Specializaton: Using Your Bench

by Mike Neugebauer

Lesson 1: Embrace the Concept

Is it just me or is team play starting to make a comeback in pro sports? In this era of high-priced free agents and a relatively scarce number of megastars in professional sports leagues with expansion teams and diluled talent, some teams are placing emphasis on developing depth rather than starpower in order to compete. Perhaps you, as an FBPRO owner, should embrace the same concept.

Case in point - let's compare this year's NFL Champion Broncos to the NFC juggernaut Vikings of this last season. While the Broncos went on to win the Super Bowl, the Vikings had the most amazing regular season the NFL has seen since the '94 49ers. While John Elway is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and a great quarterback, the Vikings got by with two strong throwing quarterbacks named Brad Johnson and Randall Cunningham. The Broncos have Terrell Davis, who should be the runningback all others are compared to this coming decade. But while lacking a feature back, the Vikings used both Robert Smith, a speedy but fragile tailback, and Leroy Hoard, a powerful short-yardage runningback. As we found out, using these guys in tandem more than made up for not having a premiere all-around back like Davis. Lacking a great tight-end like Shannon Sharpe, the Vikings platooned Andrew Glover (receiver) and Greg DeLong(blocker) at the position, and also used wide receivers Moss and Carter in some blocking situations. The Vikings even had their own 'Slash', David Palmer (KR/PR/3rd down back/WR/option QB). And while you're all aware of Gary Anderson's perfect season as a kicker, punter Mitch Berger receives a lot of credit for holding the placekicks on every attempt, as well as assuming kickoff duties for Anderson so the veteran could focus solely on placekicking. Coach Dennis Green and Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick should also be commended for using the talent they had in the most optimal fashion. The system allowed a larger group of players to play more specific roles on the field, and I'd say they proved it worked.

If your team is lacking marquee talent, take a cue from the Vikes. Build a solid, deep squad on offense, develop a great starting five on the offensive line, then hope to get a playmaker like Randy Moss in the rookie draft.

Lesson 2: Decide on an Offensive and Defensive Philosophy

Based on what you feel you play-designing strengths and personal preference, you should settle on a general scheme for your team to acheive victory. Are you going to concentrate heavily on offense, and hope your defense is good enough to win games with? Will you build an imposing defense and power-running game to control the clock? Are you looking to build a run-and-shoot offense, or an agressive, gambling defense? Do you prefer the 3-4 or the 4-3 defense, or do you perhaps like to use both? Decide on your schemes and stick with them. It will take time to get the best personnel and design great plays, so be patient.

Lesson 3: Define Your Roles on Paper

Before you go about designing or re-designing your offense, defense, and special teams based on the team concept I have preached, you will need to do one thing - define your roles on paper for the Active and Open players on your depth chart. This is very important, because once you do this, you can assign players to certain roles, and acquire the specialists you need through free agency, trades, waivers, or the rookie draft. This will also allow you to modify your depth chart with little confusion. Define roles for the offensive and defense based on your decisions from Lesson 2. For example, I will show you my Role Chart:

QB1 - Passing QB
QB2 - Backup QB
QB3 - Running QB
HB1 - Primary runner
HB2 - Secondary runner
HB3 - pass-receiving runningback
FB1 - Primary blocking back, occasional runner
FB2 - blocking back
WR1 - Speed receiver
WR2 - Possession receiver, go-to-guy
WR3 - Possession receiver/blocking WR/Special teamer (ie Steve Tasker)
WR4 - Speed receiver, KR
TE1 - Pass receiver/Blocker
TE2 - Blocker, special teams blocking
Centers, Guards - Interior blocking
Tackles - Faster, outside blockers
K - all kicking duties
P - all punting duties
DT1,DT2 - interior run-stuffing linemen
DE1,DE2,DE3 - outside speed rushers
LB1 - strong middle linebacker to hold the defense together
LB2,LB3 - strong outside linebackers who are also good zone defenders
LB4,LB5,LB6 - special teams aces, backup linebackers
CB1,CB2 - primary man-to-man defenders
S1 - contains the run, pass defender
S2,S3 - pass defenders, special teamers
CB3 - man-to-man nickelback, PR/KR

Note: When you are developing a team to play roles, try to get guys with adequate EN (endurance) ratings. You don't want to have a guy with very low EN sitting on the bench a lot and having another player come in and play a role they are not well suited for.

Lesson 4: Get the Guys You Want

Evaluate the free agents first. You may see some guys that can play specific roles for you, but other owners have passed on them because they have other weaknesses or aren't great all-around players. A good example of this is a fast quarterback who isn't a good passer or a slow, poor receiving tight-end who is a great blocker.

Be patient in the rookie draft, and use your lower picks on role-players. After everyone else has drafted the speed merchants, you'll still be able to find good blockers, pass catchers, or perhaps a speedy but weak defensive lineman who might fit into your scheme.

Trade players you don't have a role for, and get draft picks or role players you need in return. For example, if you inherit a team where you have five fast receivers, but none of them has good hands, you should look for a trade ASAP.