In today’s issue of Tuesday Morning Standler, we take a look at an elite level Practice with Ironside and a preview of the contenders as we head into the series.
Practice with Ironside
I took the two hour drive this weekend to watch an elite team practice. Boston Ironside was having a special Western Massachusetts practice in Amherst for the local teammates. Head coach Josh McCarthy was gracious enough to let me attend and watch. Here’s the run down on what goes on at these top level practices:
Great Expectations, Normal Situation
One would expect that these teams prepare on a higher level, and they would be right and wrong about that. I arrived early to the field site only to find that the practice location was changed at the last minute. While we waited for others to arrive, McCarthy was busy alerting those to the change, making sure everyone was notified. As the 2 PM start time rolled on by, the head coach could be heard voicing his annoyance for those who had not hit the deadline. Amazing… even top squads are dealing with players being late!
The mood quickly changed once everyone arrived. The squad huddled up before warm-ups to set the tone for the day. Will Neff brought everyone in to give words of encouragement before captain George Stubbs set the goals for their day. The dynamic warm up was, to quote the talking heads, “the same as it ever was”. During the stretching and butt kicks, McCarthy and assistant coach Mike Zalisk went over lines for the day.
Huddle while you work
The biggest difference between the college and club level, the haves and have nots, is the ability to make adjustments on the fly. The middle portion of this practice was no different. As Ironside began to implement new schemes (something called the Annexation of Puerto Rico), tweaks and changes were made on the fly. After every single point in this portion, both scrimmage teams took considerable time to huddle and talk about adjustments. It was slow going at first, but it took effect very quickly into the session. This is where the coaches were the most valuable, correcting positioning and talking about decisions make on prior possessions.
Competition Competition Competition… Drill
The most exciting part of the session was watching Ironside players pair up and cut deep against one another. Stubbs got the best of Neff deep, and there was no shortage of physicality. Still, players only got so many repetitions. I have to wonder if it’s practice that makes these players this good. Even with two four hour practices on the weekend, and only so many tournaments, there’s not a lot of time left for these players to develop their skills. A lot of individual talent is grown outside of this time. There’s only so much time available and that is used to used develop cohesiveness as a team.
A new Ironside defense was featured on the weekend; we can’t talk about it, but it involves Muffin with a megaphone.
Practice ended with a short scrimmage, and then the players huddled to discuss the day’s events. Like every other team I’ve been a part of or observed, the discussions were the same: how do we bring the energy up? How do we maintain focus? Russell Wallack said it best,”The two times I got roasted I had a lapse.. lets recognize when we have a lapse, admit it, and pick each other back up.” Even after all of the high level schemes, the adjustments, the talk at the end of the practice was about coming prepared to work. Having difficulties with your team about focus? Maybe this might help with the frustration, as it is a concern everywhere.
Big thanks to Ironside and Coach Josh McCarthy for the inside look.
Contending for the Championship
As we head into the series, with the strength bids sewn up and regionals in several weeks, lets take a look at the contenders as they stand right now:
The Favorite: Ironside
Ironside has suffered one loss on the regular season, their first game at Emerald City Classic against Rhino on universe. Since then, their offense has been on a tear, suffering only five breaks the rest of ECC, and routing competition at the Chesapeake Invite.
Why they Will Win - It’s their year
Continuity is such a big part of the sport, and that’s what Ironside has right now. 2011 represented a year of transition, with twelve new players coming in. 2012 has kept the offensive line intact with the exception of Alex Cooper. Colin Mahoney didn’t play until the series in 2011, but has been playing with the team throughout this season.
George Stubbs is just entering into his prime years as a player, and there are no signs of stopping. Even without Stubbs at ECC, Ironside looked great. There are also other studs with Peter Prial on the offensive line and Will Neff heading up the defensive line.
Ironside has picked up several players who can help out in very specific situations. Miles Montgomery Butler, formerly of Bohdi, has filled in well on the defensive side. Alex Cooper helps the offense fight against zones. Rusty Ingold-Smith, who on most other teams is not a role player, can now fill in on the defense. Most importantly, everyone is healthy right now. Stubbs was out with a shoulder injury in 2010 and Wallack in 2011. There are no holes in Ironside’s game, and it will stay that way if everyone stays healthy.
Why they won’t win
The little things matter, especially in big games. There are still signs that Ironside is winning on pure talent, with miscommunications on defense or drops that receivers should come up with still happening. Those small mistakes make a big difference in games where they are facing top competition.
Haven’t been challenged since early August at ECC. Ironside has been far and away above competition that they haven’t been truly challenged. With GOAT beating Chain Lightning in the semifinals of Chesapeake Invite, Boston didn’t get to face anyone they couldn’t roll. Labor Day would have featured a higher level of competition as teams tune up for the series. They won’t face anyone that will test them until Power Pools at Sarasota.
The Defending Champion – Revolver
Revolver stumbled a bit this regular season after a Worlds title. Three devastating losses leave us wondering if they will even be competitive. Okay, it was only three losses… but either way, this is looking like a down year for the defending two time national and two time world champion. They might just lose a title game for once.
Why They Will Win
They’ve been here before, and doubt only helps fuel the competitive fire that drives Revolver. In our last issue, we discussed how Revolver was intent on going into ECC cold without any practices to shock the system. Well the beast may have been awoken after a semifinal loss to Sockeye. If there’s an experience factor, Revolver has it. Their motto of intensity, humidity and discipline (IHD) has worked so well in the last four years that they’ve appeared in every meaningful final.
Robbie Cahill and Beau Kittredge are still some of the best players in the games. Some teams have told me that they just plain give up on assigning a tough defender to Cahill because they know he’s going to beat them. Kittredge is still the only one of his type of player in the game. Too fast to contain, Kittredge is nearly an automatic up the line goal near the end zone.
Emergence of Ashlin Joye and Cassidy Rasmussen, has been a big deal for Revolver’s offensive line. Both possess long flick hucks, and Joye has been the primary cutter charged with putting it deep off the first cut. Rasmussen is so squirrelly that he’s been changed from deep receiver to primary handler. He allows Cahill to roam around the field and makes the offense versatile.
Why they won’t win
Bart Watson leaving has left ripple effects across the team. He was such a prominent player across their runs, that replacing him on offense with Joye has left the holes elsewhere. While the offense looked on track at Labor Day, the defensive line has not been as dominant.
They aren’t getting any younger, and there has not been much new blood injected into the line up. We’re not saying that Revolver is full of old men, but that with the hole left by Watson, there aren’t as many young up-and-comers playing roles.
Health is a concern, with Mac Taylor injuring his knee at Worlds. There have been others affected as well: Nick Schlag, Nick Chapman, and Tom James have either been nursing injuries or sidelined during games.
The Fans Choice: Doublewide
Doublewide captured the nation’s attention early with pickups of Kiran Thomas (Chain Lightning), Tim Gehret (Sockeye), and even Cole Sullivan (Cash Crop). They were impressive without superstars Brodie Smith and Kurt Gibson throughout the regular season. After two years of semifinal finishes, people are wondering if this is their year.
Why they will win
Their pickups have been huge, helping them run the show without Gibson and Smith. Tim Gehret has lead the defensive line, helping generate breaks. Kiran Thomas has made the offense run like clock work, becoming the primary cutter of the offense. Even Sullivan has been a weapon, causing defenders to duck for his tennis like backhand huck.
Their average height is just under 6’3”, with players like Jake Anderson, Mike Nattenburg, and Kevin Richardson. Doublewide can simply utilize their height for 50-50s and match-up against anyone of size. When Smith and Gibson step on the field, as an opponent you have to decide who is going to guard who. Let’s also not forget about Will Driscoll, standing at 6’3” and just returning from the NexGen tour.
Gibson and Smith should be healthy by nationals. Both of these players are complete game changers. With Doublewide already looking like a contender without them, the talent level on this team may be the best in the country. We can’t forget that a healthy Stephen Presley hasn’t been seen in a long time, and he could also be a difference maker.
Why They Won’t Win
Chemistry will be a concern as Nationals rolls around. Gibson and Smith have not played at full strength with the team. Smith historically has gotten the disc at every other throw, and this would be vastly different than what we’ve seen from their offense this year. While there are tons of great players on the team, we have to wonder if there’s room enough to fit everyone on the field. What happens to Thomas’ and Driscoll’s roles when Smith returns?
Past systems have been simplistic, often revolving around giving touches to the best players. It’s worked in college with the Florida system, but as seemed to degrade when they’ve run into teams with enough talent level to compete. If Doublewide simply tries to match-up their best players with other team’s best players, things won’t be as easy once they reach the semi-final round.
The Rebound – Seattle Sockeye
Sockeye came out with a renewed sense of identity after not qualifying for Nationals this past season. They utilized their small ball mentality to take down everyone they faced at Labor Day.
Why they will win
Their chemistry is un-paralleled as Sockeye’s offense requires precise timing and movement. Sockeye’s offense has scored quickly and efficiently making it tough on opposing defenses. As we’ve mentioned in past issues, they have the opportunity to practice during the week. Sockeye is already showing what they can all do when on the same page.
The Sockeye zone blitz is one of the more creative defenses in the game. It helps disrupt other team’s normal offense and force them to be patient. Seattle is one of the few teams that will welcome bad weather come Sarasota, giving them more opportunity for coverage sacks.
Their young talent is up and coming, with Simon Montague, Matt Rehder, BJ Sefton and Phil Murray. These guys are going to be hitting their prime in a few years, but are already making big play after big play. We can’t forget about Nate Castine whose still on the young side, and Reid Koss breaking out as a defensive player.
Why they won’t win
Overall, their talent level isn’t the same as other teams. While they’ve done a good job of maximizing their strategy with their personnel, in pressure situations a team like Ironside will be able to slow down their fast moving offense.
Their average height is 5’11, which leads us to more questions about defending the deep pass. If it comes down to man to man, need-to-get-the-block-to-win-the-game type of defense, Sockeye is not the team to pick. They’ll have to find ways to be creative early and have the offense hold on late, but this doesn’t look like a come from behind team.
They have old and young, but not too many players in between. Other teams are relying on players that are within 25-30 years old, but Sockeye has both the young inexperienced talent, and the old experience that’s still effective, but past their prime.
The surprise – Johnny Bravo
Johnny Bravo surprised everyone at U.S. Open by upsetting Chain Lightning and dominating everyone else. They have only have two losses, both to Sockeye on the season, but the jury is still out on where they finish.
Why they will win
They have the athletic talent to hang with anyone. When Revolver was nearly unstoppable in the last few seasons, Bravo was one of the only teams to give them tough games and hand them a loss in 2010. Jake Juzsak and Austin Gregerson have been stout on defense. There are also plenty of former and current Colorado Mamabird players running around.
Height is also a strength, as they are full of players hitting the 6’2” mark. Ethan Pollock is a 6’6” threat on offense with lanky arms to make big plays. Hylke Sneider will also be on the defensive side for the series as 6’4”. This leaves few matchup problems for the entire squad.
Why they won’t win
Their offense is still not efficient enough, even though it is much improved from last year. Too many times Bravo has relied on its athleticism to win games. While it’s a great option against lesser teams, it doesn’t always pan out late in a tournament.
They can’t handle small ball, as it’s shown from their two losses against Sockeye. A small, agile, and fast moving offense will tear them to shreds as the defense is built to handle the long deep shots. Teams that are versatile should keep the disc moving and their defense on its toes.
Dangerous every game – Chain Lightning
Chain Lightning has had a sub par regular season, losing to Johnny Bravo at the U.S. Open, GOAT at Chesapeake Invite, and finishing third in their pool at Labor Day. They still possess the big throwers and athleticism that’s made them dangerous over the past few years.
Why they will win
They will out huck any team they come across. Chain Lightning loves the long ball, and will send it almost every time they get the chance. Dylan Tunnell, Nick Lance, and Jolian Dahl can bomb it while Frank Wooten, Jared Inselmann and others can rip it out of the sky.
Speed kills, especially with Asa Wilson running all over the field. Lance is also one of the hardest players to shut down, while there are a handful of other really fast players running around at all times. If the huck isn’t an option, then the big gainer underneath is.
Why they won’t win
Consistency has been a problem, as one game they’re hitting on everything and the next nothing is working. That’s part of the problem on relying on the huck. If a team can disrupt your timing, or a few passes don’t fall, confidence can be lost quickly. Elite defenses will capitalize on turnovers.
No signature wins is a bad sign, as Chain hasn’t beaten anyone at the top. In the same vein, they’ve also lost to GOAT, giving up a big lead at Chesapeake Invite. We’re talking about beating the top five teams in power pools, and the throughout the bracket at Sarasota. This regular season just hasn’t been up to snuff.
This of course assumes that no one else will be challenging for the title. While there are certainly spoilers in the mix, I don’t think anyone else outside of this list will have much of a shot.
Tune in next week for my week off.. maybe. We’ll see if TMS will have enough material to send your way.