Critical Mass

I have discussed the process that Garrett uses in the following article:

It opens as follows:

The best future does not just happen. One should measure where you are starting from, where you want to go, and what to change to get there.

This is not a clean slate of paper as we have existing players and their contracts. Over time, the roster can and will change. Coaches come and go. Even owners can change, yet all those take time and you start with the existing team. The salary cap slows down the roster turnover in the best of times. The Mara enhancement makes it worse. No matter what you think of the players, coaches, even owner, one still has to start with what we have NOW.

I think we all have the end goal in sight: The Lombardi trophy and not just one.

The hard part is figuring out what needs to change to go from here to there. We have had two years of 8-8 records but are they the same? Did we have any differences in the roster turnover, coaches, injuries, will to fight until the end of the game, number and type of penalties and their yardage and effects. Did these have any effect on the final record?

Application of the process

The process is based on identifying cause and effect relationships and fixing the causes. The focus is internal and NOT about the results. Focus on the results and one can miss the changes that are occurring. These internal changes include:

New coaches – position coaches to teach fundamentals and S&C

Better talent – both drafted and FA

Better effort – the RKG at work

Better development – getting the younger players active on the team

Critical Mass

The improvement is not a straight line. Even with these internal improvements, the outcome is not immediately determined.

We have made a slew of small changes that improved the process significantly. Improve the process and you improve the results EVENTUALLY. Yet those internal improvements may not seem to have an effect at the time and then all at once the team seems to explode.

Critical mass is a term to describe what happens in a nuclear reactor. In nuclear energy, one keeps safety rods in place to keep the changes from getting out of hand and having an explosion. The rods allow energy to be released safely in a controlled manner. Take the rods out and the energy takes on a force of its own and reaches what is called critical mass.

The rods are inserted purposely, yet other things can hinder critical mass. These include health of the team, youth, and other things outside one’s control – luck, weather, and the other teams. These same phenomena can be seen in many other applications.

The OL is an example of many changes whose total effect has not been seen yet. The OL has undergone a huge change since Garrett took over. Cohesion has taken a major hit, yet there is a pattern to what Garrett has done.

OL last year: Smith, Livings, Costa [Cook], Bernadeau, Free

Year before: Free, Nagy/PTBNL, Costa, Kosier, Smith

2 yrs before: Free, Kosier, Gurode, Davis, Colombo

Note that every year, 4 or more starters involved new players or in new positions. The backup changes are even more radical. Do you remember Baron, Proctor, Young, Bright, and McQ?

Garrett was willing to rid the team of high cost, low performers even at the cost of eating dead money to do so. Young players tend to be healthier and can recover quicker.

Colombo was a warrior, but he was literally on his last leg at the end. Kosier battled until the end but was done. At the end he was more valuable for his leadership and mentoring than his individual play. Davis should have been cut the year before in the uncapped year on performance alone.

Gurode was asked to take a pay cut as the team could not afford three centers. He was declining but we could have two centers for less money. The old cliché is that it is better to cut a guy one year too early than one year too late. He later signed with Baltimore and while he played guard, it seems the team made a good decision.

Adding talent for the long term and developing the OL internally. Three years ago, the team has invested a #1 picks, #4 and a #7. Two started immediately – Smith and Nagy. It is rare for a rookie OLs to do well in their first year. We got spoiled by the Tyronasaurus but Nagy had the more typical rookie experience. He took his hits but did much better than many players drafted much earlier. Arkin was a project and may yet pan out.

Further we added UDFAs in Kowalski, Leary in addition to Costa already on the team. We added Parnell and later signed Weems at tackles. These form a YOUNG nucleus for the future.

Hedging and Transition

Yet in the process of developing the OL internally in the long term, Garrett hedged his bets in the short term. His first year, he signed Dockery to be the veteran backup just in case. He had to start within days due to an injury to Nagy. Unfortunately, he did not do as well as this year when we signed Cook.

We brought back Holland, and he was our best internal OL guy. Yet can anyone say that he was more motivated and healthier BECAUSE he was cut? Even then he did not last even the shortened season suffering a season ending injury.

With all the young players, this past year Garrett added two FA guards to give them more time to develop. Then we lost Nagy on waivers trying to move him to IR. Costa was injured and we put Kowalski on PUP. Arkin took one for the team as he spent time at center, which delayed his progress at guard.

Even with the new additions, we had a major loss of cohesion. Livings, Costa, and Bernie all were injured during the summer. Bernie had off-season surgery and the OL never practiced together until the week before the opener. That lasted three plays and Cook took over at center, not knowing the playbook or even the terminology. It took several games for the OL to get used to the communication, and timing.

We now have a projected OL of

Smith, Costa, Frederick, Bernadeau, Free

Even that may change. Yet we have two #1 picks at the most critical positions of left tackle and center. Free is actually the player on the OL that has the most time on the OL and he is not even 30. Regardless of what folks think about Free he gave us time to develop Smith and Parnell.

Vicious and Virtuous Cycles

Nor was the OL the only place we had major issues. We went through a number of LBs and Safeties. Each time we had backups, but they are backups for a reason – less talent, less experience, less something. Then we change the scheme to cover those problems, often taking away the strengths of other players on the team.

Then even those backups were replaced. This vicious cycle continued to the point of signing players off the street.

In doing so, we might have guys that knew the team, the coaches, or the scheme, but had not been in Woicik’s S&C. Most of that work occurs in the off season and it takes some time for its effects to be seen. The fact that the team was stronger in the fourth quarter is amazing given these new players.

Yet that works in reverse too. Every additional good player we get back or add, makes the other players that much more valuable.


We are reaching critical mass. Whether that has already occurred may only be obscured by the health of last year. Maybe we just have to remove the rods of lack of health from last year.

This should be most easily seen on the OL. Last year we thought we were set at center until TC. We had Costa who had improved significantly and Kowalski as a backup. We drafted Smith to be the LT of the future and that future came this year. In doing so, we switched Free back to RT where he had been successful in the past. We had some depth at guards, but added TWO FA to give them time to develop.

This year we used our number one pick on a center. There is a question of whether he is a center or guard. He is a center, IMO and the coaches have said so. Yet we have added one new starter to go along with Smith. They will form the nucleus for the OL for many years to come.

Adding Frederick means that the OL depth is improved at the least. We will not have to have a Dockery just for a quorum to practice.

It also means that we will have a lot of competition at all the OL interior positions. I think Costa can beat out one of the starters. The young guys of Leary and Arkin will be in the mix. In doing so, we can continue to get younger on the OL.

The last few years we have seen lots of changes. Yet that is not yet reflected in the W/L record. Yet let there be no mistake, the team has improved significantly. Let us see them healthy and working together and the outcomes will change. The team is waiting to explode this year.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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