April 8, 2020

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Do we blame the players or planners? ... It's a moot point

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/9/2009 (3851 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Anytime a football team is losing much more than it is winning, there is bound to be an argument over whether it is because of the systems or because of the personnel. Well, allow me to weigh in on this for the first time in my career by saying it doesn't matter which one it is.

The player will always blame the scheme for his failures, otherwise he is forced to examine his own inadequacies as a player.

The coach will always blame the execution of his scheme for any level of non-production, otherwise he is forced to examine the validity of his football intuition.

And I say in the end, it doesn't matter which one is inherently responsible, because as a player in the employ of a football club your choices are made for you.

We, the players, are not paid to devise, re-create, construct, or critique the systems we are asked to play in during the regular-season. We may be consulted and asked our opinion when things are not going well, but it is not our job to question or complain about what we are asked to do. Of course, when we are losing, we will always bitch amongst ourselves about the schemes and systems, but that is only a defence mechanism that serves to salvage our pride and egos. We are paid to play in the systems presented to us to the maximum of our abilities and if that does not work out, then the ideologies and system-makers take care of themselves when the season comes to a close.

For my part, I am now playing in my sixth different defence since I started playing professional football, and truth be told, there were things in each and every one of them that I did not agree with, or hated doing.

When I was in Buffalo it was a conceptual thing -- they played a three-lineman, four-linebacker scheme and asked me to play head-up on the offensive tackle and be responsible for two gaps. I didn't like it because I had never done it before and wished I could change their minds, but I learned and played it because I wanted to be a pro football player.

The next year in Washington I discovered that the defence I had wanted to play in Buffalo and just spent the last 12 months unlearning, was what they were utilizing on the Redskins defensive line. Was it easy to transition and change the fundamentals required in a three-four defence to a four-three? Definitely not. But I wanted to be a pro football player so I re-learned it and played it to the best of my ability.

When I came to the Bombers in 2001 and met then-defensive coordinator Mike Gorten, who had his own ideas about how I should be playing defensive line in a four-three front, I didn't agree with how he wanted me to play behind my gap and worry about the cutback, but I wanted to play pro football in the CFL so I did as I was told.

When Jim Daley took over from Dave Ritchie and Rod Rust became our defensive coordinator we all loved it because he let us come up with our own schemes and pretty much do whatever the hell we wanted on the defensive line. After he walked off the team we set a record that year for most passing yards given up in a CFL season and by the time the smoke had cleared in the off-season I had a new coach and coordinator and different schemes and systems to adapt to.

When Doug Berry took over and Greg Marshall became my defensive coordinator, he told us not to tell him whether we were a "left defensive end only" or a "right side defensive tackle only" -- which I was at that time -- because we would be what he told us to be. I thought that was very arrogant of him, especially after he converted me to a nose tackle, but I wanted to play pro football and those years turned out to be some of the most successful of my career.

So as you can see, the debate between scheme and personnel is meaningless in the regular-season because to have any chance at success that year you must fully embrace it and let it run its course.

If you want to be a professional football player of any merit, success or standing, then you learn what is taught and presented to you, as distasteful and disagreeable as it may be, adapt to it, and give it a go to the best of your abilities.

If things don't go as planned, then at the end of the year, those above and beyond your control will decide whether it was the personnel or the scheme, but one thing they will know unquestioningly is that you were a professional when it came to your approach to the game.

Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.


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