Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sports do not build character...they reveal it

The title of this column comes from the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Think about that for a moment – “Sports do not build character. They reveal it!”

Character is something that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has carefully and masterfully instilled in his team. The challenge was difficult – the slope steep and slippery. Harbaugh inherited a collection of extremely talented players that formed a somewhat fractured team.

Brian Billick enabled individualism and cliques and a locker room segmentation of “haves” and “have nots.” Of course that wasn’t Billick’s intention but with the relative lap of luxury that he extended to his players, he fostered and created something that Harbaugh found to be quite disturbing.

Harbaugh’s changes were swift and cutting. He reconfigured the locker room; extended training camp; limited practices without pads while dialing up the intensity and physicality; no longer could veterans sleep at home in their own beds during camp; “I” was checked at the door in exchange for “we.” Under Harbaugh the team would come first.

“What’s Our Name?”


Character has a lot to do with why the Ravens hired John Harbaugh yet Harbaugh’s arrival wasn’t the start of the organization’s focus on character but rather a continuation of what Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti started.

Ask Director of Personnel Eric DeCosta what characteristics he looks for in a player and he’ll recite words like: toughness; smart; productive; fast; passion; high character.

Look at the players the Ravens have drafted with their first pick since DeCosta assumed the reigns of Director of College Scouting from Phil Savage: Mark Clayton; Haloti Ngata; Ben Grubbs; Joe Flacco. Is anyone worried about these players in the off season? Are you concerned that any would skip workouts or report to the team out of shape?

Gone are the days of the Corey Fullers and the Chris McAlisters.

The Ravens are looking for a few good men – men of character.

The philosopher Novalis once wrote, “A character is a completely fashioned will.”

Think about that one!

I’m sure Ozzie and DeCosta will be thinking about it come April 25, the first day of the 2009 NFL Draft.

There are many players scattered around draft boards. The lines have blurred that separate pick 15 from 32 and in many instances character could elevate a prospect. It could also drop one.

General Managers whose jobs are largely vested in the draft particularly in this age of the salary cap are under the microscope. They must perform and they can’t afford to swing and miss.

When deciding between players who are nearly equals on the field, character may cast the deciding vote because GM’s need to know that their choice is dedicated to the team and that they have the will to improve and the determination to excel.

Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith visited the Ravens this past week. Smith, the Outland Trophy award winner, is dropping on draft boards like a bank stock on Wall Street. A look at the tape will show a player arguably the safest pick in the draft and at one point was projected to be the draft’s first pick by the Detroit Lions. But a series of questionable decisions by Smith raise serious questions about his character.

And judging from his picture above and his extremely poor conditioning, one has to question his will.

Why would a player whose dream is to be a highly paid NFL player throw it all away when he is on the doorstep of millions and no less than a top 5 selection in the draft? It’s the equivalent of taking a rest ten yards before breaking the tape at the finish line of a marathon?

Is he that unconcerned?

What is going on in his head?

And what will he do once he actually becomes a highly paid professional? Does he snap out of it or does it get worse?

Is this the kind of passion that DeCosta seeks?

Smith was once not even a remote possibility for the Ravens at No. 26 in the draft but now who knows? He could fall that far and history supports that notion. Hall of Fame talents like Warren Sapp and Randy Moss plummeted on draft day due to character related concerns.

Would the Ravens even want him at No. 26?

They aren’t sure and that is why he visited this week.

Another player with similar questions of character also visited the Ravens yesterday, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks from the University of North Carolina. Nicks looks like a tough player and he was productive at the college level. He is also a player that most believe will be available for the Ravens at No. 26 yet his weight gain (15 pounds) between the NFL Combine and his pro player day raises concerns.
The time between the Combine and his pro day left Nicks with 3 weeks to stay in shape. Apparently a daily trip past the drive thru window at Burger King was far more appealing than trips to the gym.

Imagine acing a college course only to skip your final exam. Just pass the exam and then punch your ticket for that dream job. Instead you skip the exam, stay at home and participate in a Krispy Kreme marathon.

What does it say about his character? How does it shape his will?

DeCosta has employed baseball terminology to label a prospect using “double”, “triple”, “home run” to describe picks.

“I’d probably rather hit a double, honestly, than aim for the fences”, DeCosta said recently.

I wonder how he would now categorize Smith and Nicks?

If their recent behavior is any indication about true character, both could be closer to strike outs than a double.


Mr. Donut said...

Spot on! I recall hearing how dominant Tony Mandarich was back in a day. Granted he was a roid wreck but the points brought up here would make me leary of Smith even at No. 26.

And as far as Nicks goes, I'm not sure. I hear what you are saying but if he dropped that weight prior to his visit with the Ravens those might not be valid concerns.

Nick Saban said...

Don't forget Ozzie's affinity for Alabama.

Harryos29 said...

Harry O 29 April 12th
...I do not think that we will see either Nicks nor Smith wearing purple this Fall. Character counts and the Ravens will not deviate from that approach. With the ORIOLES surprising good start, I have been distracted from the REAL TEAM in Town. TIME to re-focus on the DRAFT.