NFL Head Coach is EA Sports' first attempt at an NFL sports-management simulation. Unlike the Championship Managers of the world, however, Head Coach isn't an entirely text-driven affair; during game time or practices, for example, you'll watch the plays you call on the field unfold using the standard Madden NFL engine. In part one of our Head Coach journal, our fictional coach Vick Dozier landed his dream job with the Chicago Bears and took his team from the lows of firing staff members to the highs of having a pretty decent NFL draft. In part two, coach Dozier takes the team he has assembled through training camp, the preseason, and into the regular season. Give it to us, Dozier!
The Dozier Report, Part 2
By Coach Vick Dozier
Before I enlighten you maggots with more of my head-coaching wizardry, I need to let the punk who wrote this introduction know that I'd sooner have my legs run over by an 18-wheeler than put up with another one of his lame-brain essays. I'd gladly lie down in the middle of Route 66 while a massive Mac truck carrying 16 tons of baby wipes repeatedly ground my legs into sawdust than put up with another mealymouthed white-tooth introduction from someone who probably spends the majority of his free time pounding Cheez Whiz out on a lawn chair. You listening to me GamePot or whatever the heck you're called? Get your act together, or I'll use the lot of you as tackling dummies.
Now, let's get to business. You see, unlike most of you ColecoVision freaks, I have a job, and that job is to win football games. You'll recall that in my last report, the New York Giants, in a fit of stupidity that has only been rivaled by the Chargers drafting Ryan Leaf back in 1998, picked Vince Young with their number-one overall pick, despite already possessing a strong starting quarterback in Eli Manning. Frankly, I was shocked that Young was still available at pick number 25 and was quickly adjusting my draft charts accordingly--if Vince was going to fall into my hands, you better believe I was going to take him. Nonetheless, Tom Coughlin and his crew of stooges screwed up those plans by taking Young, and now the Bears were stuck in a rut. My first plan of action was a silent vow to get even with Coughlin by either A) destroying his team on the field of play during our week-10 game or 2) seducing his wife and having his children call me daddy, whichever came first.
My second plan was to quickly react in the draft room. While Mel Kiper and his abnormally large head rattled off meaningless stats about the Vince Young pick, my coaching staff and I had five minutes to adjust our strategy. I checked the available picks, and the one name that stood out to me was Winston Justice. The Bears' offensive line could always use some shoring up, especially since we've got to keep Rex Grossman healthy this year. Kyle Orton did fine for us last year, but I want a quarterback who plays to win, not someone who simply plays to "not lose." For our second pick, I grabbed wide receiver and Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom, a guy I considered a pretty solid gamble at his position. In the later rounds, we picked up another offensive lineman and an outside linebacker, who I hoped would pick up the slack where Hunter Hillenmeyer was concerned.
With the NFL Draft out of the way, it was time to start turning this group of football players into a team of Chicago Bears. In our first postdraft coach's meeting, a few of my position coaches had some ideas of who they wanted to get the starting job. Bob Babich, my linebackers coach, chimed in first, saying that he thought Derrick Rodgers deserved to start over Hunter Hillenmeyer, a guy we just signed to a big contract extension. I politely informed Babich that, unless he wanted to start paying Hillenemeyer out of his own pocket while he rode the bench, Hunter would be starting at left outside linebacker. On the other hand, my o-line coach felt that Roberto Garza deserved the start over Terrence Metcalf, and I did, too.
Finally, it was time to hit the field. Normally, I don't like noncontact practices. It's my personal philosophy that a player can only successfully play after sustaining a vicious concussion if he's used to being concussed repeatedly. Are you listening Steve Young? And while I would have preferred full-contact, padless practices, my coaches convinced me to mix in a few noncontact practices as well. In addition to running various plays with the full squad, I focused on our passing game with Grossman and Orton. Pass skeleton drills are a great way to focus on the quarterback/receiver relationship, while also giving some crucial coverage tips to the secondary guys.
Luckily, the Bears have some sharp players in their secondary; I'm thinking particularly of Jerry Azumah, who always seems to be ready to accept any coaching I offered. Take the standard slant route we ran during one practice. After getting beat several times by Grossman and Mark Bradley, I pulled Azumah aside and told him to keep to the inside of the receiver and try to jump the route to pick off the ball. He nodded his head and, when I called the play next, Az pulled down the pick and ran it back for what would have certainly been six in a real game. Now granted, not all players are that coachable. Grossman, for example, doesn't like to be reprimanded; you can just see it in his reaction to you. However, if you focus on the strategic side of things with Rex--like when I told him to release the ball quicker and focus on the middle of the field on slant routes--you'd be surprised how much progress he can make in a practice. Sometimes, you see, you've got to tell these boys what to think.
As the off-season practices progressed, my owner, Mr. Rashaan Adams, let me know that I had to get a number of different positions up to speed before preseason began. Normally, I take being told what to do like a beehive takes a broomstick, but in this case, I was pretty sure that Mr. Adams was right. Taking a look at our progress, I could see that practically everyone but Grossman was where they needed to be, so to get Rex caught up with the rest of the team, I gave him a few more reps in practice. Pretty soon, everyone was happy.
One of the other big things in full-team practices is getting to know your offensive and defensive playbooks. The more you practice a particular play, the better chance your offense or defense has in pulling it off when the game really counts. Focus on a play long enough, and its execution almost becomes automatic, a "money" play, so to speak. This isn't to say that you'll be guaranteed to pull it off when the time is right, but you'll be better off trying it than something entirely new. "Go back to what you know," I always say. Of course, I also think that a pair of broken hand is not a good-enough reason for a wide receiver to go on injured reserve.
Plays in the playbook are organized not by formation but by situation on the field--first down, second and short, third and long, that kind of thing. You aren't tied to calling a particular play in any situation, of course, the entire playbook is yours to control, and if you want, you can spend some time tweaking your offensive and defensive game plans when you have a free moment in the office. Personally, I like to mix things up on first down, so a nice balance of inside and outside running plays, some short-yardage pass plays, and even a trick play makes sense for me. Other coaches might strictly want to stick to the ground game or put it up in the air. It just depends on your philosophy. One other thing you have to keep track of in practice is which players you want to give practice time. I typically give the first and second stringers the majority of the reps, but you don't want to forget about your bench guys, either. In fact, I like to mix it up with the third stringers and give them looks at the first-team offense or second-string defense, just to keep them on their toes.
After weeks of practices, coaches meetings, and roster adjustments, it's time to get our first look at the team in a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. This being a preseason game, I know that the final score won't matter. But you know what? I still wanted to win. If I'm being completely honest, I wanted to win more than life itself, if only to show Mike Nolan who the new boss in the NFC is. Even though I knew I'd only be getting a few shots at 9ers quarterback Alex Smith, I was determined to make the most of them and knock him down until his overly plucked eyebrows fell out. When it came time to design the game plan, I made sure we had plenty of blitz packages in there--I'm still not sure the guy knows how to handle pressure and I was preparing to take advantage of that.
The focus of practice was mostly on the ground game, as I wanted to see what Cedric Benson was capable of. The kid missed most of the 2005 season, so he was still a bit of an unproven commodity for the Bears, and it was time he started earning his number-one-draft-pick salary. My coaching staff also made a few changes to the lineup--Mark Bradley would start over Jerry Azumah as kick returner and Derrick Rodgers would get the start over Hillenmeyer.
You know, there's nothing like the smell of a locker room on game day--it's like bad cologne crossed with warm onions, and I love it. There we were in the hallowed Bears' locker room, the Monsters of the Midway about to take the field for the first game of the year, and I was set to lead them to glory. Sure, it was preseason glory but glory nonetheless. When we got out on the field, I pulled the head referee aside, introduced myself, shook his hand, and politely informed him that if he blew any calls during today's game, I would personally go to his house and kick his dog.
With those pleasantries taken care of, the ref asked if I wanted to call heads or tails during the coin toss. I chose heads and told the ref that, if I won the toss, I would kick the ball and would like the wind in the fourth quarter. Some people ask me why I do it--they wonder if it's because I like to get my defense on the field early and test them. Some wonder if it's because I never have any confidence in my offense. The answer is really simple: I like to set my opponent up for humiliation as early as possible in a game, and there simply is no better way to embarrass a foe than to stop them stone cold the first time they touch the ball. That's just the way Vick Dozier does things.
During a game, I like to focus on the offensive side of the game--and when the defense is on the field, I leave that to the guys who know defense. And while they're focused on making sure the other team doesn't move the ball a single yard, I'm constantly stalking the sidelines, motivating the quarterbacks or talking strategy with the wide receivers. That's the big advantage of having a solid coaching staff: If you want to take the time to work on your players individually, you can do so and not have to worry about your staff screwing the pooch with the game on the line.
Luck wasn't with us on the coin toss, but the 49ers chose to kick anyway. After a decent return from Mark Bradley, it was time to get to work. The first play of the game, I called an HB slam up the middle and let Cedric Benson get his first yardage of the game. Rex Grossman completed his first pass of the year on the very next play, but it still wasn't enough for a first down. I called a sweep play to the outside and told my linemen to pinch at the line. The 9ers defense was fooled, and Benson ran to the outside for a first down and a handful of extra yards.
A few plays later, and the Bears' offense is running like a well-oiled machine. I'm in the 9ers red zone, and I'm determined to strike first blood. On first down, I run a counter play with Benson, and he's hammered at the line--the 9ers weren't biting on any misdirection. In a fit of rage, I call the exact same play and meet the exact same result. Now it's third and long, and Rex Grossman, the guy who can't seem to stay healthy for longer than two weeks at a time, decides to run out of the pocket. Of course, he's drilled like a Saudi Arabian oil field, and I'm reduced to settling for a field goal.
While my defense takes control, I sit down next to Rex, who's looking a bit woozy on the sidelines, and tell him, in no uncertain terms, if he ever pulls a stunt like that in a preseason game again, he'll spend the rest of the summer as Kyle Orton's jockstrap maintenance technician. He seems to understand what I'm saying, even if he doesn't much like my tone.
A few busted possessions later, and it's time for me to go to my money plays. The game is still tight at 3 to 0, and even though I've pulled most of my starters, there's no reason we can't try and run it up on Nolan and his boys. The first time I call slants, it works like a charm--with Bernard Berrian picking up a nice little gain in the middle of the field. However, I go to the well once too often, and Grossman throws an INT in the very same spot Berrian caught the ball. It's then that I decided Grossman had seen his last action of the day and decided to toss backup Kyle Orton to the wolves.
The rest of the game? Well, it went pretty much like you'd expect a Kyle Orton-helmed team to play. A low score, a few more thrown interceptions by the Bears, and zero touchdowns. Final score: San Francisco 13, Chicago 3. When Monday's coach's meeting rolled around, I was this close to firing the lot of my assistants and bringing in a bunch of trained circus bears from the local temp agency. To their credit, my staff took the criticism well--they may not trust me as much, but I bet a few of them are smarter. Besides, as my pops used to tell me when he coached me, "No one ever died of humiliation."
The rest of the preseason went OK. We lost to the Chargers, tied the Cardinals, and beat the Cleveland Browns 28 to 13. The bad news is Cedric Benson got dinged again with a strained Achilles in practice, and Rex Grossman must have tripped on his pillow in bed, because he's out for six weeks after breaking his ankle. What is this, 2005 all over again? Anyway, the regular season approaches with our kickoff game against our biggest rival, the Green Bay Packers. There simply would be no better way for a new NFL coach to start his career than by beating his archrival and ending the career of Brett Favre once and for all, and I aim to achieve both those goals in short order. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a kicker I need to drag behind my golf cart for a half hour or so.
NFL Head Coach is scheduled to hit stores next week, and we'll have a full review of the game once it ships. For more on the continuing NFL adventures of coach Vick Dozier, check out GameSpot's football-gaming union, The Huddle.