Interview with Kwame Etwi

I am fortunate to work with a colleague, Kwame Etwi, who played Division 1 football for 4 years at Texas A&M. He is still cut, years after football. His thighs aren’t Saquads, but they are still the size of tree trunks. Let’s find out a little more about the game from someone who can offer perspective on the things we discuss regularly on the blog.

You were a walk-on at A&M and not only made the team, but you played for 4 years. What was that like?

It was pretty surreal. Even starting off and going in, my mindset was to keep outworking them. I played as a true freshman. I went through a few coaching changes. I learned a lot about football and a lot of lessons about life. The time spent with football and college were some of the best years of my life.

What position did you play? How hard was it to take care of yourself?

I played RB. Also kick returner. Also gunner. RB is probably the toughest position to take care of your body. We do everything except the QB’s job. We block LBers, huge 350 lb linemen, and have to evade the tackling of faster secondary players. “Prehab” was maintenance. Proactive. Shoulder prehab, hamstring drills. I had a partial tear of my hamstring going into sophomore year and that was my eye-opening moment to taking care of my body. I saw the trainers every day, often 3x per day. Cold and ice tub, drinking, proper nutrition, stretching, treatment, a huge amount of things done to take care of yourself. As cliché as that sounds, you have to take care of yourself as a professional. You take a beating in games and in practice, so if you aren’t doing everything, you are going to get and stay hurt.

This NY Giants blog doesn’t have a flattering opinion of RB positional value. What are your thoughts? How important is RB to success in the NFL?

The RB is an integral piece of your offense. OL is first, and QB/RB play is behind that. The RB is an extension of the OL. The RB is involved in pass and (sometimes) run protection. If you can get to 2nd and 6 or 2nd and 5, the whole playbook is open to you. If the RB is not protecting the QB or helping in the run game, you will have trouble succeeding. It is a game of inches, and you need to win all of your 1:1 battles. All of the details of the offense (gaps, etc) are important to put the team in a competitive position to win.

We think that the game is won and lost at the Line of Scrimmage. What did you see?

Agreed. If not at the OL, where else would it start?! The QB needs time. Up front needs to do their job. Center was important for the calls. Everything flows from OL. If the Guard does not move up to the second level, you can’t execute. It is a very long day when you can’t control/win at the line of scrimmage.

TNF is panned by this blog as being a dilution of product and particularly bad to players. Can you share what you’ve heard from NFL players?

I have friends and former teammates in the NFL. The short recovery time (Sunday to Thursday) is brutal on players’ bodies. 3 days is not enough time to incorporate a new game plan, rehab, prep for the new team and everything else (travel etc). Then add the long 17 game season, and it is just not enough time.

Speaking about player health, tell us about what players are doing to take care of themselves. 

Mobility is the most important thing. Frequent yoga. Physical therapists. Yoga puts you in less frequently visited positions than you would otherwise find with normal work. So it is valuable for helping the body work those areas which would otherwise not be addressed.

You were on teams with immensely skilled teammates. Did their talent necessarily correlate to success in the NFL? 

Yes, but the most talented players were also the ones who were putting in just as much effort off the field. At the level we played, talent only gets you so far. The SEC is super talented. The gap is narrowed, so you have to be doing everything.

Talk about desire.

If there is no desire, there is no success. It works that way for anything in life. If you don’t have that in your profession, you won’t get anywhere. And from that, the happiness won’t be there either.

Did you have any concussions playing football? Any other injuries? 

In High School I had a concussion. In college I did not have one, although it is possible. Other than my hamstring, in my senior year, I tore some ligaments in my left hand. The injury happened during practice. They were blitzing without OLmen! Generally speaking, I was pretty fortunate.

Tell us about blitz pickup. What was that? What was the ask? 

(Laughs.) An unsaid job is picking up whoever it is coming through, whether that is a Safety or 350 lb lineman. If I can cut a DLman by using a shoulder pad on the thigh/upper knee, that was at least going to slow him down. These big guys are tremendous athletes and they can go right through you. So your job is to simply slow them down for however long you can. Punch and drive. It is art. You have to know who your player is who you are blocking. You have to be meticulous on who your responsibility is. Your responsibility could be a gap. If they sneak that CB blitz in there, that is your responsibility. For the big guys, you know you are not going to “win” that battle, so you just have to get “run over slowly.” If you keep them away from the QB before he gets rid of the ball, you have done your job.

What drives the players in the NFL?

Providing for their families. I have friends who came from nothing. The first contract is proving yourself. The most passion and desire is there at the beginning. The second contract is much more business. That second one is about your health. The first contract is life changing money, but the second contract is more generational money. It does vary situationally, depending on what your circumstances are, i.e. there is a difference between playing for the Texans vs playing for the Chiefs. Your goals are different.

Lightning Round: The Rules For Winning in the NFL, v2.0

Rule #1 QB– Agreed. They run the offense.
Rule #2 Protect the QB– Yep. If your OL/RB/TE can’t protect the QB, you lose.
Rule #3 Rush the QB. Yah. You have to put them in uncomfortable positions. That is when penalties are made and errors are forced. Penalties happen when you force the Offense to make mistakes in protecting the QB.
Rule #4 Every other position is in support of Rules 1-3. (Laughs) Yes. Without Rule 1-3, it is a struggle.
Rule #4a WRs are a dime a dozen. Yes. Few are gamebreakers. And then the Safety helps to neutralize that. Most WRs will do a good enough job that it is a commodity.
Rule #4d Safeties are more important today– I agree. See 4a. Safeties are hybrid linebackers today. The real good Safeties are captains of the defense. This is how the game has changed.
Rule #4f A very good OL coach is almost critical. True. true. True. true. times 5! times 10!!
Rule #4g Tight End in the Red zone. I love that. Things get spicy. It is mismatch heaven. The things that you can do with a good one are many. Mismatches. Size with the Secondary or Speed with the linebacker. As a RB, I loved a good TE, it made my job easier.
Rule #6a Pitchouts do not work in the red zone– It depends. Depends… I had a play in college on a fake FB dive pitchout that I scored on or may have scored on the next play.
Rule #6e Prevent Offense prevents you from winning. True. True times two.
Rule #6j Can’t turn it on or off. Yes. It is like taking plays off. Puts yourself in a position of vulnerability. Can get hurt.
Rule #6k Defense still wins championships. I still agree. The NFL is crazy with Offense. The Defense will keep you in games.

Memorial Day Medley

On this day we remember those who fought for us and paid the ultimate price so that we could be free. Freedom means everything. It gives us the ability do so many things. On this blog we have gratitude for the luxury of being entertained by professional football.

Let’s touch on a three things as we get primed for another football season.

FLEXED. The NFL voted 24-8 to flex Thursday Night Football. Greed, thy name is Roger Goodell. I know that many of you believe it is the owners doing this, but Pete Rozelle is rolling in his grave. Rozelle built a special product that the fans loved. He, as the commissioner, had a role to protect the game.

Why do fans routinely and regularly boo Goodell? Because the premium fans who want to attend a game get degraded and dehumanized by a selfish _______ who treats them like the addicted saps that they are. Apple, as an example, has a loyal following who will wait in long lines in the rain to get their hands on a new iPhone. The NFL, similarly, has a band of loyal consumers who are so in love with their team/game that they are willing to subject themselves to extra (17th) games, frigid December/January weather, flexed Sunday games, preseason meaningless games, Thursday weaker games etc because they love the sport. The latest degradation is the TNF flex game where people who will buy a ticket to a Sunday game will then be told ~11 days prior that that they are now going to a Thursday night game. Travel? Kids? Other plans? Work the next morning? Go **** yourself, says the owners and Goodell. Until these season’s tickets holders, live game attendees and suite holders say no and do not attend, Goodell and the owners will laugh all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, the rest of use will now get better teams late in the season who play with only 3 days to heal. It’s a continuation in the effort of owners to get more money at the cost of the quality of the game. Rozelle understood that without quality there was nothing. Goodell and the owners are emptying the bank of their fans’ goodwill. When these masters misstep, will the fans be there?

EVAN NEAL. After the draft, in our post 2 weeks ago recapping the schedule, I quickly remarked that “my entire team outlook changes based on the trajectory of Evan Neal in his second season.” He is the one player I believe holds the most swing in terms of the difference he can make positively and negatively to the 2023 season. Because of that heightened interest, I found some interesting comments from Howard Cross via John Schmeelk and Dan Schneier. Minute 46:

“I really do believe what John Schmeelk told us when we had him on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. Howard Cross (citing his credibility and authority as an observer)- ‘I am on the sideline every single home game and I see that Evan Neal is not healthy. He is just simply not healthy… in his lower half.’ If you cannot fire off on your lower half of your body, of course you can be bad…. he is working his a** off (this offseason).”

Big Blue Banter May 18, 2023

How does this color the situation? Neal played 7 games before getting hurt. He had an MCL sprain. After missing 4 games he came back and finished the season. But the improvement that everyone wanted to see did not happen. Howard Cross’s comments give me a different lense (shared somewhat by Schneier and Falato in their relative optimism). Effectively, Evan Neal had a 7 game rookie season. Am I making an excuse here? Maybe. The point is that everyone was looking for Neal to make progress as a rookie and it was an incomplete story.

Can Neal still bust? Of course. But with that qualifier in place, the combination of

  • getting healthy
  • working this off-season to improve
  • a block of experience

gives me more reason to be optimistic than otherwise. Assuming Neal gets better, it changes my outlook for the Giants in 2023. We will not know until a few games into 2023 how Neal is playing. While all of this is still guesswork, knowing that the second half of his 14 games was not under the best conditions allows us more room to allow for the 2023 progress we hope for.

DEANDRE HOPKINS. This NY Giants blog continually argues that Wide Receiver is always available. Over and over. Back in 2019, when the Giants traded OBJ, we noted that OBJ likely sat himself at the end of the season. We still hold to that view. Now there is a story that Hopkins also sat himself at the end of 2022. Of course this is not the only reason why WR is always available. Yet it is the nature of the position. Super high priced. Touchdown makers. These are the fantasy football players. They score the points. The fans see these gazelles and they want them more than they want a Guard or Center who anonymously holds the block on the same play. The legion of star WRs who have become available to other teams via trade, free agency, or outright release recently is a who’s who in the NFL: OBJ, Devante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins (2X!). We note in our architecture for building a Championship team from 2021:

4a) WRs are a dime a dozen. I know. I know. Better WRs have better separation, helping your team move the ball. Just click the link, because this is about availability. QB LT (and even EDGE, to a degree) are obtained through meticulous cultivation. WR, on the other hand, is a commodity exchange.

UltimateNYG 7/4/2021

There is a cycle which feeds on itself, reinforcing the surplus of super WR talent that becomes available over and over again.
(1) WR sells tickets.
(2) WR generates competitiveness. (This is illusory without the other pieces.)
(3) Poorly run teams leverage highly priced WRs to juice their roster w/o other critical pieces.
(4) Well run teams leverage highly priced WRs to juice their roster for Super Bowl runs.
(5) Both poorly and well run teams [in (3) & (4) above] need to reset their salary cap after failure OR success.
(6) The WR position (via injury, commitment or otherwise) is not part of a rebuild.
(7) WR is jettisoned from the roster via trade or release.
(8) Rinse, repeat, back to (1).

Should the Giants “reach” for Hopkins? At this point, it seems that the Bills and Chiefs are the teams going after that Super Bowl piece. Schoen is architecting his roster with purpose and deliberation. I suspect this is not the moment for the Giants. Since we know WRs are always available, patience is a virtue. The Giants already have a crowded WR room. Add the receiving TE Darren Waller, and we can keep the interest disciplined.

One little tidbit for Jets fans is that with Aaron Rodgers plus a (healthy?) OL plus a terrific defense, even they could reach. Wonder: “Yes, the Jets can do it. They would need to release Corey Davis and rework the contracts for a couple of vets.” As usual, apparently everyone is pining for a star WR. Rinse, repeat.

2023 Schedule comments

On Thursday the NFL released the 2023 schedule. A few miscellaneous thoughts..

1. At the end of the day, does the schedule itself really matter? As a test of that, does any team look back more than a single year and say- “well, the results that year reflected a hard (/soft) schedule”.. ? No. When we are in 2026, none of us will really care about what the schedule was in 2023. All we will remember is the record, and even there, many won’t remember the results either unless it was particularly good or bad year.

2. 2022 was a soft schedule. 2023 is a hard schedule. It is what it is. That’s going to be a function of which divisions you were rotated into and out of. As an example, last season the Giants played TEN JAC HOU and IND. The Gmen could have easily (easily!) been 2-2 but they squeaked out two close wins and finished 4-0. This year they play the AFC East, and confront the brutal facts- all 4 games vs BUF MIA NYJ and NE will not be easy.

3. So much of this schedule over-analysis is Jim Fassel’s “it’s not who you play but when you play them.” The Dolphins with Tua are 23-13, and without him they are 5-9. Last season they were 1-3 without Tua, with the lone win an 11-6 victory over the QB-less Jets. Given his concussion history, the Dolphins game is going to be a lot about whether they have a QB.

4. Many people assume the Giants can beat the Jets. The Jets had an excellent defense last season that was worn down by a putrid Offense that kept the Defense on the field. The addition of Rodgers (older but still competitive) completely changes the outlook for that game. The Giants are “home” and still +1.5 point underdogs.

5. Speaking of betting lines, in the hyper competitiveness of national gambling sites, they now have lines available for every game the entire season. It’s a blizzard of betting bounties. This to me is where the information is, because we have an objective assessment driven by monetary commerce of what the true handicapped outlook is for each game. People have figured out that it’s far more agnostic and grounded to use these assessments for what each team’s (strength of) schedule is. We’ll remind the reader here that this NY Giants blog was using opposing team’s Over/Under implied strength as a method of making a preseason forecast before it became fashionable to lean on Vegas for insight. All it does is remind the Giants fan wearing blue-colored glasses that 2 teams show up each week doing whatever they can to win.

6. I like that the Giants will be able to spend the Sunday-Thursday out west and save themselves a transcontinental trip. It won’t make the game vs SF any easier, but I actually like that the Giants are only +4.5 pt dogs. I have a lot of respect for SF, so the bettors have a lot of respect for the Giants.

7. The Giants are only favored in 7 out of 17 games this season. That’s reason enough to be sober about 2023. BUT….

8. If we aggregate any game this season where the Giants are [[+4.5 dogs to -4.5 favs]], there are fully FIFTEEN games out of 17 on the schedule in that range. So what does that say? Everyone can bitch and moan all they want about a tough schedule, but I’ll take Daboll as my head coach plus Schoen as my GM (who is finally getting out of Gettleman’s cap-inflicted hell) and feel pretty good about any of those games as possible wins. Not probable. Possible. Schoen is methodically assembling a competitive roster. Daboll, Kafka, Martindale and staff make their team competitive each week. If they can address the injuries (new turf?) with a healthier roster, all 15 games are up for grabs. Given that the Giants beat teams that were ~touchdown favs last year, it also means that the 2 games they are +7 right now (at BUF, at PHL) are not completely out of reach either.

9. Play the games. The schedule is the schedule. The Giant divisional foes have 14 of the 17 overlapping games, so it’s not worth focusing too much on schedule noise.

Nothing is handed to anybody. My entire team outlook changes based on the trajectory of Evan Neal in his second season. This post wasn’t intended to be a preseason forecast. Nor is it. Training camp. Injuries. Which rookies are flashing. There are still so many cards to turn over before Sunday night vs Dallas at Met Life.

Post Picks Potpourri

It has been a week since the 2023 NFL Draft. Let’s review where the NY Giants are right now.

  1. Am I wrong on the WR model? I believe that a team should have a mix of tall/big WRs plus smaller slot/possession WRs. Schoen and Daboll are moving toward a model where WRs simply need to get “separation.” We saw this bluntly with the 3.73 pick of Jalin Hyatt by the Giants and the 3.74 pick of Cedric Tillman by the Browns. Hyatt is 6’0″ 188 lbs. Tillman is 6’3″ 213 lbs. While I do not think it is fair to judge this by a single 1 on 1 comparison, we will watch this set of two players nonetheless. It will be interesting to watch how the Giants do, filtering on speed over size.
  2. The NY Giants’ 1.24 pick, Deonte Banks, said all the right things. He got hurt in college- now he wants to take care of his body. He was asked about working/living in the biggest city in the country- his quick and blunt response was that he was here to work. LOVE THIS.
  3. We heard that John Michael Schmitz was the hardest working player on the Minnesota Gophers. I harken back to Jerry Rice and Michael Jordan. These were 2 of the greatest professional athletes in history. They also were 2 of the hardest working players ever. They practiced relentlessly. The great ones have great skill and work their tails off. I am not implying that Schmitz can project as the greatest Center in the history of mankind because he works so hard. I am simply excited to have a hard working player on my team. If both him and Banks are singularly focused on their jobs, then the team is going to be served well. A former Round 2 Pro Bowl player remarked privately that he was surprised at how varied the effort was from the best (Round 1) athletes when they became pros. The important message for readers of this NY Giants blog is that they understand that just because you arrive with great skills does not mean you will put in the work. The draft is about potential. The NFL is about delivering on the field. What is your desire? What is your effort? These are the intangibles that we hope that Schoen’s staff is looking at in addition to the athletic/college performance evaluations. On Banks and Schmitz, so far, so good.
  4. More interior offensive linemen are wrestling. As the success of Tristan Wirfs and Creed Humphrey grows, the secret is out. John Michael Schmitz was asked about his wrestling experience and what role it has played in his development. “Yes, understanding your body position, the leverage you have, your hand placement. That was probably the big thing, as an offensive lineman.”
  5. I thought it was interesting that 2 different prominent tweeters that are in my timeline left out Jamison Crowder in their post-draft review of Giants WRs. Blind spot? As a contrarian, maybe it means he can not only make the final roster but be a meaningful contributor. The price tag is cheap enough. Lezzgo.
  6. Everyone has uniformly praised Schoen for his trade-ups. Giving up a R5 and R7 pick to secure Banks and remove any risk of someone fronting us? Cheap. Giving up a R4 pick to move up 16 spots from 3.89 to 3.73 to get Hyatt? Great, because he was a R1 pick on some mocks. Well, the only pushback I will offer is that everyone loved moving up everyone also asked for more help at other positions (specifically LB and Safety). You can’t have everything. I will stick by what I said in the recap last week- that when you trade up for a player, it increases the investment and accuracy required for that decision. Banks was a R1, R5 and R7 selection. Hyatt was a R3 and R4 decision. Schoen has great conviction. I am glad he does. You just need to be right. On draft day in 2019, we were critical of Gettleman for trading up from Day 2 to Day 1 to get CB DeAndre Baker. It was an unmitigated disaster. I am not lumping Banks and Hyatt into that bucket in the slightest. In fact, by all accounts, the process that Schoen used was much more sound and disciplined, given that Baker had red flags and Banks and Hyatt do not. It is just a bigger bet that came with a cost. Nothing is free.
  7. The Ringer asks aloud, when the Eagles took Carter and (this blog’s guy) Nolan Smith, “they can’t keep getting away with this.”
  8. There were reports that the Giants were considering trading up for WR Zay Flowers. Let’s see where Flowers, Banks and Smith are in 5 years.
  9. We have covered the evolution of RB as a destroyer of positional value in today’s NFL too many times to count. It is great to see the Giants and Jets both taking RB in Round 5. This is drafting the RB as a disposable plastic razor. You get them in R5-R7-UFA, you play them until they get hurt/lose their ability, and then move onto the next R5-R7-UFA pickup.
  10. Paul Schwartz noted that beyond the Giants offering Barkley 12.5/yr and him turning that down, that the Giants also sweetened it later during the bye week with a 13/yr offer. If the Giants paid 13/yr I would have been disappointed. They need that kind of money to pay…
  11. Dexter Lawrence, who signed a 4 yr 90MM deal, 60M guaranteed.
  12. Next up, Andrew Thomas.
  13. Saquon Barkley, your bus is leaving. Do a deal already. If you think you deserve more, shorten the term of the contract and test the free agent market. Not recommended however, as the RB market has been exposed and it not likely to improve until/unless rules change.
  14. There is a revolution taking place underfoot. Artificial Intelligence is already at a website/app near you. If you think that it is not going to change forever how draft picks are selected, think again. If you are challenging this idea, ask if you challenged analytics. AI is analytics on steroids. Human beings make emotional decisions. Wink Martindale “loves” Banks. Gettleman was in “full bloom love” for Jones and he was gushing about Barkley. A dynamic model that has different weightings for work ethic, talent, measurables, accomplishments in college, college played at, need, desire, and other inputs is analytics. When that model can change from Round to Round, from position to position, weighing other available options in future picks, etc… that is AI. It is coming. The GMs who embrace it will get better results. Resistance to change is futile. GMs who ignore AI will be run over.