CB Brian Kelly was considered a 'big' corner when he was drafted in 1998, even though he's listed as being only one inch taller than Donnie Abraham and Ronde Barber. Why?
Time for a little review.
Okay, you can trade draft picks as many years ahead as you wish in the NFL, but you can't just cut the grass to whatever level you want. You can get just about any stain out of a football uniform, but you can't defer after winning the coin toss. Shoes are plentiful in the NFL; helmet radio static is not.
We know these little tidbits, and more, after our first two fact-finding missions. After satisfying our own curiosity on such questions as 'How does an MRI really work?' and 'Why are receivers numbers in the 80s?', we solicited and received hundreds of fan-submitted questions, such as 'How did hash marks originate?' and 'What happens if a traveling team can't make a game due to weather?'
Truth be told, there were many more fan-submitted mysteries than we got to the last time around, so we're taking another stab at it here. Without further ado, let's get to the questions, such as this fine puzzler from a Gulfport, Florida fan identified simply as Brian:
Q. What would happen if a team was out of timeouts, but the quarterback tried to call one anyway and play was stopped before the truth was discovered?
A. Something perhaps a little less severe than Chris Webber's punishment at Michigan, but a penalty nonetheless.
Actually, the reason this one probably remains unanswered to Brian and most NFL fans is that they never see it occur. That's because the officiating crew goes to great pains to make sure everyone is on the same page.
"It usually doesn't happen, because when you use your last timeout, the officials come over to the bench and they notify you that you don't have any more left," said Buccaneers Head Coach Tony Dungy. "They notify all of the other officials, so what they should do is merely ignore (the player calling for timeout)."
If, however, the quarterback mistakenly signaled for a timeout and the referee granted it before the mistake was discovered, there would be a somewhat routine penalty assessed.
"It would be a five-yard penalty and they would run 10 seconds off the clock if it did happen," said Dungy.
Eric Allen of Edmond, Oklahoma is concerned less about teams that run out of time but footballs that run out of grip. Allen asks this question about the lifespan of a pigskin:
Q. How long do footballs last and what happens to the balls deemed too old to use?
A. They're headed for Juggs duty.
Any given football is only used in one actual game, but most have longer lives in weekly NFL practices. How long they last depends on who's doing the usin'.
"It depends on what position is using it," said Buccaneers Equipment Manager and football guru Darin Kerns. "Quarterback balls only last a couple of weeks because they're real picky. Defensive back balls could last all year."
Before practices, every ball is marked near one of the points with an abbreviation designating it for use by a particular position. While quarterbacks like to have slim new balls with a good texture for their passing, linebackers and defensive backs aren't too choosy about the balls they use for interception drills.
But, of course, all footballs eventually become to worn and plump to be of much use during team drills. When this occurs, they become fodder for the throwing machine universally known by the manufacturer's name of Juggs.
"Old footballs become Juggs balls," said Kerns. "They work better in the Juggs if they're worn down a little bit, they shoot through better. Kickers like the used balls to kick in practice, too."
Ron from Fort Myers, Florida, on the other hand, wants some information on, well, the trading of information. Ron's question, in so many words, is meant for General Manager Rich McKay, the man who works the phones in the War Room on draft day:
Q. When you're in discussions with another team regarding a trade to move up in the draft, do you generally let the other team know which player you are trying to trade up for?
A. Not if you can help it.
"Traditionally, you do not," said McKay. "The only time you would be required to, or a team would ask you to reveal that, is if you were going to flip picks with the team right before you. They'll flip with you, but they want to know who you're taking, in case you're taking your guy.
"This year, in talking with Buffalo in the first round, we did not tell them who we were after. Again, there's a chance you're not going to make the trade, and you're still going to be trying to trade up and you don't want teams to know who you're trying to trade up for."
McKay eventually swung the deal with Buffalo, moving up to the 14th spot to grab coveted offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker. He never verbalized to the Bills who the Bucs were after, but it may have been pretty apparent anyway.
"I would be surprised if they didn't know," said McKay.
It may be difficult to hide one's true intentions in the early rounds of the draft, but things become much more wide open in the later rounds. It's hard to uncover any team's direction near the end, and it is nearly impossible to predict who will be the last pick overall.
However, it is easy to predict what that last pick will be doing the week after the draft. The last selection overall is annually deemed Mr. Irrelevant in a whimsical turn that began in 1976. What Ken Sneddon of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania wants to know is:
Q. Have any of the players dubbed 'Mr. Irrelevant' ever gone on to have a productive NFL career.
A. They are few and far between.
The player picked last in the NFL Draft was first dubbed Mr. Irrelevant in 1976, the last year the draft lasted 17 rounds. That year, picking 487th overall, the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers took a flier on Dayton Flyer Kelvin Kirk, a running back. Kirk was eventually cut and went on to play in the CFL.
The draft was shortened to 12 rounds in 1977, to eight rounds in 1993 and finally to its current format of seven rounds in '94. No matter the length of the draft, the last player selected is annually dubbed Mr. Irrelevant and whisked off to a week of activities in Newport Beach, California by Mr. Irrelevant founder Paul Salata.
This year, the honoree was BYU tight end Tevita Ofahengaue, selected 246th overall by the Arizona Cardinals. To get back to the original question, does he have a storied Mr. Irrelevant history to live up to?
Well, not exactly.
Only a few last picks have ever made their team, or any team. The most successful of the bunch is most likely Matt Elliott, an offensive lineman out of Michigan grabbed with the last pick by Washington in 1992. Elliott, the last of the 12-round Irrelevants, played in all 16 games as a rookie and started two, earning NFL all-rookie honors from College and Pro Football Newsweekly.
Elliott sat out 1993 on injured reserve and was cut by the Redskins during their 1994 training camp, but he made a comeback in 1995 with the expansion Carolina Panthers. Elliott started 14 games at guard that year and 32 over three seasons in Carolina, playing in all but one game during that span.
Overall, however, the Mr. Irrelevant roll call is less than spectacular, though the most recent honorees could still challenge Elliott. FB Jim Finn, the 1999 last pick didn't make it with his drafting team, Chicago, but he played in all 16 games with the Colts last year, starting four. Chicago had the last pick again in 2000, and the Bears picked up defensive back Michael Green, who made the team and played in seven games with three tackles.
By the way, the Buccaneers have made the Mr. Irrelevant selection only once, in the one year the draft was eight rounds long. In 1993, Tampa Bay tabbed K Daron Alcorn from Akron with the 224th selection overall. Alcorn did not make the team.
Before we leave the topic of the draft, there is one more mystery a Buccaneer fan would like cleared up. Brandon Short of Woodbridge, Virginia, is aptly named for his question:
Q. Why was Brian Kelly considered a 'big cornerback' when he was drafted, when he is only slightly taller than such 'small cornerbacks' as Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham.
A. You've got to think in more than one dimension.
"It's height and weight," said McKay. "Don't fail to consider both when you evaluate cornerbacks. Weight counts for something. When you look at the kid we drafted this year (Dwight Smith), and you want to call him a small corner, it's hard to because he weighs 220. Based on height (5-10) he is, but based on weight he isn't."
And, simply put, it is somewhat arbitrary, meaning one shouldn't put too much stock in those labels.
"The line of demarcation for corners has always been 5-11," continued McKay. "Guys that are bigger than 5-11 are considered big corners, guys that aren't are considered smaller corners. It's not a big difference, but you have to draw the line somewhere and that seems to be where most people have drawn it."
Then you have Matt Longmore of Alberta, Canada, who cares not of 'big' and 'small' but of 'strong' and 'weak'. It's a terminology issue for Longmore, who wants to know:
Q. What's the differences between strongside and weakside linebackers?
A. Watch the tight end.
Not to long ago, the terms 'right' and 'left' linebacker were much more prominent on NFL depth charts than 'strongside' and weakside.' However, many teams now use the latter determinations, and it is probably a more accurate approach.
Let's let Coach Dungy explain.
"Usually, the strong side is the side the offense puts the tight end on," said Dungy. Usually, the strong side 'backer is a bigger guy, more physical, while the weak side guy is usually dealing with open space and running backs, and you need more of a quicker, faster guy."
While the weakside linebacker might find himself on the right side of the defense more often, with the offense's tight end lined up on the other side, it can go either way. Rather than indicate where the linebacker is most of the time, teams now tend to indicate what the linebackers duties will be.
"For us, Derrick Brooks plays on the weak side most of the time and Shelton Quarles on the strong side most of the time," said Dungy. "Since they usually flip when the offense flips the tight end, they both have to play left and right."
Left and right, red and white. Brooks and Quarles find themselves switching not just sides but uniforms, depending on what is hanging in their game day locker each week. The duo of Patrick and Mario Jenkins, from Tampa and Lakeland, Florida, respectively sent in a pair of questions on this issue, which we have combined into this single query:
Q. Who decides which uniforms a team will wear for a game, and when, and why do the Bucs always seem to be wearing their road jerseys at home in the early part of the season.
A. The decision comes down from the top, but it takes into account weather conditions.
"It's done in July," said Kerns, laying out the time table. "The league sends an official form out, and I take it into Rich. Rich and the owners decide."
McKay and team ownership understand that colored jerseys are traditionally considered the home uniforms, but want to heighten the home field advantage in the early months by putting the Bucs in white jerseys under hot and humid conditions. Road teams have no say in the matter regarding jerseys (though they can wear whatever pants color they desire), as they must go the opposite of the home team.
Thus, the decisions are made by all the home teams in mid summer so that the road teams have time to plan ahead. Interestingly, that same phenomenon that surprised Mr. Jenkins regarding the Bucs' home jerseys in September will result in the Bucs wearing red on the road to start the season.
"What's unique about this year is that even though we'll be opening on the road in Dallas, we'll be wearing red jerseys," said Kerns. "The Cowboys always wear white at home."