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Studying film is a skill that can only be developed through compounding reps. It’s a developed skill that should parallel your growth as a football player. If your objective is to become a great player, the addendum to that goal has to be your commitment to becoming a student in the film room. There may have been a great football player that was not a true student of the game, just as well as there may be a dinosaur still alive, I’ve just never seen one. In the past I’ve written about the concept of watching film versus studying film, once this concept is fully embraced, we are now left to develop the skill of studying.
Here are a few tips to film study that can help you better prepare for an opponent.
Before you can begin to dissect an opponent, you have to understand where he is and why he is there. Fully comprehending the responsibility of your opponent will simplify your job. Lets say you are playing a defensive tackle that is tightly aligned and is a hard charger up the field, you now have to understand within your blocking scheme how this players job effects your job. If you play in a zone scheme, this players alignment and technique plays in to the strength of your scheme. Maybe you play in a power scheme and now realize how important your footwork is for the upcoming matchup. Knowing where your opponent is and why he is there makes your job easier.
2. First Step
Great players standout on film not because they are the ones making all the plays, they standout because they play faster than other players. Their speed and reaction time is what allows them to seemingly string together highlight after highlight. It’s critical for you to understand the tempo at which your opponent plays. This isn’t to say that if your opponent plays slow you should play slow, this is to say if your opponent plays in a different gear, you need to at least match his tempo or have a plan to offset his tempo with your technique. Lets be honest, you will play against guys much faster than you, this isn’t an excuse for poor performance. Jerry Rice is the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL, he ran a 4.7 forty. There were two offensive linemen faster than him at this years NFL combine. Why was he great, he was a student of the game and understood how to beat his opponent.
3. Hand Placement
This is equivalent to understanding what type of puncher your opponent is in boxing. You wouldn’t go in to a boxing match not knowing what your opponents favorite punch was, how he set it up and where it was coming from. It’s of upmost importance for you to know where your opponent shoots his hands. Lets say you’re playing a guy that is a bear hugger and leaves his chest constantly exposed, you now know your job is half way done. You knowing where your opponents hands are going will give you the blueprint to where your hands need to be and what measures you will have to take in order to get them where they belong.
Here’s a little trick I used to use to measure how important the game was to my opponent. Find a game where the team you are preparing for lost and fast forward to the fourth quarter. Compare the tempo and effort in which your opponent is playing when things are going well versus when they are not, this will give you the answer to the essence of your opponent. Some guys are frontrunners and need only adversity for their true colors to shine through, this is vital information. Prior to WWII, if the world fully understood the resolve of the Japanese soldiers, the decision to use the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have probably been made sooner and spared many American lives, as well as those of allies. You need to know when or if ever your opponent is going to fold his tent.
Notice I did not say “size”, although we naturally want to see how large the player is we are playing against. In reality, the height of your opponent is more important data. Football is predicated on leverage, the more leverage you have will increase one’s opportunity for success. You have to know the leverage point you need to play at in order to generate the most force. The point at where you gain leverage is going to be based not on how low you play but more so at the point you gain a functional advantage. Historian John Tzetzes, writing in the 12th century, wrote that Archimedes said "Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the world."
With these few tools you should begin your journey to becoming a true master of your craft. Just as the rapper Meek Mills explains in his song, “Levels”, you won’t grasp all of this in one sitting, there are levels to this and you have to slowly climb the ladder of mastery.