By Paul Haynes
I love the heartbeat of this team. I can see it when I walk into the film room and see our guys in there studying and working on their own to get better, and often late into the night.
When we study film as a team, our coaches have done a good job of giving the players questions to answer. Over the years I've seen a lot of players who will go sit in that film room for two hours, and when they leave you ask them what they learned. They'll really have no idea.
You have to ask them questions to make sure they'll get something out of it. I told Darius Polk, who plays our boundary corner, to chart every single pass play that the boundary receiver ran. Now he has an understanding of where he lines up, and based on what formation he'll have an idea of what route his receiver will run.
We will tell our linebackers and our safeties to come in and watch the end zone film, and when they do, study the tight end and the tackle because that's who they read. See what they do on pass and See what they do in run.
We also do a neat thing on defense every Friday. The players will give a presentation on every position. So, the corners will get up and give a scouting report to the entire defense on the receivers we'll face on Saturday. Then the defensive line will get up and give a scouting report on the opposing offensive line, safeties will do the tight end and quarterback, and so on, and so on. It makes everyone understand that they are going to have to study during the week because they'll have to present to the entire defense on Friday.
The presentations also help players understand how their responsibilities fit within the entire defensive scheme and how what they do impacts the guy next to them. By studying film, players learn their keys. And those keys don't lie.
I'll never forget something I learned from Jim Tressel about studying film. He asked me, "do the players truly understand the importance of making zero missed assignments."
That's the key, and it falls back on film study. If you don't miss assignments, then the opponent has to earn it. A good player has to go out and make a good play to beat you, and that's OK. But a missed assignment against a good football team is inexcusable. You have to have a burning desire that it will not happen, because when you do miss an assignment, you let your teammates down.
Knowing your assignments starts with your work in the film room. We harp on these guys that it is not unrealistic to have zero missed assignments.
I found that understanding the importance of being good at watching film came to me later on as a coach. I have to admit, I didn't have it when I was a player. I kind of just played. If you talked to my position coach, he would probably say that I had good instincts. But I didn't study. It's all hindsight. If I could go back and study the way I should have, I would have been a much better player.
Studying film has changed so much between now and back when I played in the 1980's. There's obviously so much technology that allows us as coaches to break things down and watch so many different views in so many different ways.
During my freshman year at Kent State we still used reel-to-reel film. Then we moved to VHS when I was a sophomore in 1988, but we still only had sideline views. There were none of the cut-ups we have now.
We've even just added the technology that will allow our players to log on to their computer and watch all of the film from all of the available angles right from home at any time they want.
What some players don't yet realize is that they can have a career in football just because of the way they study and care about knowing their assignments.
There are two guys I have been around who were unbelievable at film study. One of them is Donovan Darius, who played at Syracuse and was with me when I was with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The other was Donte Whitner when I was at Ohio State. Those guys would come in on Tuesday and they would already have five or six pages of notes, and they would already have an idea of what the opponent would do on 1st-and-10 or in different formations.
It was unbelievable to watch them and how they studied. And the great thing was that the younger guys saw them and what they were doing, and the culture was built. Now we are trying to build that culture at Kent State that preparation pays off. There are so many guys who were great players in high school who just played on instinct. But we have to help them to understand that it is incredibly important to study film and know your assignments. We have to break them of their bad habits.
You only get so many reps at practice. You get 20 hours a week with players. There is so much riding on 20 hours a week, so there are a lot of things they have to do on their own to be successful.
You wonder why good players don't last very long in the game. I guarantee it's because they don't prepare like others.