, Port Arthur, Texas

November 14, 2012

Details crucial in study — Chalk Talk

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — oaching can be a thankless business. Not literally, of course, because there are many people there on Friday night thanking coaches after a victory. What I mean is that there’s an awful lot of time and effort put into a single play in a game that’s ultimately judged by a simple win or loss.

 Not many other professions have such a rigid standard for success, but to be an effective coach, you have to believe in a favorite phrase around Port Arthur Memorial, “Hard work pays off.”

Memorial head coach Kenny Harrison believes that. He often comments about how one of the few things he can control is how hard he personally works, which is why he’ll spend early mornings and late hours working on a game plan.

That transfers to all of his staff, and is no different than any winning football program and most losing ones too. But, there was a great example of just how much work goes into a single play in a game in last week’s 37-33 loss to La Porte.

La Porte set up to kick off to the Titans after scoring an early touchdown. The Bulldogs were kicking into the wind and the kick ended up getting popped into the wind and settling over a player on the outside of the second wedge.

That player, backup quarterback Torian Lott, caught the ball, turned and fired a pass across the field to Roderic Rucker, who bolted up field and was brought down at the Memorial 46. Lott didn’t actually throw a pass, as he made sure it went backwards and counted as a lateral, while Rucker almost broke through for a long return, but was caught by a very good La Porte coverage team.

That return is what most people call a “trick play,” but the preparation for it isn’t easy. Think about all the planning that had to go into that one moment. First of all, the Titan coaching staff had to identify that the La Porte kicker liked to kick short into the wind, or “pooch” the ball short.

On top of that, they had to know which direction he was going to kick it, as that determined where they’d place Lott in the formation. That takes a lot of scouting and identifying tendencies in La Porte’s game film for an area of play (special teams) that normally doesn’t get the same attention from fans scouting-wise.

That wasn’t the first time Memorial has proven prepared by scouting special teams. The week before, against West Brook, Memorial correctly identified a punt formation or tendency for the Bruins to fake punt in certain situations. Thus, they kept the first team defense on the field on a number of key fourth downs and forced West Brook to call time out and change plans at least once.

So, that’s a lot of hard work in just scouting the opponent to identify a tendency on kickoffs. At that point, the Titans then had to design a play and practice it, while also making sure they had the right personnel in the right spots.

Of course, that also means putting players in spots that won’t tip off the other team to what the Titans may be doing. If, say, they had moved a regular returner like Kameron Martin, John Leday or Albert Jacobs to that second level, La Porte’s coaches would have surely noticed and been prepared.

As it was, they got the ball into Rucker’s hands. While Rucker may not be the fastest receiver on the team, he consistently makes big plays each week. His presence on the second level also isn’t that strange.

Lott’s spot is odd, though. The junior was called up to varsity and installed as the backup QB halfway through the season, but he hasn’t played much. By putting him on the kick return team, the Titans not only get a playmaker on the second level, they also get someone who can throw it across the field and make sure the throw goes backwards.

If you watched the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles game two weeks ago, you’d have seen a similar throwback return try that failed, because the Eagle returner threw the ball forward when he tried to find Riley Cooper racing down the sideline. One of the gripes about Tennessee’s Music City Miracle over the Buffalo Bills was that Frank Wycheck’s lateral appeared to go forward instead of backwards to Kevin Dyson.

Having a QB throw the ball across the field makes it much easier to practice and ensure that it is a proper lateral. But, it still takes practice time to get that right. The players have to know it is coming and have been drilled on what to do.

All for one play in a game the Titans ultimately lost. The play didn’t break for a touchdown this time, but that one play can make a ripple effect in the future. Now, any playoff opponent will have to be aware that the Titans could try something tricky if they pooch kick it. That, in turn, may make the coverage unit a little hesitant in flying down field and may open up lanes for regular returns from John Leday or Kam Martin.

That’s where all that hard work may pay off. It’s a single play in the third phase of the game, but if it leads to a touchdown in the playoffs or gives the Titans great field position in a crucial situation, it’s worth every extra minute.