One of the things that I’ll be watching in 2016 really has nothing to do with the strategy or mechanics of football. There are always those immeasurable things that often factor into how an NFL team produces on the field. Things such as a coaches ability to mentor and motivate can give the team an edge over a coach that is good at strategy, but not so good at motivating his players.
In particular, I think it’s going to be interesting to see how Sam Shields develops as a leader on the defense.
I always find it strange to think of guys like Sam Shields as the elder statesman on the team (after all he’s only 28). Still, we have a very young defensive backfield that will be looking for leadership.
Sam has admitted that he’s not the vocal type of leader. That’s fine with me. I don’t think every leader is the in-your-face kind of leader that a Mike Daniels is. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t exhibit leadership qualities.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Of course when we think of non-vocal leaders, we tend to think of guys who let their play speak for itself. This is something Sam Shields does quite well (and Richard Sherman knows nothing about). He’s gone nose to nose with number one receivers and generally wins those battles.
What Al Harris was for the team for years, and what Tramon Williams was for many years, is what Sam Shields is to the Packers defense right now.
One of the keys in this area is going to be keeping healthy enough to stay on the field. I have little doubt that Sam will produce in grand fashion as he always has, but if he’s not on the field his leadership ability is inhibited. In particular, I’m concerned about the impact another concussion might have on the guy (and the team as a whole).
We hate for any player to get injured, but the Packers’ “Next Man Up” approach keeps the pipeline of talent as full of capable replacements as possible. But, when the guy that goes down is a guy that others look to for leadership, it can change the dynamic of the team.
The other area that I see a non-vocal leader shining is in the area of attitude. He’s not gonna be the guy that gets in the huddle and shouts and pumps up the team, but he can be the guy that shakes off of that bad play, gets back up, and focuses on doing it right next time.
This is especially important for some of the younger players on the team. They may not have been used to having big letdowns because, throughout their college career, the competition didn’t really challenged them a whole lot. When these younger players arrive the NFL and stack up against the competition it has an offer, inevitably they will have a let down here or there. There’s just no time for these letdowns to fester with a young player. You have to shake them off and move onto the next play.
Leaders are defined by whether or not people follow them. I think there’s little question, reflecting on last season, that the young defense of backs on the Green Bay Packers look up to Sam as a leader. I don’t think the young players will see Shields as the father figure whose advice they need to listen to. I expect that throughout his career he will always be more like the older brother that younger players want to both be like and please.