Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Answer Man, Series 2, Vol. 5

The Answer Man has the NFL Draft on his mind…but still has plenty of gray matter left for such topics as receiver terminology, kicking statistics and network coverage

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If you're like the Answer Man – and given my superpowers and somewhat bizarre proportions, there is only so far that could be true – then you've got one thing on your NFL-addled mind: the draft.

The Super Bowl has come and gone and this Sunday's Pro Bowl is the last organized NFL game for months, but there will be no withdrawal pains in the Answer Household. NFL Draft news can easily feed my addiction for the next three months, and there is always the Scouting Combine, free agency and mini-camps to fill the dull moments.

What's great about the draft is there is so much information, so many opinions, and yet it's hard to believe that anybody really knows, with any degree of certainty, who the best players are. Sure, a few years down the road we all know that Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were the elite choices in the QB-loaded 1999 draft, and that Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown would not work out as well. At the time, though, how many people had them ranked that way?

Think about this. In 1990, when the Colts took Jeff George with the first pick and the Jets took Blair Thomas with the second pick, followed closely by Keith McCants at number four, Andre Ware at number seven and Percy Snow at number 13, a defensive tackle out of Texas A&M-Kingsville named John Randle wasn't even drafted. In a 12-round draft.

Few remember the predictions, and even fewer care, because another draft will roll around a year later and we'll all be focused on that one. And that's fine, because it's all a lot of fun.

But it's also fun to take a look back every now and then and marvel at the way the draft plays out. The Answer Man took a little time to do just that, and now I have a little quiz for you. Ten questions, and the rules are simple. I'll give you a year and two names, and you tell me which player was drafted first (not first overall, but first between the two). The answers are at the bottom of this column. Get 1-2 right and you should probably wait for hockey to return. Get 3-5 right and you can tell a shuttle run from a vertical leap. Get 6-9 right and we're sending you to the Combine with a stopwatch and a notepad.

Get 10 right and you're Mel Kiper, Jr. Thanks for reading, Mel.

Alright, here are the pairs. Who was drafted first?

  1. 2001: David Terrell or Santana Moss. 2. 1999: Patrick Kerney or Jevon Kearse. 3. 1996: Kevin Hardy or Simeon Rice. 4. 1994: Aaron Glenn or Jason Sehorn 5. 1992: Brad Culpepper or Keith Hamilton 6. 1989: David Meggett or Daryl Johnston 7. 1987: Jeff Jaeger or Rich Gannon 8. 1985: Jerry Rice or William Perry 9. 1984: Jeff Hostetler or Boomer Esiason 10. 1983: Jim Kelly or Tony Eason*
  • Dan Marino would have been too easy! Scroll down to the bottom for the answers, or enjoy the following fan-driven Q&A at your own pace and get to back to the quiz at the end.

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  1. Dave of Ft. Myers, Florida asks:

I have often wondered about the different terminology in wide receiver positions, i.e. split end, flanker, etc... Do these terms refer to the players' positions on the depth chart (would Michael Clayton always be a 'Flanker') or position at the line of scrimmage (lined up on the strong side, weak side, in the slot...) or is it all just meaningless babble (like the difference between the terms running back, halfback, and tailback)? Thanks for your wisdom in advance.

Answer Man: To add some detail to Dave's question for those who might not have read all the previous Answer Man columns, I think he is referring to the time we discussed the origins of the different running back terms – halfback, fullback, etc. – way back in Volume 15. In that case, the terms originated from how far back the player lined up behind the offensive line in the earlier days of the game. The fullback was the farthest back and was most likely to be the ballcarrier, unlike today, when we would call the blocking back the fullback and refer to the runner as a tailback or simply a running back.

In contrast, the terms flanker and split end still retain some of their original meanings, and they can refer to slightly different types of players.

They're both receivers, of course, and most NFL wideouts could probably play either (by the way, "wideout" is just a synonym that we use when we get tired of typing "receiver"). Still, players usually train at and play one of the two positions (also known as X and Z) during a given season. For instance, Keyshawn Johnson played Flanker (Z) for his first two years in Tampa, then switched to Split End (X) for the next two. In most offenses, the two positions will have a somewhat different set of routes.

In general, the split end is more likely to be split wide off the end of the offensive line, on the weak side (the side without a tight end in a base formation). The flanker is more likely to be on the strong side, closer to the end of the line and perhaps backed off the line of scrimmage by a yard or so.

Generalizing again, your split end may be your faster wide receiver, maybe smaller, maybe more likely to go deep. Your flanker might be a bigger, more physical player, like a Terrell Owens (though Owens can obviously go deep).

Thus, for example, when the Bucs were starting Johnson and Jacquez Green (for the most part), they put Green at split end and Johnson at flanker. When Keenan McCardell, an accomplished flanker, arrived in 2002, Johnson moved out to split end to get more one-on-one matchups.

Most teams' communications departments do not differentiate between the two positions on their depth charts, calling both of them receivers. However, they get their depth chart information from the coaches, so they're going to have the split ends all listed at one spot and the flankers at another (again, many receivers can play both, so a guy could back up at both spots). The receiver playing split end, or X, will usually be listed at the top of the depth chart, above the left tackle. The receiver playing flanker, or Z, will usually be listed near the backfield, after the tight end and before the quarterback.

Now a bit of history. Please note: The following historical information is not intended to be comprehensive, and it probably glosses over some fine details. But for the sake of brevity (ha, ha), I'm going to give you the condensed version as I know it.

In the early days, when the running game dominated and passing wasn't much more than a novelty, the two players who lined up outside the tackles were called "ends." They could catch the ball, but they rarely did, usually just providing more blocking for the backs.

The 1920s and especially the 30s were a time of innovation, however, much of it by Chicago's George Halas. Teams started to spread their ends out in the '20s. For instance, Knute Rockne developed a formation he called the "Notre Dame Box," and in the description of this attack it is said that he used "slightly split ends." I think you can see where that term comes from.

In the 1930s, a coach from the University of Chicago named Clark Shaughnessy began to help Halas with the Bears, who used a T formation. Shaughnessy would split an end to one side, then move one of the backs in motion out to the other side, giving him two wide receivers and one tight end. That was the first approximation of the modern pro set, though it would not become standard for another 20 years. Anyway, this back who was split out to the side opposite the split end was sometimes referred to as a flankerback, and he was usually a bit off the line of scrimmage.

The term end was still in wide use for receivers through the 60s; check the write-ups for the early Super Bowls and you'll see players such as Max McGee and Raymond Berry referred to as ends. In fact, the All-Pro team didn't start using the designation of WR for receivers on their year-end list until 1970.

So, to get back to your question, yes, Michael Clayton was listed in the flanker spot on the Bucs' depth chart all year. However, he could easily play either position, and he is, in the end, simply a receiver.

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  1. Jay Action of Atlanta, Georgia asks:

**Answer man, I have a couple of questions for you. I have been around football for many years now, and I feel that I have a real good understanding of the game. I tend to pride myself at understanding the rules enough to pick out the right call given a situation. That being said, the questions.

  1. Recently, you have been covering fumbles and I have followed everything quite well... specifically the part where another player of the fumbling team can not advance a fumble if the time is with in the last 2 minutes of a half. I was curious as to where the lateral fits into this? I have always thought of the lateral as an "intentional" fumble, since if a lateral is dropped, its considered a fumble (I think at least). Am I wrong about that? If not, wouldn't plays like the "hook and lateral", Music City Miracle, and all the desperation toss backs seen at the end of the game contradict with the fumble with in the last 2 minutes of either half rule?
  1. The one point safety. In a Texas game this year, they were awarded with a 1 point safety. Basically, Texas (I think) scored a TD. Lined up to kick it and through a bad snap, the kick hit the linemen. The defense picked up the ball (had possession in the field of play) then fumbled. The fumble went into the defenses end zone where the defense fell on it then was downed. When the play was over, the defense had control of the ball in their own end zone after a PAT try. The officials conversed, and awarded Texas 1 point as a Safety. I would have not guessed that and when I saw it, did not know how to proceed myself. The question is, would this also be a 1 point safety if it were to happen in the NFL?**

Answer Man: By the way, I added the italics to your last name, Jay, just because I think it reads better that way. "Hi, I'm Jay…Jay Action." I imagine you putting that emphasis on action whenever you introduce yourself. I've probably over-thought that a little bit. Moving on.

There's not really much point in elaborating too much on question one. The answer is no, a lateral is not the same thing as an intentional fumble. It is always legal to toss the ball backward to another teammate. As you describe it, and as happened on the famous Dolphins' hook-and-ladder and the Music City Miracle, that was simply one player throwing a backward pass to another player. The ball wasn't fumbled. The lateral is not an intentional fumble and thus the rest of your contention falls apart. If the lateral fails to make it to its target, it would be a fumble by the original ballcarrier and nobody else could advance it on offense.

As for question two, I addressed that in the last column. I have no doubt that you are referring to a play that actually happened, but note that it is a college game (Jay does note this, I'm just making sure we're all paying attention). The rules in college, as I mentioned a few days ago, differ from those in the NFL (as they do on such issues as overtime, down-by-contact and number of feet needed inbounds for a legal catch). In the NFL, as soon as an extra point kick attempt has failed, as it would when it hit an offensive lineman, the play is dead. It would not matter who recovered the kick or where.

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  1. Kevin Rua of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Hello Answer Man: Why is the length of a field goal measured from the spot from which the ball is kicked, but the length of a punt is measured from the line of scrimmage? Thank you

Answer Man: Not to be dodgy about this, Kevin, but my initial answer is: Why not?

Though both of these actions are kicks, they are not particularly similar in execution or what they are trying to accomplish. Why should they be tallied, statistically, in the same manner?

Picture an offensive play run from the opponents' one-yard line. If the quarterback were to take the snap and drop back seven yards, then scramble back another 17 due to pressure, then heave up a prayer that his receiver caught in the far back corner of the end zone for a touchdown, how many passing yards would the quarterback be given? One, even if the pass itself flew 30 yards. If a running back takes a short handoff from the same spot and dives over the line into the end zone, same thing. One (rushing) yard.

Back to punts and field goals. On a punt, the goal is to move the ball down the field as far as possible, so the relevant information is starting line of scrimmage and ending line of scrimmage. A punt that is snapped from Team A's 30 and comes to rest at Team B's 20 is a 50-yard punt – it has moved the ball 50 yards downfield. If it is caught and returned to Team B's 30, then the punt has a net average of 40 yards, which is how far the line of scrimmage moved. The distance of the snap isn't particularly relevant to what is being accomplished, just as the distance the quarterback's pass covers in the above example is ultimately irrelevant. What had to be accomplished, by the quarterback or the running back, was a gain of one yard.

On a field goal, the idea is to score three points. It doesn't matter too much where the resulting line of scrimmage is, particularly since the next play will be a kickoff if the field goal is successful. The focus here seems to be on the exact amount of ground the field goal kicker has to overcome. So we don't want to look at a kick tried from the 30 and think he only has to kick it 30 yards. You add in the 10 yards for the end zone and the eight yards for the snap and get 48, a more accurate picture of what the kicker is trying to accomplish.

Do you think I'm quibbling, Kevin? We certainly could tally the stats for either type of kick the other way. The top punters would be hitting gross averages of 60 yards instead of 45, or the top kickers would be nailing them from 45 yards instead of 53. Either way, as long as everybody has the same frame of reference, it doesn't matter much. So why tally them the way we do? I think it comes down to the intent of the play, as described above.

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  1. Terry of North Bay, Ontario asks:

Here's a question for you based on your answers regarding field goals and the snap. As you said the snap is routinely moving back to 8 yards or so, presumably (I figure) to get the ball over the d-line, especially on the longer kicks which would require a somewhat lower trajectory. To end a half or game with 2 seconds, for example, could a team attempt a 70 yarder (kickoffs are generally deeper then this so we know the leg is there in theory) but pull the snap back another say 5 or 7 yards so there's more room to get the ball up? Is there a maximum distance for a snap? (as defined by the rules, not the difficulty of a 15-yard snap).

Answer Man: Terry has a somewhat natural follow-up to Kevin's question. And to start at the end of the question, no, there is no rule limiting how far back the snap can go on a field goal try. If you wished, you could have your holder line up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The thing is, nobody would really want to do this. You say that kickoffs are generally deeper than 70 yards, Terry, but is that true? NFL teams kick off from their own 30, and a majority of those kickoffs come down in the field of play, not in the end zone. In addition, you are completely discounting accuracy and the fact that the cross bar is 10 feet off the ground. A kickoff from the 30 would have to go well into the end zone to have the distance to be a successful, 70-yard field goal, because it has to go 70 yards and still be 10 feet off the ground at that point. And how many times could a kicker accurately place his kick while hitting it that far?

In addition, the kicker takes a longer run up to the ball on a kickoff than on a field goal, giving him a chance to generate more power. You would have a difficult time duplicating this on a field goal, because the kicker could not start running forward until the ball is snapped, and if he waits and then takes a long run up to where the holder is, he's giving the defense a great opportunity to block the kick.

Here's another issue: deep-snapping accuracy. Watch a punter catch the ball throughout the game sometimes. He rarely gets the ball in the same place each time; he may have to bend down to pluck a low throw or put his hands up by his chest to get a high one, or maybe slide a bit to the right or left. A holder on a field goal is under such a time constraint to catch the ball, spin the laces and get the point down at the angle his kicker likes that having to haul in errant snaps would make this job almost impossible.

Seven or eight yards (the Answer Man notices that, in recent years, the usual snap has gotten a yard deeper) has been determined as a team's best bet for getting a field goal up and off in time. Much closer and the trajectory would be too tough on the kicker, as you point out. Much farther back and you're making the job tougher on everyone, including the kicker, who, as we saw in the recent playoffs, can sometimes use every yard he can get.

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  1. Brent Hulling of Tampa, Florida asks:

Well answer man, you did it again. You opened the doors for more questions in your last post. I think you almost like to give us cliffhangers so we clutter up your mailbox with more, or you just like how predictable we are. Anyway, you said to ask any Colorado fan about when a ref can lose count of the downs. Being that I don't know anyone who is from Colorado, I hope that you can answer my question, as if you didn't already know that you would be asked this. Thanks Answer man!

Answer Man: Brent, allow me to let Jason of Tampa have the first word on that…

I'm a Missouri Tiger fan (and a Bucs fan)... I can't believe you brought up that 5th down! AHHHH!!!! I don't think I ever screamed at the TV so loud before (except for the so called "incomplete" catch in the NFC Championship game against St. Louis)! LOL!

Jason, I feel your pain to a much lesser extent, being sort of a semi-Tigers fan. I can imagine that you would prefer not to rehash the details, but I guess Brent deserves an answer.

So here's what happened on October 6, 1990 in Columbia, Missouri, home of the Tigers:

Missouri, as usual, was a big underdog to Colorado, one of the nation's best teams. Yet they played the Buffs tough and 31-27 lead late in the first quarter. Colorado has the ball and gets a first down at the Missouri three, with QB Charles Johnson hurriedly spiking the ball with 31 seconds left. That was first down. Missouri would have to hold Colorado out of the end zone for three more plays to pull off the massive upset.

On second down, Colorado ran Eric "Sleeping With" Bieniemy up the middle and he got to the one. That was second down, and Colorado used its last timeout with 18 seconds left. Meanwhile, nobody notices as the down marker on the field is not flipped to third down. Bieniemy gets the carry again and is stopped for no gain. That was third down. Johnson, thinking it's still third down, then spikes the ball again. That was fourth down and should have been the end of the game.

However, the officials have lost track of the downs and allow Colorado to run another play. Johnson keeps it and barely gets the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, though even that is disputed as it appears as if he might be stopped short before he stretches the ball over the line.

Later, when the gaffe is discovered, Colorado declines an opportunity to give the victory back to Missouri. What made matters worse, if you're a Tiger fan or a fan of decency in general, is that Colorado goes on to win the national title that year.

So it's, uh, kind of important to keep track of the downs, which NFL referees do quite well. The Answer Man shared some information as to how they do that in Series 2, Volume 3, which led to the above discussion. Obviously, not everyone has read that column, it humbles me to say, because I also received the following e-mail…

Mary of Palm Harbor, Florida asks:

What are the small black straps that referees wear on their hands and wrists. No one seems to be able to tell me this, so I'm depending on you, Answer Man!

Answer Man: You can check out the more complete answer at the link above, Mary, but the basic answer is, they are used to keep track of the downs. Coulda come in handy in Columbia on Oct. 6, 1990.

(By the way, in a fairly recent ranking by ESPN.com, the fifth down was tabbed as the second worst call in the history of sports. The worst was umpire Don Denkinger's blown call at first in the sixth game of the 1985 World Series between St. Louis and Kansas City. What is it about Missouri with these things?)

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  1. Joey D. of Venice, Florida asks:

Hey Answer Man! Here's a question for you. It seems to me that FOX Sports covers the NFC football games and CBS Sports covers all of the AFC games. Am I right in saying this your Holiness?

Joey: You are correct, sir (though the "Holiness" bit is a bit over the top; I do have some humility).

In the NFL's current network deal, FOX has the rights to NFC games and CBS owns the rights to AFC games. Obviously, both conferences appear in games on ESPN (Sunday Night) and ABC (Monday Night). In addition, ABC gets both games on the first day of the Wild Card round and the Super Bowl is done on a rotation basis.

There is an obvious follow-up question here, and I'll go ahead and answer it, so that Brent (see above) doesn't accuse me of leaving an intentional cliffhanger again.

The question: Who gets to broadcast the game when it is between an AFC team and an NFC team?

The answer: The rights go to the network that covers the visiting team's conference. For example, when the Bucs played at San Diego last December, that was a FOX game. When Denver played in Tampa in October, that was a CBS game.

The conferences weren't always aligned this way, and it may not stay the same in the next TV rights deal. For many years, CBS had the NFC package and NBC had the AFC. In 1993, the upstart FOX network stunningly outbid CBS and got control of the NFC, which has long been considered the premium package due to such teams as Dallas, Washington, San Francisco Chicago and the New York Giants. In 1998, CBS got back into the game by taking the AFC away from NBC.

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  1. Kevin of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania asks:

Dear Answer Man, Love the column AM, you are certainly a fount of knowledge. About 2 months ago I was watching a Philadelphia Eagles game, and a rather strange play occurred. Donovan McNabb shoveled the ball to (I believe) Brian Westbrook (RB), who then passed the ball forward for a normal trick play, however, McNabb what the one who caught the ball and ran for what would have been a first down, and it was ruled an illegal play. Could you please explain to me what was illegal about the play? Thank you very much.

Answer Man: Kevin, this one frustrated for most of the afternoon, and I eventually decided that I'm going to need more details.

Whether or not the play as you describe it is legal would depend on what you mean by "shovel." Generally, that term – or "shovel pass" – refers to a short forward pass to a back who is cutting in front of the quarterback. If that's what happened, then that is indeed an illegal play. As we discussed in Series 2, Vol. 3, no offensive play can ever include more than one forward pass.

If McNabb shoveled the ball backward – pitched it in other words – then this would be a legal play. McNabb is eligible to catch a pass, so Westbrook could throw it back to him as long as Westbrook was still behind the line of scrimmage.

Anyway, I thought I would look up the play to find out the exact details and give you the correct answer. Unfortunately, I just can't find it, perhaps because it was apparently erased by a penalty. Could you shoot me another e-mail with some more specifics, so I can check it out?

**

Okay, that was crack number two at a "mini-column," and I don't seem to be getting much better at it. The column is still long and the mailbag is still bursting, so I'll be back in a couple of days to dig into it again.

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Quiz Answers

The first player listed was drafted first. The overall draft position is in parentheses, including the round if it was not the first round.

  1. 2001: Terrell (8th overall), Moss (16th) 2. 1999: Kearse (16th), Kerney (30th) 3. 1996: Hardy (2nd), Rice (3rd) – note Hardy and Rice were Illinois teammates 4. 1994: Glenn (12th), Sehorn (2nd round, 59th) 5. 1992: Hamilton (4th round, 99th), Culpepper (10th round, 264th) 6. 1989: Johnston (2nd round, 39th), Meggett (5th round,132nd) 7. 1987: Jaeger (3rd round, 82nd), Gannon (4th round, 98th) 8. 1985: Rice (16th), Perry (22nd) 9. 1984: Esiason (2nd round, 38th), Hostetler (3rd round, 59th) 10. 1983: Kelly (14th), Eason (15th)
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