When Justin Geisinger came into the game last night, I knew the young offensive lineman was playing out of position, and I knew it wasn’t a particularly favorable development. To his credit, he stood up to a huge crowd of reporters today and accepted full responsibility for his performance against one of the league’s best pass rushers.
“I was a little late off the ball,” he said. “I was still getting adjusted to the snap count, that silent snap count, so I was a little late. They have a heck of a defense, and Suggs is one of the premier rushers in the league. So it wasn’t an easy situation, but it was something … I’m expected to be ready to step in if need be. Obviously, it wasn’t the best case situation; I hadn’t played any tackle in about five years, since college, but it’s the situation I was dealt and I had to go in and do the best I could with it.”
As he continued to answer questions, though, something occurred to me: Geisinger’s work in practice had largely come with the scout team, meaning that what reps he had received had been simulating the Ravens offense against the Redskins defense, not looking at the Ravens’ drastically different defensive front. This seemed like an important enough point to ask about. (Especially since it was just last week that I was told that practice for the offensive linemen is mainly about putting in the scheme.)
“Yeah, the majority of my reps are against our defense, so most of my reps are mental reps,” Geisinger told me. “I just have to stay in mentally and make sure I know my assignments, but most of my physical reps are against our defense in practice.”
Well, that’s fine, and I know the whole O-line watches film together, but isn’t this the sort of thing that might affect your ability to come in off the bench?
“It’s shouldn’t,” he said. “As long as I’m getting my steps and footwork and pass protection work physically when I play against our defense, I’m mentally in it when our offense is going against the scout team. So I can kind of put that together, those assignments and the physical technique work together in a situation where I get into the game.”
This seemed incredibly unlikely to me. The learning experience of repeatedly doing something is completely different from the learning experience of watching someone else do that thing, so I asked Lorenzo Alexander how he saw it, from the other side of the ball.
“He doesn’t get to see the looks,” Alexander said matter-of-factly. “I mean, he sits there in meetings and watches the film and knows all the calls, but it’s a big difference when you get thrown into the fire. You know it, but once you’re in there and somebody’s trying to beat you to get to Jason, then things kind of speed up so much … I just about felt bad for the guy, in there against one of the best sackers in the league.”
Pete Kendall concurred. “The guys who are backups have tough jobs to do,” he said, “because they’re supposed to serve our defense, and then learn our offensive plan in case they need it. There’s no doubt it’s a challenge to go sit in a meeting and watch other people play.”
So I asked Kendall — one of the more blunt-spoken guys in the locker room — the obvious question: is there a solution to this problem?
“You could have four hour practices,” he said. “I mean, that’s really the only practical solution: spend more time practicing so everybody performs their role, and then if they have to do something else, they’re prepared. But it’s not feasible. There’s only so much time in a day. Let’s face it, this is a physical game. This is a game of attrition.”
This is not an attempt to make excuses. Every team in the league faces the same problem, and uses more or less the same strategies to overcome it. But it’s a bit unsettling to realize that when a deep backup comes in, not only is he (presumably) a less-talented player, not only has he gotten fewer practice reps, but what practice reps he has gotten were against a COMPLETELY different scheme than what he’s now being forced to face.
Which means Geisinger’s task last night was even more daunting than it initially seemed … and it initially seemed pretty hopeless.