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Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Mailbag: Justin Sorensen’s Health, A Technology Failure, and The Right Attitude

Welcome to the Friday Mailbag where once a week I answer your questions and respond to your comments about Brigham Young Cougars football. As a quick reminder, there are three ways to submit a question:

1. Email: bluecougarfootball@gmail.com
2. Twitter: @BlueCougarFball and use #BCFmailbag
3. Leave a comment at the end of a BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL article.

On to the mailbag.

1. Great article. One question: is it likely that Justin [Sorensen] will play this fall? I think his presence will be critical.
2. So, has Sorensen's bone spur healed?

All signs point to Sorensen being ready to go in the fall.

When head coach Bronco Mendenhall first disclosed the bone spur in January, he didn’t express concern over Sorensen’s status for the fall. During spring practices, BYU did very little work on the kicking game. If Sorensen’s recovery was not on schedule, then Mendenhall would have used a lot more time to have a replacement ready. Waiting until fall would not have been prudent. Two years ago, place kicker Mitch Payne got hurt during fall camp, and punter Riley Stephenson filled in. With all due respect to Stephenson, he was not a viable option.

If Sorensen had surgery to address the problem, the recovery time isn’t excessive. From what I understand, Sorensen should have been able to kick in spring practices if it was necessary. Since it wasn’t, it was best to not take any risks and hold him out.

*****

That information on punting averages seemed kind of random, but interesting, nonetheless. What stuck out to me is that we see technology being used to help players get faster, bigger, and stronger, and the results show on the field. Quarterbacks complete a higher percentage of throws and pass for more yards, running backs average more yards per rush, etc. Punting is the exception. Whether it is 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, the best punters are still kicking the same distance.

That is an interesting observation. It really is just punting. We see longer field goals, despite kickers being forced to kick without a tee and narrower goal posts. Over time, kickoffs had been moved back from the 40-yard line to the 30-yard line to avoid excessive touchbacks (incidentally, kickoffs will be moved back up to the 35-yard line in 2012).

Why is there not a jump in the average distance of punts? Is it a technology failure? I don’t think this has anything to do with technology, but I do have two theories.

1. Two moving parts. Punting involves two moving parts. Placekicking does not. The football is falling to the ground, and the punter has to swing his leg up to meet it. For all the technology that exists, there is still nothing out there that can manipulate the physics that are at work. There is a sweet spot on both the punter’s foot and the ball. When they come together, the ball flies higher and further. There is an optimal trajectory for the punt which can only be achieved if the ball and punter’s leg connect at just the right time during the swinging motion. That means the punter would have to drop the ball at just the right time and right distance from the ground—two variables that depend on the punter’s height, leg length, and the speed at which he swings his leg. The slightest error in the physics can significantly reduce the distance of the punt.

2. Field position. The importance of field position has changed what punters have been asked to do. Rather than take a chance at a 52-yard field goal (line of scrimmage being the 35-yard line), coaches are finding it can be more advantageous to down a punt inside the five-yard line. The punter is automatically at a disadvantage, as far as his average is concerned. The longest his punt can be is 35-yards, which the coach doesn’t want. Therefore, punters and punt coverage teams are better at downing punts close to the goal line, which shortens the punt a few more yards. For every 32-yard punt, the punter would need a 58-yard punt to maintain a 45-yard average.

Technology has helped make a lot of improvements in the game, but human error and the use of punting as a tool in the field position battle will continue to keep punting averages from skyrocketing.

*****

[Jordan] Pendleton would have been drafted if it hadn't been for injury. If [Matt] Reynolds had left last year he would have been a day 1 pick. Harvey Unga was drafted in the 2010 supplemental draft and would have been in the 2011 if he had been able to return for his senior year. I am more concerned about on field performance. From 2003 to 2005, the drafts following [Gary] Crowton’s losing seasons, BYU put out an average of 2 draftees per year. Yet, they had losing seasons. While injuries, chance, and poor decisions have robbed BYU of draftees, BYU has still put up winning seasons and has fielded NFL quality talent. Draft picks are nice to see, but I like wins, bowl victories, and top 25 finishes better.

I really don’t like using comments from the previous mailbag in the next mailbag. However, this comment was made late, and raises some good points.

Winning games, bowls, and finishing ranked are all higher in my book as well. If forced to pick between having a player drafted by the NFL or winning games, I would always choose the latter.

The results of the past two NFL drafts may be that BYU was just “robbed,” but injuries, honor code violations, and falling draft stock all occurred from the mid-1960’s to today. Nevertheless, BYU had enough desirable players that at least one still got drafted, except for 1994.

From what I have seen in life, successful organizations don’t sit around and do nothing when things start to go in the wrong direction, regardless of how many good excuses may exist to suggest that the big picture is still fine. The proper corrective action is always easiest when the problem is small. Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t need to block out a whole week on his calendar to address the issue. He could get one of his graduate assistants or someone like Duane Busby, Director of Football Operations, to investigate the situation and identify what can be done differently. It doesn’t have to be blown out of proportion, but it shouldn’t be completely ignored.

A shrug of the shoulders and back to business as usual—over this or any facet of the football program—is not the attitude that will help BYU win more games. (I am not accusing anyone at BYU of having this attitude, just explaining my feelings.)

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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