Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bringing The Nasty Back

Attitude, if there is one thing that I came away with from my time playing and coaching the Oline, it is that you have to have a certain attitude to be successful. That attitude is one that is hard to develop; the player must come into it on their own. They must believe that they cannot be stopped, they must have a firm grasp of what they are doing and go into each play with the confidence that what they are about to do is right and that they have the ability to get it done.

It wasn’t until my playing days were over and I was coaching that I latched onto this belief. It was as I worked with high school lineman and saw guys with all the physical advantages play at a lower level than the guys who had that elusive attitude.

Of the time that I played, I only really had that attitude for a couple seasons. Sure I had it as a JV, but I was going against lesser physical talents. Getting bumped up to Varsity I at first looked at myself as a back up. If that is your attitude you will never get to that next level. Sometime during my junior of high school year it clicked for me. I didn’t care who you put in front of me; I was going to beat them. This attitude leads to a nasty disposition on the field. A failure of any type enraged me; I had that nastiness that draft nicks expound on when trying to describe an offensive lineman.

The thing about this attitude is that it can be fleeting. I went into college with this attitude. I took personal offense to a list of key freshman omitting my name, and listing another player at my position. Unfortunately health problems kicked in (try showing up for camp a week removed from food poisoning and play center at 205). My reduced weight, and poor attempts to put it back on lead to escalating injuries, the loss of that attitude, and eventually the end of my playing days.

It was in the subsequent year, working with high school players that I discovered the importance of attitude. I would call it confidence, but it is something more. There were many times that I had a player who wasn’t confident in what they were doing, but the attitude was “I will get it done anyway”. A coach can only do so much to develop the attitude; you can line the player up against an inferior player only so many times. You can coddle, or yell in an attempt to find a way through to the player. But in the end something must click inside the players, they must find that next level on their own.

So what is this diatribe doing on a blog about the Raiders? I never played for them, hell I was never at the level of any of these guys. It is because based on reports out of camp, it seems like a player that many have affixed the bust label seems to have rediscovered this attitude.

Jake Grove was called “Nasty Jake” during his time at VT. With a family member at Tech, I took a special interest in their team. Grove was a pleasure to watch as a guy who focuses on line play when he watches the game. I was genuinely excited when the Raiders selected him in the 2nd round. Tops on my Christmas list that year was an authentic Grove jersey.

Grove failed to earn the starting center spot his rookie year, but to do so is rare in the NFL, the center is the brain of the offensive line, he must have a full grasp of everything the offense is doing and what the defense will try and counter with. Maintaining a veteran presence at the position for a team with playoff aspirations came as no surprise, even if it was the questionable skills of Adam True.

Since that rookie year, Grove has struggled with injuries; he has played in a different system almost every year (this year being the 1st where he will have the same coach and system in consecutive years). When I watched Grove in the limited time that he was on the field, the nastiness was gone. He made the occasional good play, when I graded players he regularly did well, but there was a major difference between watching him and the elite, the attitude was gone.

Last season the Raiders did have a center with the attitude, Newberry however was all attitude, his body was failing, but based on camp reports, it seems some of that attitude may have rubbed off on Grove.

Grove did not enter this year’s camp as the anointed starter, despite the loss of Newberry. Veteran John Wade was brought in as competition for Grove and Chris Morris. If you had to assign a favorite it would be Wade based on health and body of work. But don’t try telling that to Grove this year. When asked about the center competition Grove responded:

"I plan on starting, we'll see what happens. But I feel if I can go out there and do what I can do, it won't be a problem."

Those 1st four words stood right out to me. He isn’t planning on competing, he is planning on starting, in his mind he is the best out there, whether or not it translates onto the field, he seems to have rediscovered that attitude. Camp reports seem to back this up, as Grove has reportedly grabbed the starting spot by the balls. The 1st game depth chart still lists both Grove and Wade as starter, but if those at practice are to be believed, the competition is essentially over.

Friday, we the fans get our 1st chance to see if this attitude translates into production on the field. The majority of the Raider Nation’s eyes will be firmly focused on Russell, McFadden and Harris as they attempt to get some feel for if this season will mark the 1st step in a return to respectability. However mine will be on #64 (at least on the 1st viewing) the attitude, or lack thereof, won’t be determined by the wins and losses on individual plays, it will be determined by the follow-through on the wins, and the reaction to the losses. When you have the attitude, the nastiness, the wins are dominating, and the losses result in an obvious reaction and a far different result the next time. With a man head up on Grove with the Niner’s 3-4, this game will be a great gauge of where Grove’s attitude truly lies.

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