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        Beyond The Ball — nfl

        The Anatomy of a 53-Man Roster in the NFL

        The Anatomy of a 53-Man Roster in the NFL

        There are so many ways to break down how NFL teams build their roster. Some teams build with youth while others collect veteran players. While no one formula for stacking an NFL roster is iron-clad, one rule in the NFL is: Teams are only allowed to have 53 players on their active roster. Of these 53, only 46 players can dress out for the actual game.

        Baseball has sabermetrics, but football coaches and front offices have had to deal with formulas for years. How to decide who to play week in and week out is a math problem in itself. Depending on who is injured in any one week plays a huge part in who is on the 53-man roster let alone the 46-man roster.

        Each week in the NFL, you may see a transaction of a practice squad player (each team can have eight players on a practice squad each week) activated to the 46-man roster just for one game due to injuries at his particular position. Then on Tuesday, he is released from his contract in hopes that he clears waivers to go back to the practice squad. The behind-the-scenes action that takes place in a typical NFL franchise on a daily basis makes for great drama.

        Having a simple understanding of how a 53-man roster is massaged each week will help you understand the offseason plan most teams use to build the roster heading into the season.

        Each club is different and how many players are kept at each position depends on the type of offense and defense each team plays. If a club plays a 3-4 base defense, the team will keep more linebackers than defensive linemen. If a team does not have a strong-legged kicker, that club may keep two kickers on the roster. One player for field goals and the other to kick the football off.

        A majority of these decisions are made in July and August before any real football is played. But every preseason, players rise to the forefront and make coaches and personnel change their minds. For this article, I will break down a team that uses a base offense and 4-3 base defense. I will also use the premise of one kicker, one punter and one long-snapper.

        Quarterbacks (2)

        The hot trend the past couple of years in the NFL is to only dress two quarterbacks on game day. With most teams employing a wide receiver or running back to serve as the emergency third quarterback, there is no reason to dress more than two quarterbacks.

        Now this number could jump to three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster if the third quarterback is a young talent the team is trying to hide from other teams or develop.

        Teams may also keep three quarterbacks on the roster if the first two quarterbacks are injured or injury-prone.

        Running backs (4)

        With the NFL becoming a passing league, most teams still keep four backs on the 53-man roster due to injury history at the position. Most NFL teams employ a backfield by committee approach and most teams include a fullback in this number.

        Special teams play a huge role in this number as well. Most running backs have speed and can be a force on special teams.

        One of the best in the NFL is Jacksonville Jaguars running back Montell Owens. Though he is listed as a fullback now that Greg Jones has departed, Owens was seen as a special teams demon and Pro Bowl player. This increases his value and keeps him active on game day.

        If a team like Jacksonville dresses a fullback for the game, it will probably dress three other running backs as well. The starter, the primary backup and a special teams player should all dress on game day.

        Wide Receivers (6)

        Most teams will keep six wide receivers on the active roster but will only dress five for the game unless the sixth player is a warrior on special teams. This allows the coaching staff to line up in four-wide formations without losing speed or talent.

        Normally the top four wideouts will not play on special teams unless they are a returner like Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones. Rarely is one of the team’s top three wide receivers also the primary returner. That role is typically held by the fourth wide receiver or another position.

        The sixth wide receiver on the roster will normally be inactive on game day and is either a talent the team wants to work with in the future or a high draft selection that needs work at the NFL level. Think of San Francisco wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

        Tight Ends (3)

        Unless you are the Green Bay Packers, who at one point had five tight ends on the 53-man roster in 2011, most teams will keep three active tight ends. The typical breakdown is the starter, who is a threat in all phases of the game. The backup is usually a blocking tight end who is not much of a threat in the passing game. The third tight end is a hybrid type who can also help on special teams.

        Almost always are all three players active on game day, and both the backup and third tight end will be expected to contribute on special teams. Some teams will keep four tight ends active if they do not incorporate a full back in their offense. Most NFL teams will keep a tight end on the practice squad to activate for game day in case of injury.

        Offensive linemen (9)

        This is the position that causes coaches and personnel men to lie awake at night. Most teams would love to keep 10 offensive linemen on the active roster because they are so hard to find on the street. Coaches and personnel will fight over how many offensive linemen to dress on game day. Can the backup offensive guard play center if called upon? Can the starting right tackle kick over and play left tackle in case of injury in the game?

        Having versatile linemen on the roster is the key for successful teams. If a club can get away with dressing only seven offensive linemen like the Pittsburgh Steelers did at times in 2012, that allows the team to dress more players at other positions. Even if a team dresses eight players for game day, most personnel men would love to have a total of 10 players on the active 53-man roster due to the lack of depth at the position league-wide. Every general manager wants to have two developmental types for the coming years on the roster.

        Offensive side of the football: (24 total players on 53-man roster, game-day roster 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 7 OLs, 3 TEs, 5 WRs = 21)

        Defensive linemen (9)

        Again, I am writing this as if I am the general manager of a 4-3 base defense team.

        This would be seven or eight players if the base front was a 3-4. Most teams will keep a two-deep roster on the defensive front with a young developmental player in the ninth spot. Some teams will keep a “designated pass-rusher” on the roster and will dress them on game day. Most NFL teams dress eight players for the game. Again, this can change based on injury.

        Some NFL teams may keep six defensive ends and only three defensive tackles if they have a versatile backup. Also, with so much passing taking place in the NFL, some teams will use defensive ends as interior pass-rushers in obvious passing downs. This eliminates the need for an extra run-stopping defensive tackle.

        Linebacker (7)

        The core of an NFL team’s special teams unit comes from this position. Most teams will only play three linebackers in a game, and with the explosion of the NFL passing attacks, the strong-side linebacker is rarely used on passing downs. Most teams use the fourth linebacker as the “nickel” linebacker in passing situations.

        Some teams employ a hybrid safety/linebacker in passing situations to counter teams like the New England Patriots’ tight ends and players of their ilk. Unless the linebacker is a dominant force like San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis or Kansas City Chiefs' Derrick Johnson, even starting linebackers will be asked to play on special teams coverage units. That is why most NFL teams will keep and dress seven linebackers.

        Defensive backs (10)

        Most teams will only dress eight on game day but may dress nine defensive backs if they only activate six linebackers for the game. Most NFL teams will build their roster with four starting-type cornerbacks. Almost every week, all four will be activated for the game. Add in the starting safeties and that leaves four total roster spots. Depending on the type of defense that is being employed, some general managers may keep three cornerbacks on the roster and one extra safety.

        If the team likes to use a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, four total safeties will be kept on the team. The fourth and fifth cornerbacks better be great jammers and gunners on the punt and punt return teams. The backup safeties will be staples on all the coverage units. Most teams want to ease young safeties into action, but they can get a feel for the speed of the NFL by being warriors on special teams.

        Defensive side of the football: (26 total players on 53-man roster, game-day roster 8 DLs, 7 LBs, 7 DBs = 22)

        Add in the one kicker, the punter and the long-snapper and the 53-man roster is built.

        There are so many variables that go into this equation but this is a solid example of what coaches and front-office personnel do all year round. They are continually tweaking the roster not only for salary cap issues but for quality depth and ability of all the players.

        Marc Lillibridge is a former NFL linebacker who scouted for six years in the NFL following his retirement. He is now a certified NFLPA contract advisor for www.profootballsyndicate.com.

        Original Article By: MARC LILLIBRIDGE

        Auclair’s Bucs Training Camp Diary: There Is No Pressure

        Auclair’s Bucs Training Camp Diary: There Is No Pressure

        Tampa Bay rookie tight end Antony Auclair was one of the most sought after undrafted free agents by Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht. In fact, the Bucs had a draftable grade on Auclair and were thrilled when he signed with the team because they wanted another “F” tight end – a tight end that could block and catch as opposed to a “Y” tight end like Cameron Brate, who is primarily a receiving tight end. Dirk Koetter’s offense features two- and three-tight end sets quite often, and with veteran Luke Stocker, who is 29, entering his seventh season in the league, finding two tight ends that could block was crucial for the future of the position, which is why Auclair, who is very physical blocker, was signed even though the Bucs spent a first-round pick on tight end O.J. Howard.

        Auclair, who has a thick French-Canadian accent, isn’t your typical tight end. He hails from Notre-Dame-des-Pins in Québec, Canada where he played at Laval Université where he caught 17 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Auclair had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown in Laval’s 31-26 win over Calgary in the Vanier Cup, which is the equivalent of the National Championship Game in American college football. While he was ranked as the second overall pick in the Canadian Football League, Auclair always had his sights set on playing in the National Football League.

        The Bucs were one of many teams to travel to Canada for his pro day after he opened a lot of eyes at the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. in mid-January. Despite a hamstring injury, Auclair ran a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 22 times. Now that he’s in Tampa, Auclair has the challenge of quickly learning the game of American football and fighting for a roster spot with Alan Cross and Tevin Westbrook behind Brate, Howard and Stocker on the depth chart. Follow Auclair’s journey into NFL football in Tampa Bay in his Training Camp Diary exclusively on PewterReport.com – and learn to speak French-Canadian, too.

        There Is No Pressure
        By Antony Auclair as told to Scott Reynolds
        I’ve played in two preseason games now and it was an awesome feeling going out for my first preseason game. I was on the opening kickoff in Cincinnati, so I got to play on the first play of the game, which was great. I was a little bit anxious, but I feel like I had a great game. I actually think I played better in that game than I did last week in Jacksonville. Blocking-wise I was better in Cincinnati. I did a good job in Jacksonville, but sometimes my angles in that game weren’t as good as they were in the first game.

        On a third-and-short play against Jacksonville I took a bad angle and missed my block. I think my guy made the tackle, but you have to move on to the next play. That’s how it is. You have to forget the last play and move on, which I did. We went for it on fourth down and I had a much better block and we made the first down.

        I did make my first catch in Jacksonville, which was really cool. It was third-and-9 – a pressure play, and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a low ball and I made a nice catch for nine yards and the first down. I was really happy about that. My game wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t as good as the first one. I had a bad taste in my mouth after our last game.

        My roommate, Sefo Liufau, is now getting some playing time with the unfortunate injury to our backup quarterback Ryan Griffin. That’s how this game is. The next has to step up and he’s doing really well. He didn’t have many reps in practice at all and then in comes into the Cincinnati game and balls out. He’s doing great and I’m happy for him.

        I’m always working with Fitzpatrick on the second team and I think we are really connecting right now. We’re getting better together and I’m really excited about that.

        Everybody in our tight ends room is really good. I mean they are all good. It’s a good fighting group. Everybody competes hard and I can really learn from these guys. I have to compete every practice. It’s super competitive. With this heat, it’s really hard, but you have to grind every day. Training camp is a hard grind. I’m getting used to the heat, but sometimes it’s really hard to breathe. I’m glad we’re playing some night games in the preseason because this weather is crazy down here.

        I’m not really thinking about making the team. I’m focused on the next practice, the next game and always getting better. I always want to correct the things I did wrong and get better. I’m not thinking about making the team. I’m thinking about getting better.

        The fourth preseason game is where I will see a lot of action, but there’s no pressure on me. Football is fun. This game is fun and we play the game because we love it. There’s no pressure, just play and have fun.

        I really enjoy blocking and there’s only so much we can do in practice because it’s not like a game. I’m a physical player and a physical tight end and that shows up in the games. Where I have to improve is route running and I think I’m doing a better job at running my routes. I still have to get better, but I have to improve there. I also still need to work on my blocking, especially the right angles, which I didn’t do great in Jacksonville.

        The speed of our linebackers here in Tampa Bay is fast and I thought they might be the fastest, but I think everybody in the NFL has fast linebackers. The ‘backers in Jacksonville were also really fast. But going against our guys in practice is making me better on my cut-off blocks. They are fast, so I have to take better angles and that’s what I’m focused on.

        Our next preseason game is at home – finally – at Raymond James Stadium down the street. It’s going to be awesome. I’m looking forward to it playing at home, but I haven’t really thought about it until this week because I’m focused on the next practice. But it’s going to be great running out of our tunnel with our fans there.

        Auclair’s French-Canadian Phrase Of The Day
        I’m also going to teach you some French-Canadian in my Bucs Training Camp Diary on PewterReport.com. Here’s today’s phrase is “Où sont les toilettes s’il?” It’s a French way of saying, “Can you please tell me where the restroom is?” in English. After “What are we eating?” that’s the second-most important phrase!

        Original Article By: Scott Reynolds via Pewter Report

        Bucs' Antony Auclair turned heads long before singing 'O Canada'

        Bucs' Antony Auclair turned heads long before singing 'O Canada'

        TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie tight end Antony Auclair turned some heads on the first episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks" when he sang the Canadian national anthem for his teammates. 

        He caught head coach Dirk Koetter's eye long before that. 

        It was in January, at the East-West Shrine Game practices in St. Petersburg, not far from One Buc Place. Koetter saw a 6-foot-6, 256-pound prospect out of Laval Université, who was holding his own against far greater competition than he ever faced playing in Canada. 

        The Bucs had a goal of upgrading their "Y" tight end, a player responsible for run blocking and pass catching. It was a deep class of talented receiving tight ends, but they really wanted a player like O.J. Howard, who could do it all. They just didn’t think Howard would fall to them at No. 19. 

        Auclair fit the bill, however. The Bucs popped in some more tape on him and headed north for his pro day, along with 16 other NFL teams. They wound up signing him as an undrafted free agent. 

        "I’m very surprised that he wasn’t drafted," Koetter said. "We were excited about maybe drafting him in one of the later rounds. ... We feel like we got a real hidden gem, being able to get him as a free agent.” 

        Like Koetter, Auclair’s discovery of football came as a bit of a surprise. 

        “I think I was 12,” said Auclair in a thick French-Canadian accent. “I was watching a game with my dad [on TV]. I told him, ‘I want to play in this league,’ even though I had never played football before.” 

        When a lot of other youngsters in his hometown of Québec City were getting into hockey, Auclair wanted pigskin. 

        “I [was never] really a hockey fan,” Auclair said. “I don’t even know how to skate, to be honest with you.” 

        He chose Laval, a Canadian powerhouse that since 1996 has compiled a 127-36 record, with a 46-11 record in the postseason. The school also has nine Vanier Cups, the equivalent of the College Football Playoff National Championship. 

        Auclair's role there was as a "centre-arrière," much like that of a fullback. He caught 17 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns his senior year. In the 2016 Vanier Cup, he had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. 

        Canadian football rules are very different from American football. Unlike the 11-on-11 you see in the United States, Canadian teams play with 12 men on each side of the field. Those fields are 150 yards long and 65 yards wide. The distance goal-to-goal is 110 yards, with goal posts in the front of the end zone. 

        American football fields are 120 yards long, and 53.33 yards wide. The distance goal-to-goal is 100 yards, with goal posts in the back of the end zone. 

        In Canada, any number of offensive players can be sent in motion, whereas in the United States only one player is allowed and he can move laterally. 

        “Everyone’s set before the play. So it’s different,” Auclair said. “In Canada, we can move forward backward and sideways. Everyone can move so it’s a lot different.” 

        He has found that having sound technique -- a must in run-blocking and pass protection -- has helped make that transition easier. 

        “At the end of the day, football is football,” Auclair said. “So a power play would be a power play and a lead play would be a lead play.” 

        Another adjustment he has had to make? The weather. The football season in Canada runs from mid-August through the end of November. By the season’s end, temperatures dip to an average high of 23 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of 8. 

        In Tampa, temperatures from May through September can hover in the high 80s to mid 90s. During training camp, it rains daily, making the air damp and heavy. The humidity feels like a trip to the steam room. 

        “We played in the snow in playoffs and stuff,” Auclair said. “It’s really hot down here. I pulled my hamstring [in organized team activities], a little tweak because I was dehydrated, so I’ve gotta get used to that weather of course.” 

        He has never had to weigh himself before or after a practice, but now he must in order to measure his hydration levels, as cramping is quite common in practices. 

        Things are getting easier for him, but he faces an uphill battle in a crowded tight-ends room. 

        Howard is stepping in right away to assume a starting role, while Cameron Brate, whose eight touchdowns were tied for the most in the league last year among tight ends, remains a favorite target of Jameis Winston

        Veteran Luke Stocker is considered the team’s best run blocker. Tevin Westbrook already spent two years in the league on practice squads for the Bucs and Titans, while Alan Cross saw action in 14 games last year and had a touchdown in Week 11. But Auclair's raw talent and potential is hard to overlook. It's not often a guy can stand eye-to-eye with Howard and still look imposing physically. 

        "That guy, to get him as a free agent is an unbelievable get for us," tight-ends coach Ben Steele said of Auclair. "We’re excited about his progress." 

        He also faces a statistical battle. 

        There are 16 Canadian-born players currently on active NFL rosters for 2017. Only five of them spent their college careers in Canada -- Auclair, Stefan Charles (University of Regina), Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff (McGill University), Brett Jones (Regina) and Jon Ryan (Regina). 

        While the changes may seem like a lot to get used to, and there are enormous sacrifices moving to a different country, it’ll be worth it in the end if he can make the Bucs’ 53-man roster. 

        “I would be the first guy from my school [to make an NFL roster]. I was the first guy to sign a contract,” Auclair said. “Obviously that’s the main goal. It would mean a lot to me.” 

        Important NFL Dates

        Important NFL Dates

        Ever wondered which were the most important NFL dates for personnel decisions? Have you thought about when teams are allowed to sign practice squad players, or when final cuts for the 53 man roster were? 

        Here are a few important NFL dates you'll need to know:

        1. September 2nd -- Final Cuts are due. Teams must reduce roster to 53 active players by 4:00pm EST. 
        2. September 3rd -- Teams are allowed to sign players to the practice squad. The practice squad consists of 10 players. 
        3. September 7th -- Football is back! Regular season begins. 
        4. December 1st -- NFL Teams are allowed to workout and sign CFL players with expired contracts. 
        5. January 6th -- Playoffs start with the Wild Card Games

         Check out this link below via NFL.com for the full list of important NFL dates: Full NFL Operations List of Dates