It's all about the role
RAND: It's all about the role
Jun 21, 2005, 4:29:31 AM by Jonathan Rand
I have no doubts that Az-Zahir Hakim has a better offer in New Orleans than he got from the Chiefs, whom he bolted after agreeing to a one-year contract. But I canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t imagine him getting a better opportunity to revive his career than he wouldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ve gotten with his old coach, Dick Vermeil.
In the ChiefsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ receiver-friendly attack, Hakim wouldÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ve been good for at least 25 catches, assuming heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s still a legitimate backup receiver. Who knows? Maybe heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d catch 35 or 40 balls and see his market value booming when he became a free agent again. Now, ex-Eagle Freddie Mitchell, who was signed to replace Hakim, will get that chance.
The idea here is not to knock or second-guess Hakim. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s to make the point that for many an NFL player, so much of his success depends upon his system and coaching. For the Pro Bowl player, it usually doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t matter. Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez or guard Will Shields would be a star in any system. But for the complementary players ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ and they far outnumber the stars ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ the surroundings and role can make or break a career.
Even Priest Holmes, whoÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s put together one of the best four-year stretches of any running back in NFL history, had been a been a backup in Baltimore when the Chiefs signed him in 2001. The Ravens, with Jamal Lewis starting, stressed a power running game and didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t ask Lewis to catch 70 passes. HolmesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ outside running and receiving skills have proved a lot more valuable to the Chiefs than the Ravens.
Though Holmes had one 1,000-yard rushing season under his belt, in 2001 he was still a backup trying to step into a starting role. The Chiefs were convinced he could do that.
Hakim convinced the Detroit Lions, who signed him as a pricey free agent in 2002, that he was ready to start and produce. HeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d looked good as a third receiver for four seasons in St. Louis and caught 53 passes in 2000, a year after Vermeil left. He was in a high-powered system, similar to the one the Chiefs run now. And he got to catch passes while secondaries had their hands full worrying about Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
When Hakim became a free agent, prospective suitors had to decide if he was ready to take the next step. Teams can get badly fooled trying to decide if a backup is ready to start or if a player who excels in a different system can succeed in theirs. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s what makes scouting college players, as well as NFL free agents, so challenging.
Hakim, only 5 feet, 10 and 185, had trouble staying healthy and didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t develop into a go-to receiver. It turned out that heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d been in a perfect spot in St. Louis. Any young backup player, of course, is going to believe heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s capable of bigger and better things. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s what former Chief Joe Horn believed and he was proven right.
Horn caught 35 passes for the Chiefs in 1999 but had just two starts in four years and when he signed as a free agent with the Saints. Though he upgraded the ChiefsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ depth at wide receiver, it was hard to see where theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d really miss him. Horn, of course, has turned into one of the NFLÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s top wide receivers.
Hakim wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t be another Horn. His niche appears as a third wide receiver, the spot heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s competing for in New Orleans. That doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t mean he canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t be useful there. A huge part of good coaching is putting a player in the role that fits him best and making sure he doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t get overused. Vermeil, for instance, has found he canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t stretch Dante Hall too thin.
Given HallÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s spectacular 2003 season, in which he caught 40 passes, rushed 16 times for 73 yards and returned four kicks for touchdowns, any coach would want to see if he was ready to start. Vermeil has found that Hall, whoÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s 5 feet, 8 and 187, is best kept fresh as a kick returner if heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s used as an extra wide receiver.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚ Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s hard for a guy to be a great kick returner and take 40 or 45 snaps,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? Vermeil said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚ Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s very hard. But we have no plans to diminish his role as a receiver.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬?
ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s truer than ever since Hakim flew the coop.
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