Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Some news and notes for this morning:
1) A pretty good article came out last week by Jonathan Jones on CBSSports.com, which highlighted the NFL’s increase in data collection on the football field, pointing out how much that segment has grown and the possibilities that are still untapped from that technology.
Things have gotten to the point now where there’s a sensor the size of a nickel weighing 4 grams that’s placed into the bladder of a football, which measures height and velocity, as well as RPMs. This information is tracked on every single throw and every single game and the extent of where things have already gone in the eight years the league has been doing it has really shown how much progress they’ve made.
The company, Zebra Technologies, seems to have a pretty good bead on things and they’re the ones behind the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats”. The sensors now extend from not just the footballs, but to players’ shoulder pads, first-down markers, as well as the pylons.
Apparently, the NFL had attempted other methods prior to sticking with this one, with the league experimenting with optical tracking going back to 2009. However, they found the optical tracking “too ineffective for wide-scale collection” and kept exploring options prior to settling on the RFID technology with Zebra Technologies back in 2014.
They wasted little time implementing it. By 2015, every venue where an NFL game was hosted was equipped with the necessary sensors which, at the time, just tracked players. The footballs started getting tagged in 2016 (the timing of that certainly seems like a strange coincidence), although initially, it was just for preseason games and Thursday night football.
While it’s great for storytelling and pointing out pretty incredible athletic feats, including the miles-per-hour of a player during a play, one of the big questions is obviously how it affects the accuracy of the game. If there are sensors on the player, the football, the first-down marker and the pylon, shouldn’t that be able to assist in figuring out what is/isn’t a first-down or a touchdown?
The answer appears to be yes, but the caveat seems to be that the information can’t track an elbow or a knee being down, which complicates that situation.
“I do think it’s possible. It’s not possible today,” Matt Swensson, the NFL’s VP of emerging products and technology, told Jones. “I think it comes through a combination of optical and camera-based feeds with tracking data. And then us getting to a precision level that we’re comfortable with. We’re just not there yet.”
The accuracy of the technology is said to be “within 3 or so inches”, which is better than GPS tracking. That means that they’re getting closer to figuring things out.
Meanwhile, what’s interesting is that the league is providing every team with this data after each game, although it’s not known if it’s shared outside of each organization. With so much time already passed, there’s enough data for clubs to be able to tell how much a player has slowed down, how much less the football might be coming off the hand of a quarterback on a throw, etc. However, that metric would seemingly be helpful for teams looking at free agents, but not if the data isn’t released by the respective club they played for previously.
Either way, it’s interesting to see where the technology has gone and where it might go into the future. While I’m one who prefers it enhancing the experience of watching a game and not getting in the way of it, it’s obviously cool to see what they’ve already been able to do and it should be fun to see where it goes.
2) Nicole Yang recently had a great article about Jonnu Smith, who certainly had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where he is.
After losing his father at a young age, Smith remained motivated and went from being a big-time player at a little-known school to getting noticed and working his way up to where he is now.
The former standout from Florida International University caught the eye of the school’s recruiting coordinator, Dennis Smith, who told Yang that it was Jonnu’s athleticism that really impressed him.
“To this day, he has the most explosive feet I’ve ever recruited,” Dennis Smith said. “He can create so much power, and he has unbelievable hips. If someone is really, really athletic and explosive, their body moves that much faster. They can generate so much power. He’s just a much better athlete than the people he goes against.”
His motivation has always been his family, with his goal to take care of his mother. That’s one of the things his strength coach at college, Chad Smith, said really kept him grounded.
“There’s something special in there that’s pushing him that most people can’t handle,” Chad Smith said. “Jonnu didn’t have much. He wanted to take care of his mom. He wanted to take care of his family. Every day, no matter how he felt, he put that first. He put that as his big picture.”
The tight end reportedly was dealing with an injury during the club’s recent workouts but is expected to be ready to go by the time camp starts. He’s a talented player with a great story and it would obviously be great if he goes out and has a big year. Hopefully, his next chapter ends up being a good one here in New England.
3) Greg Bedard took a look at the Miami Dolphins in his column yesterday and believes that they’re a talented team with big question marks at quarterback.
Bedard believes that the Dolphins had things easy last season but feels that with a tougher schedule, Brian Flores and Chris Grier’s gamble on Tua Tagovailoa is going to be one of the key questions that could define not only their season, but also potentially their future in Miami.
From his column:
The Dolphins made substantial progress last year against a cake schedule, but this year will be a big challenge. The defense can go toe to toe with anybody, but if Tua can’t hold up behind a leaky offensive line, this has the potential to be an issue — possibly a team divided between offense and defense. Who’s going to rescue the team, Jacoby Brissett? This is all on Tua. He better be what Flores and GM Chris Grier hope, or this season could be the beginning of their end in Miami.
It’s an interesting take, but there’s no question that Tagovailoa has been inconsistent at best and has yet to live up to the expectations he had coming out of college. Even then, he was very good at Alabama, not great. Considering his injury, it’s still sort of surprising he went where he did and Miami is going to have to try and protect him if they have any hope of keeping him around.
Whether or not they’ll want to is all on him but if it doesn’t work out, having to go back to the drawing board at that position would definitely be a setback that would be tough for Flores and the Dolphins to overcome.
4) Ben Volin pointed out an interesting fact in his Sunday notes when it comes to offensive linemen, with left tackle appearing to be the position where the money is at.
Volin noted that there are 16 left tackles in the league making at least $10 million per year, but only six right tackles making that amount. He points out that San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams was the player who reset the market this offseason with a record $138 million contract, which averages $23.1 million per season.
He writes that no right tackle has crossed the $20 million per year mark just yet, with the Saints coming close with right tackle Ryan Ramczyk recently receiving a six-year, $117 million deal worth $19.5 million annually.
From his column:
No right tackle has crossed $20 million per year yet, but the Eagles’ Lane Johnson is at $18 million, and in 2019 the Raiders gave Trent Brown $36.25 million guaranteed to play right tackle, which at the time was the highest guarantee for any tackle, left or right.
Still, left tackle is where the money is at. San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams reset the market this offseason with a record $138 million contract that averages $23.1 million per year. The Packers’ David Bakhtiari ($23 million per year) and Texans’ Laremy Tunsil ($22 million) are also over the $20 million threshold, while the Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley has the highest full guarantee ever for an offensive lineman ($64.1 million).
It’s an interesting dynamic and it was certainly surprising to see the gap between the two positions being as sizeable as it is.
5) Mike Reiss recently caught up with Lawrence Guy, who credits his Vegan diet for being the reason why he’s been healthier in recent years.
The veteran defensive lineman says that the plant-based meals he’s been eating have been key in his recovery and credits his wife in leading him in that direction.
“I’ve been eating vegan in the offseason for many years,” Guy told Reiss. “To me, it’s an aspect of replacing things with a healthier way of living. It has helped me fully recover and just flush the body out.
“You get beat up on this field every day. Your body needs nutrition more than ever to recover. What’s the best way to do that? I think it’s plant-based. All you’re doing is prolonging your career in a certain way.”
Guy did go on to say that there are times he still incorporates meat into his diet due to his position, so he doesn’t call himself a “full vegan”. But he’s happy with the results and says the recovery and energy he feels are what’s made him stick to it.
“I chose to go more toward a vegan-style diet to get a full recovery,” said Guy. “The plant-based protein, it’s amazing what you can do. You don’t need animal protein all the time to gain strength and recover.”