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.