Sunday, November 25, 2012

Getting Low; Tackling Dummies; Learning from the guys

Imagine how you'd position yourself if you were asked to push a car or pickup truck.  Something like the ladies in the photos, right?  You wouldn't stand up tall.  You'd bend at the waist. 

Lily came up with a cool drill for her line.  It is the kind of thing you do when your budget won't buy a blocking sled.  Push a truck.  It builds strength and makes a point.  The point is you have more power with a low profile.  You want head and shoulders higher than hips, back fairly straight.  But this posture produces power. 
I've been screaming (softly) at television images of the pros and college players missing tackles.  Seems at that level of play they should rarely miss.  But even at that level they seem to go high, grab for the runner's shoulders and try to wrestle him to the ground. 
No no no no no no no!  Get low.  Shoulder into belt buckle.  And wrap the runner up, shoulder in middle and arms wrapping around the legs.
Go low.  Grab the legs.  Runners can run fast with dragging
a two-hundred pound tackler.
The photo here isn't a perfect illustration but the tackler is low and is wrapping arms around runner legs.  Low.
 Tackling dummies have been around forever to help football players practice tackling without having to hit teammates. Tackling dummies are about four feet high, while people are closer to six feet. What does that tell you? It tells you designers of tackling dummies expect tacklers to hit the lower part of the runner's body.

The Outlaws share their practice field with a men's team, the Austin Wolfpack.  At one of the Wolfpack practices, I did some photos of the guys practicing tackling on the tackling dummy.  The photos are kind of fun.  I'd like it better if they got even lower but you can see there is a tremendous amount of power in these hits. 

The ball you see in this picture had been placed on top
of the dummy.  I think coach set it there to make the point
you hit the runner below the ball.  In his middle.

Big guy.  You wanna bet whether he'd bring the runner down.  He is hitting low because
the tackling dummy is only four feet high.  A whole lot of power in that hit.
Tackler isn't so big but he's driving through the dummy.
See the tears (rips) in the tackling dummy?  It is taking a serious beating as the guys practice getting low and powering their bodies through it.  The coach to the left is bent over a bit.  You can still see
that the power is aimed at the midsection of a typical opponent.

Now I'm going to get in a little trouble.  After shooting the Wolfpack abusing the tackling dummy, I thought I'd like to get some photos of Outlaws doing likewise.  And I didn't do so well.  I did get them working the dummies but somehow this lacks some of the energy I saw in the guy's practice.

Low, engaging the dummy, but I don't think there is much power in these hits.

Remember I'm not a coach.  Also remember that some photos distort whatever is happening on the field.  I suspect there's a really good reason for this drill.  Certainly the Outlaws are getting low as they engage the four-foot dummy.  But beyond that, I'm not sure what is going on.  I liked it better the way the Wolfpack did it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Football Rules - A Little Fun; Personal Note

Personal Note First -
It has been nearly two weeks since my last post to this blog. Where have I been?  Dealing with elder care.  My mother-in-law is 98 years old and doing pretty well except she needs 24/7 care.  In the past few weeks we've had problems with caregivers - had to release two.  So we've been interviewing replacements.  In the process we've found a personal care home which was suggested to us as an alternate to our keeping mom in her own home and also an alternate to a nursing home.  We've been doing lots of interviewing and evaluating and considering and money-counting.  And not much blogging.  The care home is really nice with very fine owner and caregivers; we'll be moving mom there around the first of December.  Maybe after that I'll get back to frequent posting.

Football Rules
I've disliked field goals ever since November 8, 1970, when I watched in horror as field goal kicker New Orleans Saints Tom Dempsey beat my Detroit Lions with two seconds left in the game by kicking a 63-yard field goal for a final score of 19-17. I believe 63-yards remains the record now over forty years later.

Which football rules would you change if you were in charge? 

In his autobiographical book Terry Bradshaw suggested some rules changes.  One of Terry Bradshaw's ideas was to increase points for long field goals.  I don't remember the details - maybe award 4 or 5 points for an over-fifty yard field goal. 

Dumb!  And I'm a Terry Bradshaw fan.  But that struck me as a terrible idea. 

A field goal attempt is an admission of failure.  Failure to get ten yards for a first down.  Failure to move the ball into the end zone for six points.  A long field goals is evidence of a bigger failure.  Not only didn't you get the ball into the end zone, you didn't even get it close.  Why would we want to reward failure?  Long field goals should get fewer points than short ones.  Over fifty yards maybe one point.  Over forty, two points.  Over thirty, three.  Closer than thirty, four?  Nah, never more than three points.

If I were making the rules, I'd fiddle with field goals. 

I'd also get rid of the false-start penalty.  I don't know the statistics but it feels as though this penalty is called a dozen times in a typical game.  False "start" isn't quite accurate.  If a lineman moves after being set, it is a penalty.  "Move" means leaning a little tiny bit, shifting his down hand, raising his head.  The rule was instituted because the O-line used to try to draw the defense off sides by appearing to start a play before the snap of the ball.  Okay, if a lineman does a serious move in an obvious intent to fool the defense, maybe a penalty.  But if he just blinks an eye, no penalty.

How about the illegal block in the back on kick-offs and punt-returns?  It seems as though three out of four returns draw this kind of penalty.  A kick receiver runs eighty yards and the play is called back because a blocker touched a defender's back.  There has to be a better way.  Maybe take the penalty from the end of the run, not the point of the foul.  On kicks, you have twenty-two players racing toward each other at top speed, trying to get a bead on the guy with the ball.  A blocker may aim at the front of a defender and miss because the defender turns to expose his back.  That shouldn't be a penalty should it?

Another idea - at the end of the game when one team has the ball and the lead and the other is out of timeouts, why waste time taking a snap and a knee to kill the remaining 80 seconds?  Why not just call it a game and everybody go home?

Couple more silly ideas and then I have to get back to my elder-care duties:  On the opening kickoff, kickers are routinely kicking the ball all the way through the end zone.  A couple years ago the league moved the kickoff line closer to mid-field with the intent of reducing run-backs because those special teams situations invite injuries.  This has inspired  a couple ideas.

One is to have the kickers trying to split the uprights.  If he succeeds, award the kicking team a point.  Effectively kicking a field goal.  And applying my graduated field-goal point system noted above.

The second idea is why kick off at all?  Why not just give the receiving team the ball at the twenty yard line?  That would avoid the injuries and blocks in the back and all the other troubles with kickoff returns. 

Of course it would also eliminate those thrilling 99-yard kickoff returns.

Actually, football rules are pretty good overall.  I probably wouldn't really make changes.  Would you?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Second Half - Available Darkness

Available light.  That photographer-speak for shooting in low light without a flash. 

Notice the sky.  The sun is setting. 
The second half, I'm shooting in available
darkness.  That's Lily Messina in the
Way back when I first thought of being a photojournalist, I did some photography for the Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer.  The photo editor was Corky Wherret (spelling?).  He was shocked when I resigned my day job to do full time photography.  And his shock validated when a few months later I returned to my day job because photography wasn't paying the bills.  He called photos "pieces of art" rather than photos.  I asked myself but not Corky why he'd call a news photo "art".  (The question calls for a separate posting about what is art and what isn't and how you can tell.)  I didn't care what they called it as long my photos got published and paid. 

Corky hated low light photography.  He called it shooting in "available darkness."

His solution was a good strong flash, one that would light up an area of 75 to 100 feet.  His flash was plugged into a battery pack that was about half the size of a car battery and hung over his shoulder by a big strap.  My own flash wasn't nearly as effective as Corky's.  It operated on four AA batteries and had a reach of maybe 30 feet.  These days no serious sports photographer uses a flash.  Instead they have $10,000 lenses with huge glass that can inhale lots of available light.  My lens cost $500 and just inhales darkness. 

I suspect  you visit my blog out of an interest in football, not photography.  I won't bore you further with technical issues involved in shooting under low-light conditions.   Rather, I thought you might enjoy the artistic work of a not-very-artistic photographer dealing with available darkness.  The photos that follow were shot in the second half of the Houston game.  By the second half the sun is setting.  The stadium lights come on.  My camera with my lame little $500 lens becomes useless at shooting action on the field.  So I start looking for any subject, any image, that will capture some of the fun of football. 

And the result?  Pieces of art?

This is Bobby James.  The photo is shot about halfway through
the third quarter.  I think I was shooting the sky and Bobby
just got in my way.  You can see I'm not an artist.  The
composition isn't quite right.  But I still like the shot.

Players returning to the field after the half-time break.  There's still some light but not enough.  Sometimes the background is interesting.  Like the scoreboard showing 469?  I think that means the second half kickoff is 4 minutes and 69 seconds away.  Wait  a minute?  69 seconds?
Another sky photo in the third quarter.
Bobby getting in the way again.  And a
lot of other people in the way, too. 
Notice the sky is totally dark now.  This is a fourth quarter photo.  Players are taking a knee, which
suggests there is an injury on the field. 
I don't know if this is connected to the photo above.  This
is Rubi Reyna telling the team trainer her elbow is fine, just a
little tender, and she's ready for play.  Trainer says "No." 
Later x-rays reveal a fracture.  Rubi is tough. 
Okay, enough of the sky photos.  I like candids and when the light is low I start looking for interesting shots of the people associated with the Outlaws and I try to capture some of the feeling of the game by capturing the people watching it.
Stephanie Marshall, normally a defensive back
but now carrying a clip board as she recovers
from a knee injury.

Does this one qualify as art?

Expressions of players behind in the score and
running out of time.
The Outlaws lost this game.  Can you tell from sideline expressions that things aren't going well on the field?

Coach and player talking strategy.  I always wonder just
what he is telling her.  Or is she telling him?

His name is Julio. His daughters, Maile and Malia, play in the line for the Outlaw and he
helps out with the chains and down maker.  And he also helps keep Jackson cool with
a refreshing spray of water.  My intent with candid photos is that the subject doesn't
know I'm shooting.  I think Julio knew.  My clue?  He asked "Did you get that?"

Cookie Rivas visiting with Vero Narvaez during a break late in the game.  My candid shots sometimes catch hidden stories.  Note Vero is holding a candy bar.  Note Cookie is licking her lips.  Vero's expression is saying Nope, you aren't getting my candy bar.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Just browsing photos from the Houston game.  Offense on the field.  I'm looking for fun photos, photos you might enjoy.  After selecting a few to post, I wonder if there is a pattern.  And a pattern emerged. 

To spoil the suspense, I'll tell you up front that
Cookie got the pass away.  She did have a collision
with this tackler but didn't get knocked down.  This
is an example of what happens when the blockers
don't sustain the block.
Quarterbacks and running backs are smaller than defensive guards and tackles.  So football custom inserts offensive guards and tackles between the offensive backs and defensive line.  The job of the offensive line is to keep the defensive line from crushing the quarterback and running backs. 

Sometimes it works.


Tara Andrickson playing offense and doing a good job
of containing the Houston defender.
A couple previous posts featured Tara Andrickson as the Outlaws defensive player of the year.  I studied her play and suggested she might do well on offense.  When she saw the post she told me that in fact she did play a little offense.  Effectively, I might add.  She is featured in two of my blocking photos. 

The running back normally starts with a plan.  In the huddle the tell her where to run.  Hopefully the blockers will be successful clearing a path for her.  Things rarely go perfectly so the runner needs to identify where the path is.  And then blast through it fast!
In the foreground left, number 33, Tara Andrickson, is holding off
a larger defensive linewoman.  Deidra Hollad has the ball and
is checking the path Tara has opened for her.  Her job is to
blast through there in a second or two, quick enough to capitalize
 on Tara's block.  And she hopes Houston number 74 doesn't
notice what's happening. 

Number 14 is Deidra Holland, taking the hand off from
quarterback Cookie Rivas and hoping number 50 Malia
Capers-Cristobal will be able to sustain her block for
just a couple more seconds.
Normally you have large offensive linewomen blocking large defensive linewomen.  But everyone has to block.  If you're a back who isn't carrying the ball, you're expected to participate in the blocking.  Ideally, the line takes care of the bigger defenders and the backs either pick off a blitzing defensive back or linebacker, or run ahead of the running back clearing away any stray tacklers. 
This looks like a passing play.  Whether a pass or a run, backs are expected to block, to protect
the quarterback or ball carrier.  Cookie, the quarterback, looks pretty safe, doesn't she?
I don't know the outcome of this play.  I just liked the photo.

  Sometimes, though, you have a small back going against a large defensive                   linewoman.  In most cases that can be a problem.  However, if the smaller black is Charmeine Jackson I'm ready to bet the defender won't be making a tackle.  Even giving away a hundred pounds, Jackson is super strong and likely to win any one-on-one contest. 

Number 22 is Charmeine Jackson.  She works out a lot and
is extremely strong, extremely tough.  Even against a
large defender, my money is on Jackson.
 In a previous post I noticed how fast things happen in football.  The quarterback has about three seconds to do something with the ball.  Likewise the runners have about three seconds to get the ball and blast through the path opened by her blockers.  And Griff, the punter, has about three seconds to get her kick in the air.  That means the blockers need to contain the defense for three seconds. 
Griff punting.  Blockers successful in keeping the defender
at bay.  Barely.  But barely is okay.
Sounds easy, doesn't it.  Only three seconds.  But three seconds is a long time.  If you're trying to control a two hundred pound athlete who is quick and strong, three seconds is forever.  And what happens if the blocker maintains the block for two seconds?

This is Griff the punter again.  This time the blocking didn't hold long enough.  I think this
is a case where the snap from center wasn't true and Griff used up her three seconds
retrieving the ball.  If the blocking doesn't work, things can go hard on the punter.

If the blocking doesn't work, things can go hard on the runner.  Deidra Hollad getting caught
in the middle of two Houston defenders.  I selected this photo because it is a great
action shot.  These ladies play some serious football.

What happens when blockers can't sustain their blocks?  Runners and punters find themselves being handled roughly by unfriendlies. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


No photos with today's post.  You'll thank me.  I don't have photos that support my message.  Even if I did, I think you would prefer I not post them.

I'm older than you.  Grew up in the 40s and 50s.  I was there when television was invented.  Black and white only (well, as a photographer I know we're really talking shades of gray).  Small screens.  Three channels available. 

My folks weren't rich.  I went to a friend's home to see his television.  The show was "The Lone Ranger" and it was so cool. 

Televisions had antennas.  Either a V-Shaped contraptions called rabbit ears because they looked like rabbit ears.  You'd set then on top of the television and connect to the tv by a flat plastic cable carrying two wires.  If you wanted better picture quality you'd have  a more complex thing mounted outside on your roof with a wire running down and through the window to connect with the television.  Some were really fancy, lots of aluminum arms running in all directions.  From above, neighborhoods looked like little forests with all the antennas sticking up into the air from the rooftops.  If you Google TV Antenna's, you'll find lots of photos. 

TV images were small.  Often there was lots of "snow" in the picture, white dots on the black background.  If snow was a big problem you'd get a fancier antenna.  Or a "tena-roter" you could use to turn the roof antenna around to get a better signal.  Sometimes the the snow was caused by birds landing on the arms of the antenna.  You'd need a beebee gun to shoo them away.

Sports on TV were great.  Pictures weren't crystal clear but clear enough.  You could definitely see the action.  You could read the numbers on the jerseys.  I especially loved watching hockey. The white ice provided a great contrasting background so the players were clearly visible.  The puck was a problem, too small to see clearly. 

Football was great on tv.  Much better than just listening to a radio announcer try to describe what was happening.

I wonder if TV created the need for teams to have different uniforms for home and away games.  Before tv, people attending games could see the games in color.  It was easy to distinguish between the guys in blue uniforms and the ones in red.  On tv, all colors  presented in shades of gray and you might have trouble figuring out who was who.  So they had one team wear white, the other team use team colors.

Baseball... this is where disgusting comes in.

Not disgusting back in the day with the little shades-of-gray images on the little screen.  Actually it was fun watching baseball in those days.  Not a lot of detail, though. Even if you had a huge antenna on your roof.  The cameras were good but you didn't get super close-ups.  You couldn't see the seams of the ball and pitcher's hand griping it. There were no close-up of player's faces except in after game interviews. 

That was then.  This is now. 

I've been watching a lot of baseball lately. I'm a big Tigers fan and just delighted they'll play in the world series.  I've been watching playoff games on a 42" high definition television.  The close-ups are spectacular. 

And disgusting. 

Baseball players spit.  All the time, all the players.  Spit spit spit spit.  Why?  Where do they get enough hydration to spit so much?  In one of the games (Giants vs Cardinals) I noticed the field seemed wet.  I wondered if it was wet from rain or spit. 

Do players in other sports spit?  Do the Outlaws spit?  I haven't seen any spitting at Outlaws games.  I don't recall spitting at football games in general.  Maybe because the face masks are in the way?  I don't spit.  In the old days it was a guy thing to chew tobacco and that generated a lot of spitting.  Bars had spittoons to so tobacco users didn't have to mess up the floor, provided their aim was good. I think some modern baseball players chew tobacco.  That would explain some spitting. 

Some chew gum. I chew gum.  That never makes me want to spit.

Most baseball players just spit.  That's what baseball players do.

Isn't spitting unsanitary? Watching a baseball game, I wonder if there is a square inch of the field not wet from spit.  Spit contaminating the turf with whatever germs players may be carrying around.

When I see players sliding into a base I'm distracted from the action by wondering if they're getting spit all over their uniforms. 

I'm going to watch the world series.  Hopefully the Tigers will win in four so I'll only have to endure about twelve hours  of spitting. 



Monday, October 15, 2012

More Tara Andrickson Photos

Tara Andrickson was the Outlaws defensive player of the year, 2012.  In my last post I featured photos of Tara.  Here are a few more.

Tara working out, sit-ups.  Furrowed brow
suggest effort.  Stoic expression.  Focused.
I don't really know Tara.  She seems quiet, stoic.  If you  know her feel free to add comments to this blog post and enlighten me.  Now understand that I like quiet, stoic.  A businesslike approach to the game.  Even to prepping for the game building strength, doing sit-ups, hitting the blocking pad. 
Practice running the ball, running over would be tacklers.
This is Tara with the ball, Lily with the blocking pad.  Once
again, I'm seeing a focused, hard working football player.

Tara, #33, eye on the ball, looking pas the blocker.
All I know of Tara I've learned viewing action photos.  She appears focused, eye on the ball, taking a bead on the ball carrier.

Same game but another play.  Tara has passed the line and
is ready to take on the blocking back.
Tara looking for the ball carrier.  Blockers trying to keep
her away from the running back.  She often has several
blockers working on her.
In my photos she is often surrounded by opposing players.  She seems to attract blockers.  She manages to break through the line of scrimmage and becomes a problem for the blocking back, players with smaller numbers on their jerseys.
Number 14 is a running back.  Tara has eluded the line and
reached the second level of protection for the quarterback.

Football is a physical fight.  My photos show Tara engaging the blockers, doing combat. 
Tara, lower left, getting a hold on the runner and then being joined in the tackle by
about six other Outlaws. 

When Tara gets past the line, when she fights off the backfield blocker(s), she knows how to stop the runner.  Sometimes she hangs on until help arrives.  Other times she just brings the runner down on her own.  Either way, Tara is an effective defender. 

Tara bring the runner down all by herself. 
This is the first of two photos shot about a half-second apart.  I like this one because I'm
intrigued at all the tattoos on the running back.  And by the lack of tattoos on Tara.  I'll
comment further on this at the end of this post. 

The second of the two photos of this solo tackle by Tara.  I included this second shot because
I like the runner looking at the camera, kind of wide-eyed, seeming to say
"What hit me!?"

Now I'm going to get myself in trouble just a little.  Just for fun.  I've admitted often in this blog that I'm not a coach.  That just isn't something I could do.  If I showed the players everything I know, it would take up about five minutes in a practice, if I spoke slowly.  I could show them how to do the three-point stance.  I could explain how to get low to control the opponent. 

But not being able to coach doesn't keep me from giving advice to the Outlaws coaches.  Which they wisely ignore.

In a previous post to this blog I opined offensive and defensive players are different.  Not just in their roles but in their personalities.  Offensive players are naturally neat.  Defensive players are naturally messy.  I presented some arguments to support my point and suggested it just makes sense.  Offensive comes with a plan and tries to do things in an orderly fashion to accomplish the plan.  Defense just wants to mess things up. 

Offense - neat.  Defense - messy.

After viewing my photos of Tara, I've decided Tara is neat. 

She is quiet, stoic, businesslike, focused. 

Tara should be playing offense.  If I were a running back (talk about an absurd idea!) I'd want Tara out front of me.  Tara is a strong player.  Tara will do whatever she is asked to do.  She'll play defense if you ask her do.  And she'll do it right well thank you.  But Tara belongs on offense.  She was born to block. 

Just my opinion.



Monday, October 8, 2012

Tara Andrickson, Defensive Player of the Year

Visit the Outlaws website and you'll learn things about the team. 

Tara Andrickson.
She doesn't look fearsome, does
she?  But there's an aura about her.
I keep my distance.  (This photo
was shot with my telephoto lens
from a safe distance.)
I learned Tara Andrickson was named defensive player of the 2012 season.  I wondered if I have any good shots of Tara in action.  And I found a few.  Quite a few.  So I figured she might make a good subject for a blog posting.  Or two postings.  I have more photos than fit reasonably in one post so I'm going to do two. 

This isn't one of my player profiles.  I've never met Tara.  Seen her on the field a lot but we've never talked.  I've told you I'm kinda shy.  I didn't even know her name until I saw the photo on the Outlaws website. 

So I've been quietly hanging around shooting action photos, some of which were Tara. I do find her interesting.  She might make a good subject for a player profile.  If you see her, ask her if she'd be willing to talk with me.  I'd ask her myself but I'm shy. 

Tara is #33 and generally lines up on the right side of the defensive line.  She's not small but not among the bigger players in the league.  So she often is facing blockers who have a substantial weight advantage.

Tara often lined up against blockers who were
much bigger than she.
In spite of the size differential, she manages to elude the blockers.  And sometimes opponents resort to breaking the rules to keep her away from the running back.  Like holding.  (Note a previous post about breaking the rules sometimes being a good idea.)
Yes, holding is illegal.  Wonder if the official saw
the foul.  Difficult to catch the runner when you're being held.
Another technique other teams use to keep Tara away from the ball carrier is doubling up.  Two blockers versus one Tara. 
Doubling up on Tara.  Makes it tough to get into the backfield.
A lot of gray jerseys between Tara and the quarterback.

Fighting off two blockers.  When two are blocking Tara, another Outlaw may go unblocked.
Unlike holding, ganging up is perfectly legal.  But when two blockers are required to contain one defender that means there may be another defender who isn't being blocked at all.

In spite of the best efforts by opponents, Tara managed to elude the blockers and avoid being held.  All she had to do then was catch the runner. 


A big challenge for a line player to chase down a
fleet-footed running back. 

And sometimes she caught the runner.  In fact, she caught enough runners to make her one of the leading tacklers on the Outlaws team.
Gotcha!  Gonna take the ball while I take
you down.
Somehow the runner managed to hang onto the ball.  But she definitely is on the ground. 
See why Tara intimidates me?
I have a few more shots of Tara.  I'll post them in a few days.