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The Overlooked Edge: Football Depth

   by Jim Feist - 12/09/2009

Depth is such an essential element of success in pro and college football, and one that is easily overlooked. Big college programs have this as a huge advantage over small schools. Because of injuries, Oregon had to use backup QB Nate Cost in the middle of the season, and he played well in a win over UCLA. A year ago, Oregon had to use four QBs, including main starters Jeremiah Masoli and Justin Roper, but still managed to have one of the top offenses in the nation. In 2008 their QBs combined for 19 TDs, 11 picks.
Contrast that with programs like Hawaii and San Jose State, who had to use several quarterbacks, and both teams failed to cope as well. Remember in 2007 when Georgia seemingly lost all its running backs last year? That paved the way for freshman Knowshon Moreno to explode out of nowhere.
In the NFL, the Tennessee Titans lost QB Vince Young in Week 1 last season, but they had a capable veteran backup available in Kerry Collins during their 13-4 SU/12-5 ATS start. This season, the tables turned with Collins struggling early, then Young taking over during a spectacular 5-0 SU/ATS run, surprising many who make sports picks.
Good college coaches and pro general managers will build their teams with the understanding that they will lose some players during the season. This is very different from a GM who takes the attitude that we should be a good team IF we don't have any key injuries. The Lions and Rams have been hurt by injuries in each of the last two seasons and their lack of depth has been devastating on the offensive line and at quarterback. Detroit has gone 2-32 SU, 10-23 ATS over 33 games, while the
Rams are on a 1-20 SU, 9-12 ATS run. For those who engage in weekly sports picks, that is 19-34 ATS run!
Two years ago LSU needed to beat Tennessee in the SEC title game, but was without its starting QB as senior Matt Flynn had a shoulder injury. Many schools would have been set back, but the Tigers trotted out strong-armed sophomore QB Ryan Perrilloux, who was outstanding in the 21-14 win. Having a capable backup signal caller turned out to be huge as they went on to top Ohio State for the national title.
Speaking of champions, look at the Pittsburgh Steelers the last few years. Six years ago the Steelers had a starting quarterback in Tommy Maddox, but when Ben Roethllisberger fell to them in the first round (11th pick) of the draft they were delighted. They thought he would go higher. Understand what their thinking was: A player they had rated high dropped in their laps so they took him. They placed and emphasis on drafting talent before need.
The Steelers were stockpiling depth and talent at the most important position. They didn't anticipate Maddox getting hurt in Week 2, but were prepared with Roethlisberger stepping in, winning 15 in a row as a rookie and the Super Bowl in his second season and last year.
The main reason for depth is one of the most important components of football: Injuries. Football is a violent game and injuries are commonplace. Three years ago the Eagles lost star QB Donovan McNabb. They had veteran Jeff Garcia off the bench, who was terrific leading them to the playoffs on a 6-1 SU, 4-2-1 ATS to end the season. This season McNabb hurt his ribs in the opener, but backup Kevin Kolb led the team to a 2-1 record finishing those games (4 TDs, 3 picks). He threw for 391 and 327 yards in his two starts.
Stockpiling depth, while managing a salary cap, is essential when injuries strike. Look at all the quarterback injuries or changes the last three seasons: Daunte Culpepper/Josh McCown (Oakland), McNabb (Eagles), David Garrard (Jaguars), Matt Leinart (Cardinals), Tavaris Jackson (Vikings), Matt Schaub (Texans), Trent Edwards/J.P. Losman (Bills), Marc Bulger (Rams), Jake Delhomme (Panthers), Alex Smith (49ers), Kyle Orton (Bears), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), Tom Brady (Pats), Kyle Orton (Bears), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Matt Ryan (Falcons), Roethlisberger (Steelers). Chad Pennington (Dolphins).
It's not just at quarterback. The NY Giants lost Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora in 2007, but it didn't stopped them from having a dominant defense. This year the Colts have lost safety Bob Sanders and CB Marlin Jackson for the season, plus star defensive end Dwight Freeney missed time, but the defense has been strong. Part of it is luck, as it's tough to lose such a pivotal figure as a star quarterback. On the other hand, part of it is smart coaching and management if they prepare properly with depth. It's not the job of a pro football general manager to be praying every Sunday for players not to get injured. Rather, the smart teams evaluate and upgrade depth, as injuries are to be expected when examining sports picks each week

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