Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hunting with The Predator: Dusting Off the Body Armor by Matt Wallace

“You’ve got to have a plan” – Coach Zorn, post-game press conference 8/14/09

If Zorn’s plan for the Thursday night match up against the Ravens was to leave Skins fans wanting more, the team delivered. The Skins only showed a few glimpses of great football in the 23-0 loss. No need for long-term speculation or hanging your heads just yet. I keep telling myself, relax, it’s just preseason. But it’s clear there is work to be done.

My heart was pounding in the minutes leading up to the game. It felt like I’d been waiting years for football to come back. How had it only been seven months? I was literally running around in circles like an idiot and yelling and fist-pumping during the kickoff. Excitement and anxiety and relief all in one.

A shot of Horton on the sidelines showed his hair covering his name on his jersey. Blocking out the name is like going into stealth mode. Offenses won’t see him coming until it’s too late! It was time for the hunting to begin.

But as Campbell and the O took the field, the what-ifs started flowing. I almost wanted them to turn around and go back to the sidelines. What if Campbell’s first pass is picked for six and his confidence is crushed? What if Betts (Or is it Bettis? Seriously, who’s running the equipment room these days? Last I checked The Bus was out of commission) blows out his knee for the season in the first series? What if the O-line is holier than a Swiss cheese Bible?

I know, relax, it’s just preseason.

I settled in with the team on the first drive, and the nerves calmed. Campbell’s completion to Betts for the first down was just what needed to happen: a confidence booster, something to start the momentum. After a decent first drive things were looking up. The O-line was providing protection; Campbell completed some tough passes for some solid yardage (but still looked a little robotic); Betts and Sellers were working together like the seasoned veterans they are.

The highlight of the game came as the first team D took the field on the Raven’s first drive. They were visibly hyped up, but stayed medium.

Horton was all over the ball from the start. He assisted the tackle on the second play and was all over the third, his momentum almost taking him through my TV screen. He’s an animal on the field, expertly covering his assignments and then exploding through plays. (I think the Discovery Channel is working on a documentary about him.) It’s apparent that his studying allows him to get in the other guys’ heads. It’s almost like he knows what they are going to do before they know themselves.

On this drive Orakpo made a strong debut, nearly coming up with a recovery on the first play. And DeAngelo Hall made a statement with his coverage. He definitely showed up to play.

But the game began to unravel after the first teams exited for the night. The play on the field became hard to watch. Collins led some decent drives at QB, but that was to be expected. He’s Old Reliable. Brennan missed a lot of plays and was picked off. The defense was scattered, playing more out of nervous excitement than with their heads. The points added up for Baltimore while the Skins remained at zippy. I was starting to sweat and began to worry about the season. Things were not looking good.

I know, relax, it’s just preseason.

These new guys have a lot to learn, and I think Zorn said it best. You’ve got to have a plan. Fitness will come with work, but setting the tone for the season begins first in your head. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do on the field before you even suit up. The new guys battling for a spot on the team can learn from guys like Horton. He’s only in his second year but he’s a prime example. Study up, use your head and the plays will come.

Like my dad says, act like you’ve been there before. Each of the guys on the field knows how to play football. Now they just need to act like it and get it done. Regular season is only 30 days away.

I am already psyched up for the Skins matching up against the Steelers next week. I know the first team guys are itching to get some reps, and I know they will have a strong showing at home. But before the game I’m leaving post-it notes all over my house reminding me: “relax, it’s just preseason”.

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