Learning the triangle read
USF had the centerpiece of the front page of the Sports section in Tuesday's Times, with a story that was originally pitched as a potential cover story for our preseason college football preview section, which comes out Friday. (We went with a quarterbacks story, but you'll have to wait for Friday to learn more ...)
The story started last year, when I had the chance to talk with Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks about USF linebackers coach Wally Burnham, who coached Brooks at Florida State. Brooks had such a respect for Burnham and especially for teaching him the "triangle read," a system that allows a linebacker (really anyone on defense) to read a play by looking at the guards and running back. These kinds of stories are tough, because you have to take something very visual and boil it down to words for readers. To help, I talked to a lot of former Burnham linebackers, like Brooks, Marvin Jones and even Kawika Mitchell, who didn't end up making it in the story.
Kawika was nice enough to call back after Chiefs practice on Monday, saying how the read system is even more complex in the NFL but that he's gotten a good grip on it now, integrating the opposing center into his reads as well. Mitchell said he's excited about USF's road game at Kansas because it coincides with the Chiefs' bye week, so he'll be able to watch his old team again. He also confirmed that he's one of the former players that coach Jim Leavitt has talked to about making a donation toward a new dining hall next to the athletic facility.
I'll say this about USF's current three linebackers: they're also very patient. They met me and Times photographer Daniel Wallace (that's his photo linked in this story) in a meeting room, posing in front of a dry-erase board with an illustration of a basic offensive set. A photo shoot requires a little bit of time -- I just had a new column sig photo taken at the Times, as my old one was from (gasp) 1999, and that took maybe five minutes. The linebackers gave us more like 20 minutes, from their lunch hour, no less, and the result was a cool shot that frames them in their own triangle, just as they are on the field.
I always like the little things you pick up in the background -- the names of defensive backs on the left side of the dry-erase board offer up a new nickname: senior Jeremy Burnett, a potential starter at strong safety, is revealed there as "Weezy." "Moving on up" is apropos for Burnett, who could be moving into a major role at a deep and competitive position ...
A word of warning about the depth chart USF released on Monday. Leavitt, not especially happy with the local media right now, told me to disregard the depth chart Monday night, saying "There's a lot of guys listed as starters that are wrong."
Which ones, coach?
"I ain't going to tell you. I'll wait til the end of the week."
I asked Leavitt if closing practice to the media was a permanant thing. "It was today," he said.
We don't normally do this, but I want to give kudos to the other paper for running Leavitt's initial postpractice interview -- all 26 seconds of it -- verbatim. It's a nice touch, does a good job of showing the relationship between coach and media and where it is right now. I still have a recording of a Leavitt gem from last year in two-a-days that was comparably long at 41 seconds. I'll have to find a way to post it online. You have to hear it to truly appreciate it -- a transcript doesnt' do it justice.
I'm off to the first game-week Tuesday press conference for Leavitt -- curious how his demeanor will be with TV cameras running on him. This whole media blockade could easily blow over in a short amount of time ... or could last all year.