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Whiskey and Cigars: Educational Links For Monday Afternoon

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Because Monday afternoons can be pretty boring and because you're probably really dragging at work right now, here are some really great articles for you to read. I include them separate of Coffee and Cigarettes because I don't want you to skip over them - they're worth a look.

Dan Shonka Part I: Confidence and Competitiveness " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
If (Greg) Cosell and (Chad) Reuter are football theorists, then I think it’s accurate to describe Ourlads’ Dan Shonka as one of the ultimate practitioners of football evaluation. Shonka has 39 years of football experience as a player, college recruiter, college coach, and a combined 16 years as a NFL scout for National Football Scouting Service, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Last week Shonka agreed to speak with me about scouting, players, and the NFL. Our scheduled 60 minutes turned into two hours of football talk that flew by. Dan was afraid I got more than I bargained for, but I told him that I got exactly what I wanted – just more than I could have expected. Whereas Cosell often questions the NFL evaluation system (something I do frequently as a theorist and not a practitioner), Shonka’s war stories reflect how a someone actually deals with the way "things are," and not how they "should be."

This segment of our conversation included stories about Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and the players and systems of Brigham Young and Cal. These stories are terrific, but for me the most valuable nuggets I gleaned from Shonka’s tales is the importance (and real life examples) of confidence and competitiveness in a football player.

Dan Shonka Part II: War Room Stories " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
This segment of our conversation included war room stories about perhaps the greatest linebacker of a generation, a cornerback who had some great battles with Michael Irvin, a disruptive defensive tackle, and a backup running back from the University Texas whose first name is Anthony but went by a more holy moniker. 

Dan Shonka Part III: Positional School " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
I asked Shonka to indulge me in a game where I named a position on the field and he talked about skills he looked for that could or couldn’t be learned if the player didn’t exhibit them in the college game.

Dan Shonka Part IV: Prospects Past and Present " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
In this segment of the conversation, Shonka talks about pro prospects from the past and present, including two players he thought would be great who didn’t pan out, a sneaky-good runner he and Wes Bunting both like, and his take on Andrew Luck.

Dan Shonka Part V: Scouting Gigs " The Rookie Scouting Portfolio
In this final installment of our conversation, Shonka tells how he became an NFL Scout and shares some of his experiences in the field.

How Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning beat the blitz in the NFL - Grantland
Last Thursday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, ahead 14-7 on the New Orleans Saints with just a few seconds left in the first quarter, lined up in the shotgun and saw that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had called for a pressure look (though not an all-out blitz), coupled with man-to-man coverage on his receivers.

Rodgers made a signal for his receivers to run quick routes against their defenders and away from the safeties who remained deep. He called for the snap, and everything seemed to go to plan. His offensive line picked up the blitz and the Saints were in the coverage he expected. Unfortunately, there was one problem: Rodgers' primary read on the new play, Randall Cobb, a rookie from Kentucky, ran the wrong route.

Fortunately, however, Cobb followed the coaching adage that if he was going to make a mistake he'd at least make it at full speed. Although he missed his route, Cobb burst upfield several steps and broke inside on a slant, thereby completely turning around Saints defensive back Roman Harper. Cobb caught a simple pass from Rodgers, juked safety Malcolm Jenkins and leaped over the goal line for his first career touchdown.

Rodgers was able to make the play with such little backyard football flexibility because the rest of his thought process against a blitz — when the pressure is most on and offensive and defensive mistakes are magnified — was so disciplined; his identification of the defense and check at the line was so good that even a busted play could go for a touchdown.

Draw It Up: Cam Newton's Debut - The Triangle Blog
Part of the fun of being a football fan is assigning credit (and blame) on coaches and players. To do this properly — to be an informed fan — you have to understand what the players were trying to do in the first place. In this first installment of a new feature at The Triangle, Chris Brown of Smart Football will analyze a key play from the previous weekend of NFL action. First up: a look at Cam Newton’s NFL debut.

Draw It Up: Bills Breakdown - The Triangle Blog - Coming into this season, I didn't think the Buffalo Bills were that bad. Apparently, neither did the Bills. Buffalo won again Sunday to bring its record to 2-0. The Bills crushed the Kansas City Chiefs en route to a sleepy victory in Week 1, but their win Sunday over the Oakland Raiders was full of pyrotechnics: an 18-point comeback and a back-and-forth fourth quarter capped with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s touchdown pass to David Nelson to give Buffalo the lead.

Chuck Klosterman on Amherst, Maine Maritime Academy, and innovation in college football - Grantland
The NFL is complicated. In fact, the NFL is so complicated that it almost looks simple. Every team is trying to trick whoever it's playing on virtually every down on both sides of the ball (in a recent Sports Illustrated article, Saints coach Sean Payton suggested the single most important word in modern pro football is confusion).

The game has become so internally sophisticated that even the semiserious fan has no chance of really understanding what's happening on the field. Yet this sophistication has a paradoxically static impact on how the sport looks: To the casual eye, most NFL offenses seem more similar than different. The various formations are not identical, but they're all relatively close (only the Wildcat is totally dissimilar, and that's mostly a gimmick). In 2010, the club that passed the most (Indianapolis) threw only 13 more times a game than the team that was dead last in attempts (Chicago).

A platitude endlessly parroted by broadcasters is that the NFL is "a copycat league," but it's one of those platitudes that's true: Because the level of athleticism is so high, there are only certain things that work. The smartest guys and the dumbest guys know all the same secrets, and it pushes the whole game toward a virtual singularity.