t until I received a phone call back in my hometown of Canton, Ohio, from the Times West Virginian that the idea of a return to the area became a possibility. The opportunity to begin my professional career in an area that I’ve become comfortable with for the past several years was too good to pass by.

    July 29, 2014

Featured Ads
NDN Sports
House Ads
Auto Racing Photos
Auto Racing Breaking News
Auto Racing Standings