Selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Cornell, former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne played five years for the Jags, and five more for the Houston Texans. Since leaving the game after the 2006 season, Seth has been honing his writing skills, and has proven to be a real treat on Twitter with his football knowledge and wicked sense of humor. He brings both to Shutdown Corner on a regular basis.

The NFL is abuzz with allegations of dirty play, and many point to the replacement officials as the reason.  They claim that the scabs don't have the ability to police the game like they should, and that players are accordingly trying to get away with more.  Frankly, I'm tired of talking about the replacement officials, so instead let's just have a quick chat about dirty play.

I'm often asked about the dirtiness that occurs at the bottom of a pile, but I don't think it's quite as bad as people envision.  They assume there are all kinds of eye gouging and groin punching, which really isn't the case. In fact, the dirtiest thing I ever did was a complete accident.  I was blindly going after a loose ball in a pile, and here's the chain of thoughts that went through my mind in the course of a 16th of a second: "I want to get to that football, but there are a whole lot of people in the way. Better move some bodies and give one of my teammates a chance to get it.  Let's see, first we better grab and wrench this forearm out of here. That's odd, this is the size and shape of a forearm, but forearms aren't usually flaccid. Wait a minute, that's not a forearm at all."

I had to take a 45-minute postgame shower to wash away the shame.  Not homophobic shame, mind you, but the shame of inadequacy.  Dude was packing heat.  Several weeks later my wife, unaware of the incident, innocently commented about what a good player this guy was.  She got the silent treatment for three days.

Somebody asked me a question about dirty players on the radio the other day and I caught myself making no sense at all while explaining what goes on in a pile, saying, "It's not all that dirty. Sure there's a lot of punching and twisting, but other than that…." So it's not all that clean, either.  I guess my definition of dirty needs some tweaking.

You see, in the game of football, as in motion pictures, one man's dirtiness is another man's art.  Zone blocking schemes, with their emphasis on backside cut blocks, have been labeled by many as dirty.  This may have been true back in the day, when offensive linemen could get away with leg whips and high-low blocks, but rule changes have made them things of the past.

Today's sanitized version of the backside cut is a solo dive at the legs of an unengaged defensive player that leaves the target free to run to the ball if he merely anticipates and shucks the block.  Backside cuts are most effective against defensive linemen that are overaggressive or unaware.  This leads to a lot of great, but inaccurate, postgame accusations of dirtiness by guys that are embarrassed that they spent half their day lying on the turf.

Speaking of cut blocks, I once had a defensive line coach who coached our defensive ends to cut the pulling guard on counter plays.  The reaction from the guards was usually a mixture of anger and disbelief. "How could you!" I could almost hear them yell in a high-pitched voice.  In reality, they used a deeper voice and more colorful language.  I promised I'd make it up to them with a trip to the beauty parlor, but they generally didn't appreciate the irony of an offensive lineman complaining about being cut.  Hypocrisy is an ugly thing, especially from ugly offensive linemen.

A recent allegation of play unbecoming a gentleman occurred at the end of the Giants/Bucs game.  With several seconds left on the clock, the Giants lined up in "victory" formation so Eli Manning could peacefully take the snap, kneel down, and go film a commercial somewhere.  That is generally the way it goes, as the defense concedes defeat.  The Bucs had different plans, however, and fired off the line with the fury of a pack of Long Island teenagers, intent on causing a turnover.

Coach Tom Coughlin was angry, and Eli Manning called it "a little bit of a cheap shot."  I myself have always wondered why more teams don't go all out in trying to foil the taking of a knee.  It just seems that in this most American of sports our policy should be to go down swinging.

I do take issue with the element of surprise in this specific instance.  I always felt that the right thing to do when going all-out against a victory formation was to warn the offensive linemen about it.  I never went hard on a kneel-down at the end of the game, but I always did at the end of the first half.  Quarterbacks have been known to line up in victory and sneak a real play while the defense is standing around, and I felt obligated to discourage such scurrilous behavior.  In those situations there was usually a short conversation that went something like this:

Jeff Saturday: We're kneeling.

Seth Payne: OK, but I'm firing off.

Jeff Saturday: [Edited for profanity]

Seth Payne: [Edited for profanity]

Peyton Manning: [14 dummy calls, 7 colors, 3 hot calls] Hut!

And that was that.

More Payne Train:
Practice isn't the problem with tackling, dummy...

Missing Football
The Vegan Monologues
What Minicamps Don't Tell You

A New and Better Wonderlic

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The Payne Train: Practice isn’t the problem with tackling, dummy…

20 Aug

Selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Cornell, former NFL defensive lineman  played five years for the Jags, and five more for the Houston Texans. Since leaving the game after the 2006 season, Seth has been honing his writing skills, and has proven to be a real treat on Twitter with his football knowledge and wicked sense of humor. He brings both to Shutdown Corner on a regular basis.

When NFL players and owners agreed to the new collective bargaining agreement before the 2011 season, one of the items they agreed to was a training camp that drastically reduced the amount of full pads contact.  With the amount of contact limited, some are concerned that technique will suffer.  Tackling is not nearly what it used to be, according to 87 percent of the crusty old guys in bars that I frequent, and there has been some grumbling that this lack of contact in practice will make it even worse.

Added to the mix is the fact that Pop Warner and other youth football leagues are limiting full contact drills.  The vast majority of collisions in football occur in practice, so limiting the amount of collisions in practice should reduce not only the total number of concussions, but also the frequency of sub-concussive blows that many believe can lead to long-term brain damage.  Some traditionalists are concerned that this softening of the rules will lead to a softening of our young players.  Realistically, video games and soda already have a lot of kids maxed out on the softness scale, but that's another topic.

Whenever I hear grumbling about how full contact practices are necessary to teach skill and toughness, my first thought is of Ronnie Lott.  Lott is a Hall of Fame defensive back who is widely regarded as one of the fiercest competitors ever to play the game.  His hitting skills were legendary, but unlike many of today's defensive backs who excel at the launching blow but lag on tackling technique, Lott was the complete package.  He was able to deliver the big hit when appropriate, but he could also wrap his arms and form tackle.  Watching his game footage it would be easy to think that his training regimen must have included some kind of hardcore live tackling drills.  After all, he played in the manly 1980s, when boxing was still popular, chest hair was a desirable feature, and people thought professional wrestling was real.

(Editor's note: Seth, you're fired. Professional wrestling IS real. So there.)

The fact of the matter is that Lott played for Bill Walsh's San Francisco 49ers, who were notable for practicing in helmets only.  They focused on precision and technique, and saved the macho stuff for Sundays.  Some of the older guys I played with when I came into the league spoke of San Francisco like some kind of a football Shangri-La, where you could stay healthy past the age of 30, play in year-round mild weather, and even drink white wine in public.

Last week, while I was a guest on the "J&R Show" on KILT-610 in Houston,  I had a chance to ask Lott about whether the legend of the 49ers' unpadded practices was true, and if so, how did he manage to maintain his hitting and tackling prowess.

"That is true that we didn't practice with pads on.  We did a lot of work just with our helmets.  Matter of fact we didn't wear shoulder pads at all," Lott told me.

Lott pointed out three simple keys to tackling: Seeing the target, moving your feet to get in front of the target, and wrapping up.  And for learning to wrap up he credited the "big bag," a very heavy tackling dummy hanging on chains from a bar or cage of some sort.  Lott spoke passionately about the value of the big bag for about five minutes, and by the time he was done I was ready to go out and buy one.

"That's the bag that became my friend," Lott said, "and that was the bag that I would work on, and I would make sure that I wrapped up on the big bag.  Because if you're hitting that big bag … it's a lot like Earl Campbell coming at you.  And so when you're over there messing with that sucker, it has a tendency to kind of move you back, and it has a tendency to get you off your feet, get your balance maybe a little sideways… If you practice on the big bag you don't need pads.  You just need to be sure that you get your feet in the proper spot, you need to make sure that you're driving with your hips, and you need to make sure that you're wrapping."

Football is a tricky sport to practice.  Because of the force of the collisions, it is impossible to practice at full speed on a regular basis and still field a healthy team.  That is why blocking and tackling dummies have been around for nearly as long as the sport.  The key is to use those dummies effectively.  Ronnie Lott figured it out, as many did before and many have since.  There are of plenty solid tacklers in the league, despite what the crusty old-timers say, and many of them are on teams that don't hit in practice all that much.

So when we see bad tackling on Sundays, let's not blame the practice format, but the players and coaches who haven't adapted to it.

More Payne Train:
Missing Football
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What Minicamps Don't Tell You

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Tags: bag, basis, full contact, , , , , , Ronnie Lott, , technique
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The Payne Train: A new and better Wonderlic

13 Aug

Selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by theJacksonville Jaguars out of Cornell, former NFL defensive lineman played five years for the Jags, and five more for the Houston Texans. Since leaving the game after the 2006 season, Seth has been honing his writing skills, and has proven to be a real treat on Twitter with his football knowledge and wicked sense of humor. He'll bring both to Shutdown Corner on a regular basis.

Back in 1990, a band by the name of Extreme had a hit song called "More Than Words," a slow and tender acoustic love song.  Teenage girls and soccer moms alike rushed out to buy the CD.  What they soon discovered was that while Extreme had made a great love song with mass appeal, most of their music was aggressive heavy metal that appealed mostly to angry teenage boys.

I fear that my last column, about my emotional attachment to the game of football, is going to set some readers up for exactly that experience.  I pulled on their heartstrings with a sentimental piece that revealed my vulnerable side, and now they're going to discover the real me. They'll find that I'm like a raw oyster, containing a small pearl of wisdom, but otherwise, a mass of unpalatable goop.  Some readers are saying, "No, no, raw oysters are in fact quite tasty."

Those readers are sick bastards.

The fact of the matter is that I spend most of my day trying to sort out and make sense of my absurd, senseless inner monologue.  Here at Shutdown Corner I will occasionally let you peek into that chaotic jumble of haphazardly firing brain cells.

Those brain cells once performed adequately for me on a test called the Wonderlic, which is the intelligence test administered by the NFL every year at the national scouting combine.  Over the years the Wonderlic has been the subject of controversy as critics have questioned the ability of a paper and pencil test to predict on field football intelligence.  For instance, my Wonderlic score didn't predict that I'd be dumb enough to commit three penalties in one quarter against the Bills, yet I was.

I've always felt that a more accurate intelligence test would combine some elements of the Wonderlic with real world scenarios from the life of an NFL player.  So I present to you the first five questions from my proposed Football Intelligence Quotient exam.

1. You've just been fined by the team for missing a workout.  The fine will not be made public. What should you do?

a)      Tweet a picture of the fine with a sympathy inspiring caption that says, "Don't they know I got kids to feed?"  (This was used recently with splendid results).
b)      To forget about the whole incident, Tweet a direct message picture of your genitals to an intern.  Mistakenly make it public.
c)       Tweet that the strength coach is lying.  Cling to your accusation even after being confronted with security camera footage that shows the exact time you entered the facility. [I actually witnessed a version of this before the days of Twitter]
d)      Tweet nothing and show up early for your next workout.

2. For various reasons, you decide to cheat on your wife.  What is your first course of action?

a)      Sign up on that website advertised on the radio that makes an extramarital affair sound like a straightforward proposition.  What could go wrong? It's guaranteed!
b)      Buy some condoms, and remember to save the receipt.  This may be tax deductible.
c)       Stock up on Ambien.  Some claim that it enhances sex and makes for clever and eventful texting.
d)      Rethink cheating on your wife.

3. As a rookie, you'll face an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny.  What is the best way to take a breather?

a)      Find a hobby, like opening a restaurant.  It seems like a simple enough business, and your unemployed cousin has the time to run it.
b)      Take an interest in your alma mater's football program.  Those kids could use some advice, not to mention extra cash.
c)       A relaxing massage.  But don't waste money by going to a licensed massage therapist.  Look for one with a crudely painted particle board sign that says something about hot oil.
d)      Golf.

4. You are approached by a guy in a white coat who calls himself a doctor.  He offers to sell you a revolutionary new vitamin injection that will help you add muscle mass and recover more quickly.  What should you do?

a)      Check the policy on banned substances, but ignore the part that says you are responsible for everything that goes in your body even if it's labeled improperly.  Don't ask the team medical staff for advice.  Now go for it!
b)      Pay with a check or credit card.  You'll need a paper trail if you want a refund later.
c)       See if he'll throw some of that undetectable synthetic pot into the deal.
d)      Run away!

5. You spend five years with the team that drafts you.  You are loved by fans and you've laid down roots in the community.  Your wife and children love it there.  Unfortunately, when you enter free agency the team is barely under the salary cap and is unable to make a remotely competitive offer, so you sign elsewhere.  How should you open up the press conference in your new city?

a)      "It wasn't about the money." Act surprised and hurt when people don't believe you.
b)      "The fans never appreciated me there." Act surprised and hurt when people take offense.
c)       "I wanted to go to a team where they're committed to winning, unlike some places." Say it with a smirk and remember to act surprised and hurt when the previous city's writers "take it out of context."
d)      "I had an incredible experience with [former team] and I wish them the best. "  Be as gracious as possible, but don't act surprised or hurt when people are still angry.

This is just the beginning.  The best exam would include real-life simulations.  Perhaps during the forty yard dash a player could run through a gauntlet of process servers and shady financial planners while being chased by test tube wielding paternity testers.  The possibilities are endless.

Oh, and the correct answers are all "d," unless it's a slow news day.

More Payne Train:
Missing Football
The Vegan Monologues
What Minicamps Don't Tell You

Tags: Corner, , intelligence test, , , Shutdown, Shutdown Corner, , , tweet
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The Payne Train: Missing football

01 Aug

Selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Cornell, former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne played five years for the Jags, and five more for the Houston Texans. Since leaving the game after the 2006 season, Seth has been honing his writing skills, and has proven to be a real treat on Twitter with his football knowledge and wicked sense of humor. He'll bring both to Shutdown Corner on a regular basis.

I've spent the last five days at the Houston Texans' training camp after five years away from the NFL. I'm writing for Shutdown Corner and I'm on the radio in Houston, so I'm out there as a member of the media, taking notes.  Some things have jumped out at me, several of which are more personal than I expected.

First, I wasn't prepared for the emotional response I had the first time I watched a 9-on-7 drill.  In the past five years I had convinced myself that I didn't really miss football that much, that it didn't define me as a person.  I never wanted to become the clichéd ex-jock, living in the past and boring everybody at the bar with stories about my glory days. Standing there, watching those guys hit each other in a very physical drill that was a staple of my life for so many years, and I realized how much I still miss all of it.  I miss the challenge, the misery, the victories and the losses.

I miss knowing myself so well.  I miss knowing that my legs will keep churning  long after fatigue has robbed me of the ability to feel them.  That I can still run fast when it feels like I'm in deep sand.  That no matter how long a drive or a wind sprint seems, it will all be over soon.

I miss being around defensive backs.  There is no more entertaining group on this earth than NFL defensive backs.  The position demands guys that can be selfless enough to work within a group but cocky enough to rally back from getting torched on a deep ball, and humor seems to be the keystone to those combined traits.  Whenever I started feeling sorry for myself during two-a-days I'd hang out with the DBs, and the problem was solved.

I miss working with rookies.  Watching the defensive line drills, I've had to fight a strong urge to walk over and give them some tips.  But I remind myself that I'm not a part of it anymore.  I'm an outsider.

I miss coaches like the Texans' defensive line coach, Bill Kollar.  Defensive line coaches are generally a little bit crazy.  They have to be because most good defensive linemen are a little bit crazy.  My first exposure to Kollar was when I was a young player with the Jaguars and we had a combined practice with the Falcons.  Kollar was the Falcons' defensive line coach and was wearing heavy sweats in 90-degree weather and running and screaming the entire session.  My own coach was John Pease, who was equally frenetic and would prove to be one of the most important influences in my life, shaping me as a professional and as a person.

I miss the crowds.  I especially miss the end zone crowds.  The ability to play hard when fatigued is amplified when you're in a goal line stand in your home stadium.  The shroud of noise that surrounds you is hard to describe.  It is physical and it envelops you.  It is silence and wailing all at once.  And when you stuff the offense, it is euphoria.

I miss working on my craft.  By the time I retired from football, I had been working in earnest on my craft for 19 years (I don't count youth league).  I had gotten pretty good at it, and then it was gone.  And that's the shame of it all.  By the time you're 30, you're really figuring the game out and coming into your own.  The game is slowing down and you start making some plays on savvy alone.  Your technique is more automatic, so you can focus on the complexities.  But your body doesn't know that.  Your body protests.  At least mine did.  And it was over.

When it was over, I told myself that it didn't bother me.  In 2006, my 10th NFL season, I tore my ACL while playing for the Texans.  I spent two weeks in training camp with the Jaguars the next year, but I hadn't recovered from my injury and I put a product on the field that I wasn't proud of.  The Jaguars cut me, and several weeks later, I called my agent and told him I was done. I told him I had no doubts and that I was at peace with the decision. And I really thought I was.  Then I called my Mom and left her a voice mail telling her the same.  My voice was probably strong on that recording, but as soon as I hung up the phone, I started crying.  I cried so hard that I had to laugh at myself while I was sobbing.  There I was, alternately crying and laughing, and it was probably the closest I've ever been to being bona fide crazy.

Then I stopped crying, told myself that my grieving was over, and went on about my life.

So here I am five years later -- 37 years old and finally coming to grips with the fact that no matter how much I want to say that football doesn't define me, in some ways it does.  It defines me because I care about it.  It defines me because I was good at it.  It defines me because some of the finest people I know,  I know through football.  It defines me because playing in the NFL was an incredibly unique and special experience that very few will ever have.   And it gives me some empathy for the people that are stuck in their high school glory days, the clichés. We're all grieving in some way for the better parts of our youth that we'll never get back.

So if you see me in a bar, buy me a beer and I'll tell you a few stories.

More Payne Train:
The Vegan Monologues
What Minicamps Don't Tell You

Tags: , Corner, craft, , , , , person, Shutdown
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The Payne Train: The Vegan Monologues

13 Jul

Selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Cornell, former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne played five years for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and five more for the Houston Texans. Since leaving the game after the 2006 season, Seth has been honing his writing skills, and has proven to be a real treat on Twitter with his football knowledge and wicked sense of humor. He'll be bringing both to Shutdown Corner on a regular basis.

Arian Foster, the prolific Houston Texans running back, has created a stir by announcing via Twitter that he has gone vegan.  For those of you who live outside of L.A., Manhattan or Boulder, this means that he has decided to stop eating all animal products, including eggs and dairy. The immediate concern of many is that he will be unable to sustain his size and strength, and hence his fantasy football kick-assedness, on such a restrictive diet.

As a guy who spent 10 years in the NFL happily eating lots and lots of dead animals,  I would still tell you that this is probably not that big of a deal.  Foster has many resources available to him, financial and educational, to ensure that he gets the proper amount of protein. What's more, the fact that Foster is paying attention to his diet at all puts him way ahead of many pros.  One of the leanest guys I ever played with was wide receiver Corey Bradford.  As best I could tell, Corey's dietary strategy was to forget to eat until he became light-headed, at which point he would wolf down whatever was nearby.  On Saturday mornings in-season, that might mean a tray of donuts or a bag of kolaches.

Several world class athletes have actually done well on vegan diets, including sprinter Carl Lewis and boxer Timothy Bradley. The name that is always brought up, though, is that of former NBA player Bill Walton.  Many blamed his lifestyle for the lanky center's frequent injuries.  It was undoubtedly to blame for his silly Amish beard.  But it should also be pointed out that Walton spent a lot of time at Grateful Dead concerts, and while we don't know what his drug habits were, he almost certainly wore his body down with extended bouts of hippie dancing.

[Michael Silver: RG3 could be just the man to revitalize the Redskins]

In the football world, the most notable player to have tried the vegan thing is Tony Gonzalez, the future Hall of Fame tight end.  Gonzalez is about as dedicated and educated as they come in matters of sports nutrition, and he actually owns a company that sells his own brand of dietary supplements.  After experimenting with a strict vegan diet he decided to add occasional servings of free-range chicken and wild-caught fish.  To some hardcore vegans that probably sounds as good as occasionally clubbing a baby seal.  Nevertheless, Gonzalez is performing well at an advanced age on a diet that includes far less animal protein than what his peers consume.

I suppose we could take issue with the fact that Foster publicly announced his veganism before he proved to himself that he could successfully pull it off.  Theoretically his pride could prevent him from returning to a conventional diet if he has a change of heart or a dip in performance.  Foster is wired differently than most of us jocks, though, with a degree in philosophy and an intellectually curious nature.  I get the feeling he is treating this like an open experiment, and in his tweet he wrote, "We'll see how this goes."

If at any point he feels it's not right for him I imagine he'll simply explain it to his Twitter followers, excuse the "anti-awesomeness," and move on.

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What Minicamps Don't Tell You

Elite Athlete Workouts

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