KD: I know you’ve got the Gillette precision in sports campaign going and …Which athlete that you’ve tested has shown an inordinate ability to be precise? Maybe a large individual with agility that surprised you or someone with incredible body control, something like that?
JB: Specifically, the Gillette campaign is not afilliated with SportScience; it’s a promotion I’m involved in however. What we’re doing is breaking down a play every week and showing the precision involved with that. In terms of sports science, it would have to be someone with the ability to BE precise; specifically, the position of NFL quarterback DOES require someone to be incredibly precise obviously. At the NFL Combine, we did a specific test regarding precision. It involves the quarterback falling away and making a 20-yard accurate touch pass to a target. Looking at that, if you’re off by only a degree you’re not going to hit the target at all! It’s the same thing as trying to make a basket in basketball from the OTHER team’s 3-point line….60, 70 feet away. It’s a LONG way…throwing it, feathering it into the end zone. What’s interesting about THAT test if you watched E.J. Manuel last weekend throwing the game-winning pass –
KD: Ugh! Don’t remind me…
JB: (laughs) Well, E.J. Manuel actually set the RECORD at SportScience – he had the best score in our touch-pass drill.
KD: Now THAT’S interesting. That’s fascinating. I’m really glad you mentioned that because I was wondering about that (particular play and pass), busted coverage aside.
JB: Yep, and we said two years ago…three years ago…we said the best guy at QB in the draft was Colin Kaepernick based on the scores of all the participants in our tests. It got a lot of attention – of course, Kaepernick didn’t play as a rookie but obviously got a chance LAST season to show everyone what he was all about, and this PAST NFL draft we put all of our players through the same SportScience tests. We determined that the best quarterback in the draft that should be taken first was E.J. Manuel.
JB: There are a lot of bandwagoners NOW, but there were not a lot of organizations that were saying E.J. Manuel was the best quarterback in the draft.
KD: Oh yeah, it’s easy to jump on after the fact after you’ve been proven true, but you were the first one – you were the trailblazer there.
JB: Exactly. We DO like to stick our necks out a bit. What’s interesting is with all the options in the entire draft, we never had the occurance where someone turns out that wasn’t very good but who has done well with our tests. It’s certainly not a guarantee with OUR analysis that someone is going to be a star, but there does seem to be a correlation. If you do poorly with our tests, chances are you won’t be a great player. If you do WELL on our tests, of course, no guarantees, but it indictes the potential is there.
KD: Yeah, I had read that you constructed your own NFL Combine – you had just refered to that – and wondered what coerced you into doing that. I’ve always been partial to the cone drills myself, because they DO measure change of direction ability and overall quickness.
JB: We feel that the traditional NFL Combine is antiquated at best. If you go back and look at historical Combine records, well, let’s look at running backs for example. The top-five running backs, if you go back and look at the Combine, were they the fastest, were they the strongest, were they the best at the Combine? The answer is almost always “No.” Don’t you want the biggest, or the fastest, or the strongest, or ANY of the metrics currently in use at the NFL Combine? The answer is “no” to all of that. So what are the metrics actually TELLING you? If you were to take the metrics at wide receiver and the 40-yard dash, look at Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice was pedestrian at best with his measurables. He wasn’t the fastest guy at all at his combine. He wasn’t considered even fast for his position at the NFL level, but he wound up being the best receiver ever! We feel that straight-line speed in shorts and shirt just doesn’t translate to success at the NFL level. It just can’t be that important. We wanted to develop tests that translated well to football and that if you do well at that test, then it tells you something of their ability to play well at that level. The 40-yard dash is NOT important. What IS important is how long it takes you to get to that top gear –
KD & JB together: Acceleration.
JB: Exactly. Although at that level, they need to be fast ENOUGH, they need to be fast enough to compete AT THAT LEVEL, the actual 40-time doesn’t matter. It’s how quickly you get there that DOES matter. The question should be not “How fast are you?” But rather “Can you reach your TOP GEAR quickly enough?” – for that to have an effect. For US, your STOPPING ability is more important than how fast you are. 60-to-zero is what we’re interested in. That’s more important because it tells how fast you can CHANGE direction. THAT is what’s important at the next level.
KD: Two great examples of that which I thought of while you were speaking are Darrius Heyward-Bey and Wes Welker. Darrius was the fastest at his combine and hasn’t done anything. Wes Welker is well-known not to be a FAST guy, but he’s so QUICK, he has more catches than anyone over the last seven or so years.
JB: Exactly! And look at some of the other drills at the Combine. Do we really care how many reps of 225 pounds some of the linemen can do versus the success they have? Most of the guys who have set records in individual years in the bench press don’t even make it in the league so it must not tell you much about them.
KD: Yeah, I think it shows me endurance more than anything. One last question, and then I’ll let you go. I know Ray Lewis is stronger than a battering ram from your show –
KD: – but I want to know with player safety being at the forefront these days, what types of forces are involved when you see these head-on collisions with both players running at full speed?
JB: FANTASTIC question, Ken! We did a test with Brandon Jacobs, one of the largest running backs in NFL history, we had him plow into a dummy and had the dummy plow into HIM…and he CONSISTENTLY generated 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of force…
KD: Holy cow!
JB: Yeah, really! That’s 2 TONS of force, consistently. Those are GIGANTIC numbers. Which is why when people enter the concussion debate, I mean we’re talking about…well, giGANTIC numbers. So when you’re talking about a piece of equipment that has been improved by say 10%, 10% is still a gigantic number. In this concussion debate, we’ve got massive human beings colliding and if those forces can be reduced even by 10% you’re helping a lot more than you might think when you make an improvement to any gear. It’s worthwhile, it really is.
KD: Well our time has run out. John, I want to thank you SO much for a very interesting talk. I thoroughly enjoyed it and really learned a lot.
JB: You’re quite welcome, Ken, good to speak with you and have a great day.
On a personal note, I’m 2-for-2 in that both of my recent interview subjects, John Brenkus here and Captain Munnerlyn a few months ago, are both very pleasant people, easy to talk to, and seem to be just all-around nice guys. Many, many thanks to both once again and especially to Mr. Brenkus for this interview. His whole area of expertise is fascinating and I think is the 21st Century version of baseball’s “Sabremetrics.”
Mr. Brenkus is truly a pioneer in how we look at sport.
Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye