2015 Play of the Week – Week 4

Game: Rams at Cardinals

Play: Having a ‘Welcome to the NFL, Todd Gurley’ Party

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

You all know I have no apprehension with venturing off of the normal routine and bucking any previously-set trend. Thus, as I have done here before, I am going to do something a little different with this week’s selected recipient of the top Movement Play of Week 4.  And besides, if you don’t like it, may I remind you that it’s my blog and I can do what I want to.

If you have spent any time reading my blog, you know me and my obsession with studying the movement skills & patterns exhibited by guys who play the Running Back position at a high-level. Thus, a number of people have reached out to me regarding the St. Louis Ram rookie RB, Todd Gurley, and his break-out performance this past Sunday even when matched up against one of the nastiest & most athletic defenses in the League.

Some NFL Scouts have compared Gurley in ways to Adrian Peterson. However, knowing full well that AD-28 is a once in a generation type player, I am not quite ready to anoint Gurley at this point. Additionally, I don’t really see/understand the comparison as every player deserves to stand on their own two feet and merits of the individualistic ways that they move. That all said though I am not beyond giving him props for the notice that he served to the entire NFL this past weekend. Thus, today I won’t be breaking down just one singular play from him…instead, I want to offer you insight regarding what I saw from him on Sunday throughout the numerous highlights he put on film.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

So, where do I begin?

Well, I guess let’s start with the obvious quality that allowed Todd Gurley to make such a special impression on Sunday. People are likely thinking to themselves right now…ooh, maybe his explosiveness…his power…his agility? Nope, none of the above (at least not yet).

Instead, it was the uniqueness of his feel, awareness, and instinct for the game that stood out to me and helped him do what he did. These are all qualities that many will throw out there characterizing a guy who “just gets it.” At times, this ‘feel’ is something that I do believe is a teachable quality but it only develops under the right conditions and with the right circumstances.

TG seems to have more of it especially to be this apparent in what is his first real live NFL action…his time throughout Training Camp doesn’t really count (b/c there are so many guys not going at the speeds that occur on an NFL regular season Sunday). Additionally, last week and the first half of this game doesn’t really count too much either being that he didn’t have a preseason.

However, these factors serve to point to how quickly he has adapted in positive ways to understand his body’s current affordances for action; where he needs to go and how he needs to go there. And he was doing just that throughout the second half on Sunday in a very fluid, quick decision-making fashion.

Gurley pic 7

To piggyback on this, another quality that TG put on display was his vision and information-coupling. Many rookies (at any position) are still processing so much due to the increases in both the speed and complexity of the game. Because of this, they often don’t trust what their eyes see and become indecisive as a by-product. This ability is subtle only in the way that it takes place in such a short period of time and is often missed by many on-lookers. But when you watch football in a frame-by-frame fashion it becomes easy to pick out. Either way, Gurley is exceptional at reading, recognizing, and reacting effectively. Granted, the Rams offensive line was pretty stout in that second half of that game, as well…but, Gurley still has to make the right call and hit the spots.

Gurley pic 9

After going through more of these sensory & perceptual-based qualities that often go un-noticed and thus, under-appreciated, it is now time to talk about the thing that even the most relaxed of fan can pick-up on: Gurley’s straight-line speed & ability to display this explosiveness in a hurry. For such a big dude (6’1 and 230lb), he displays rare speed mechanics and physical qualities that allow for both short distance acceleration as well as very good mid-range fluidness. You can see both of these anytime he got even a hint of green real estate in front of him. He sees it, he hits the gas, and he gets to the point. It’s as simple as that. And this would be the one area where the AD-28 comparison may have stemmed from. However, even in the exact movement mechanics in getting there (not to mention anthropometric features), the two players execute in very different fashions (different movement signatures in those respective movement solutions).

If there is one area that I will remain critical of (at least for now) are in Gurley’s agility movement tendencies. This includes both his agility movement strategies (i.e. the patterns he chooses to employ and at what time) as well as his change of direction biomechanics (the efficiency level of the actual body within the displayed movement pattern)…when he has to react to an opponent stimulus and environmental change.

From what I saw, even in college, because of his unique linear explosiveness, he never really was forced to develop biomechanics of a sharper/slicing nature with a lower center of gravity in deceleration or cutting actions. That all said though, he now seems to be relying even more on that straight-line speed and positioning himself higher in cuts and/or relying on setting guys up 5-7 yards away from them (this can be an advantage in some situations and a detriment in others).

St Louis Rams v Arizona Cardinals

Either way, a unilateral speed crossover cut is more likely to emerge and that is exactly what you see occurring for him right now as you watch the highlights below…even in times/situations when he’s in open space and should set guys up even more OR when he’s in more confined space and he should execute an outside leg plant/inside leg reacceleration with greater sit/dip/drive (with wider base of support or lower center of gravity).

Gurley pic 2

However, it should be noted that this same criticism came from me with other guys who’ve gone through similar injuries such as the aforementioned AD-28…it also happened with Jamaal Charles (who was my most masterful mover at this position last year)…and it has happened with every RB who’s ever dealt with any kind of major joint reconstruction before.

Through this process, the body begins to attune itself to what it’s capable of, and in turn, compensations develop (whether these compensations are in movement strategy or in the accompanying biomechanics)…they have to in order for the athlete to work himself through the process and get back to being comfortable (it’s a sort of ‘functional movement variability’). However, if we throw the fact that this is Gurley’s initial introduction to NFL-level chaos into the mix, then what he showed us on Sunday is that much more impressive and once again proves that the top movers in the NFL (especially at the RB position) are most often times just the world’s best movement compensators.

What should happen over time for him (we are talking through the course of the season and probably a whole additional offseason of training in the right ways as well), is he will start to get more confident and comfortable utilizing biomechanics that are more advantageous and more diversified (rather than just the higher COG/speed crossover cutting action) which will allow him to grow and be more effective as he also begins to become more accustomed to the typical motor problems that are present at the NFL level (i.e. where guys are at, how fast they’ve gotten there, what they plan to do, etc).

Thus, I would say that as long as the development continues to occur and he acquires & accounts for the most optimal movement solutions & strategies, the future is in fact bright for Todd Gurley and not so bright for the rest of the NFC West who will have to contend with him 2 times a year.

So, it’s not one move, or even one play…but a group of plays from a guy the NFL will likely see much more from in the future. Check it out:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/st-louis-rams/0ap3000000549940/Todd-Gurley-highlights

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