Poor overall play can be traced to poor offensive play which can be traced to poor offensive line play. And that, in the opinion of many, can be traced to limited opportunities to practice playing on the offensive line.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in a conference call with Houston reporters, seemed to confirm that reduced padded practice have reduced the opportunities of offensive linemen to perfect their craft.
“I just think in general, fundamentally it’s difficult to play on the offensive and defensive line,” Belichick said. “You’re playing a contact position with pads, and you’re practicing it without pads the majority of the time. That usually develops a lot of bad habits, and a lot of the techniques that a player would have the chance to work on and improve with pads, that opportunity just isn’t there without pads.
“So it’s hard to improve at those positions when, a lot of times, you’re practicing techniques that are really not the ideal technique or, in some cases, incorrect, and it just develops bad habits, especially on the offensive line. . . . [W]ithout being able to practice, [this] favors the defensive players a little more, whereas the offensive unit has to work together and be able to block things at more of a game tempo with pads and penetration and combination blocks and things like that. It’s just hard to simulate those and hard to get the timing of those when you’re just standing up watching each other without pads on a lot. So, I mean, look, we’re all coaching under the same rules, but I think it’s harder, especially at that position, to improve when you really can’t practice your skill.”
To make his point, Belichick opted for an example from another sport.
“It’s like, you go out to the driving range and hit drives and hit balls, but you can’t go on the putting green,” Belichick said. “And then, to think that your putting is going to be at the same level as your driving when you can’t really practice it, it’s not really realistic. But, again, all teams are operating under the same set of rules, so it is what it is. But it’s hard. It’s hard at that position. It’s hard to tell a guy, ‘This is what you should do,’ but he really can’t go out and practice it.”
The challenge for every team will be to come up with ways to get the most out of whatever is allowed within the confines of the rules, and to supplement padded practices with virtual reality or other technologies that allow the brain to get the reps, even if the body can’t. Even if there’s no replacement for putting the right club in your hands and hitting the ball.