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Saban saved Miami football

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Michael from Jacksonville:
I believe in the whole BAP thing but what do you think about this: Continue with the BAP philosophy, minus quarterback?

Vic: I think it's a plausible concept and I mildly condoned it a few years ago because the quarterback position is unique in that it involves a major investment of money and time, and because it's the only position at which you have only one guy on the field. For example, offensive linemen are interchangeable, you always need two running backs, two tight ends are used on a lot of plays, etc., but if you're the number two quarterback, the hope is that you'll never play. Look at how little playing time Cleo Lemon got last year. If a team used the BAP philosophy at all positions other than for quarterback, I'd be OK with it, but you'd still be opening yourself up to regret because when you pass on a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback, he not only doesn't play for you, but you have to play against him.

Leo from Gilbert, AZ:
I'm curious, what is the best memory you have of Earl Campbell?

Vic: I have a few but the one that sticks out is something Jack Lambert said following a Monday night game in Campbell's rookie year that was the first time Lambert played against Campbell. After the game Lambert was asked to give his impression of Campbell and Lambert's words were dripping with sarcasm when he said he was delighted at the prospect of playing against that (expletive deleted) twice a year for the rest of his career. As it turned out, Lambert was off by one game a year in each of the next two years. In those days, big, punishing running backs were feared by middle linebackers because they knew they were going to have to spend most of the game ramming into him. The big, punishing back of those days isn't as much a part of today's game. It's just a different game.

Josh from Jacksonville:
I read your column all the time and I respect your comments, I just feel like a lot of people need to understand that these big-name players are the ones who boost the fans the best; the T.O. and Chad Johnson's of the league. Yeah, their attitudes stink but they get all the ESPN time while the no-names of the Jaguars get 10 seconds out of an hour on "SportsCenter." You guys need to wake up and realize that until we start getting some players who are known nationwide for things good or bad, we will always be a small-market team that big-name players don't even want to play for because people will forget about them here.

Vic: You are a member of the "SportsCenter" culture and there are a lot of you. It is a culture that seeks attention, even if it's for the wrong reasons. It's an intriguing mindset. I'd love to know what a psychologist would say about it. I am not part of that culture. I would rather win on PBS than lose on ESPN.

Lawrence from Omaha, NE:
How many players do the Jaguars have under contract right now and what is the limit they can carry into training camp?

Vic: The Jaguars currently have 64 players under contract and may take 80 to training camp.

Chris from Clarks Summit, PA:
Am I correct in saying football contracts don't work the same way as contracts in other sports? If you sign a contract worth $100 million, isn't $100 million guaranteed?

Vic: Most NFL contracts guarantee only a portion of the money in them. Signing bonus is guaranteed. A portion of a player's salary may be designated as such. By and large, however, teams try to keep guaranteed money to a minimum. A contract could reach $100 million in total worth, but it's likely that only a fraction of that amount is guaranteed.

Franchot from St. Augustine, FL:
I have to disagree with you. I believe the game of Madden has served a greater purpose than you think. You probably don't know this but Amobi Okoye from the Houston Texans was a senior in high school when the coach of the football team approached him. It turns out that Amobi did not even know what football was, so the coach gave him a video game console and bought him Madden. He said, "This would be the best way for you to learn the game." You don't believe me?

Vic: I'll take your word for it, but did Madden teach Okoye what it's like to feel a wave of pain go down his arm and then stay in the game and make the next tackle? I once read a story of Vince Lombardi having his teeth knocked out in a game when he was one of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" at Fordham, and then brushing his teeth away from the ground so he could put his hand down and make the stop on a fourth-down goal-line play. Would Lombardi have learned that from Madden? Madden can teach you the strategy of football, but it can't teach you courage. It can't teach you how to overcome pain or fear. Is there a button on that game that tells you what it's like to hear the quarterback call your number on the goal line, or creates the anxiety of having to go over the middle against the most fearsome safety you have ever seen? Can Madden teach you what it's like to run the gauntlet in practice, feel your lungs burning in wind sprints or getting ripped by your coach in a film session? Is there a button for learning to overcome your humiliation and regain your dignity? Football has to be played to be understood. It's not a game of strategy. It's a game of courage. Anybody can play Madden, but only a few can play football. In my opinion, you have to have played the game to be able to relate to the players you coach. You have to know what they're thinking and feeling and you can only know that by having thought it and felt it yourself. If you're playing Madden, you're playing a video game, not football. As far as I know, the game has never knocked anyone down, and if you're not getting knocked down, you're not playing football. You don't believe me?

Cory from Jacksonville:
I was watching the Jags' playoff game against the Steelers and I couldn't help but notice how confident Garrard looked, not only throwing the ball but in decision-making and even scrambling. Do you think he will have to regain his confidence in order to reach his 2007 form, or is he just going to learn from the '08 mistakes and be a more cautious quarterback?

Vic: I think he will have to regain his offensive line. Surely you noticed how confident his offensive line was in that game, right?

Bob from Neptune Beach, FL:
Do the rule changes give southern and indoor teams an advantage over outdoor northern teams?

Vic: That's a logical assumption but I don't think it'll be that way. The days of northern teams beating you in the cold with a running game are over. There's no getting away from it nowadays; you must have a top quarterback and passing game to win in the postseason. I think we saw that last season. What did the Titans' running game do for them? The Ravens were without hope in the AFC title game because they just couldn't keep up with Ben Roethlisberger. The Cardinals, of course, rode a red-hot passing game. I just think it's understood that the major point of emphasis of a few years ago began a trend of greater importance in the passing game that no coach can truthfully deny, and they all know the importance of throwing the football is only going to increase as the league continues to favor player safety and scoring points.

Dave from Snellville, GA:
Which teams are currently best able to exploit the new rules with their current QB and backs/receivers?

Vic: When I spoke of rules changes, I wasn't speaking of the specifics of those changes. I was speaking mostly of the tenor and the message that accompanies those rules changes. The league is in a big player-safety kick and we will probably continue to see changes along those lines on an annual basis. All you have to do is look at the league averages of the past 5-10 years. Pass attempts are up, yardage is up, points are up and records are falling. We are living in the golden age of offense and that's not about to abate. The teams that are positioned to take best advantage of this trend are the teams with the best quarterbacks. It's just that simple. The Patriots have Tom Brady, the Steelers have Roethlisberger, the Colts have Peyton Manning and the Falcons have Matt Ryan. Those teams are clearly positioned well. Go through the league's quarterbacks, pick the ones you like and those are the teams that are poised to take advantage of the trend toward more offense. In my opinion, 2009 might produce the greatest avalanche of scoring since the AFL in the 1960's.

Olly from Oxford, England:
You always talk about incidents like the one that ended Darryl Stingley's career with sympathy and respect. Surely, protecting the health, and maybe even the lives of these players, can only be a good thing?

Vic: Absolutely it's a good thing. It has to be done. As I said yesterday, the game has changed. The passing game creates violent collisions and if the league is going to promote the passing game, which it has and will continue to do, it must adopt rules that protect defenseless receivers. Of course, if you're going to protect offensive players, you are morally obligated to do the same for defensive players. I offered no dissent in yesterday's editorial. I merely offered an opinion of what I think the result of this increased awareness for player safety will have on the way the game is played.

David from Jacksonville:
What does "Narodzenia" mean? An article entitled "Well-traveled former AFL and NFL coach Saban dies at age 87" shows a picture of Lou Saban, Pete Gogolak, Jack Kemp and Wray Carlton posing for a picture. In the background is the word "Narodzenia" on the chalkboard. Any idea what it means?

Vic: When I first read your e-mail, I thought to myself, "I've seen that word before." Then I remembered. I grew up in a neighborhood with a dense Polish population and I remember seeing that word on a sign outside a Polish-rite Catholic church. It means happy holidays or Merry Christmas or something like that. Well, Saban was of Croatian descent and he may have had some Polish influence in his young life and Buffalo has a large Polish population, so my guess is the picture was taken at Christmas time and that Saban or an assistant coach of Polish descent wrote that on the chalkboard. Hey, that's just a guess. By the way, I read an account of Saban's recruitment of Jim Kelly and it's a cool story. Saban went into the family's kitchen, tucked a towel into his pants to serve as an apron and started cooking. Getting Kelly to go to Miami saved a dying program and Saban explained to Kelly that the situation was desperate. It sure didn't stay that way for long. You might say the re-birth of Miami football was conceived in the Kelly family's kitchen that night. Saban's coaching career is a great read.

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