Late entry

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Okko Outinen
Aleksi Aitala

LATE ENTRY D-line players #70 Aleksi Aitala, #90 Okko Outinen, Team Finland

The subject

The aim of this writing is not to boast on a single victory or to discuss football X and O in general.

More than anything else, this writing is aimed to encourage players and coaches to recruit new players, ready made adult or near adult athletes, into the game of football and maybe to start a discussion in coaches’community on how to best get this kind of players to perform at the level they are physically capable of as fast as possible.

On the film examples: When someone on the field wins, someone else loses. The highlight-type video that is attached to this writing is in no way meant to be criticism or anything negative towards the players that might lose a play on the field, but to showcase the ability of players who have only played for a short time.

Background

After a devastating 47-7 loss to Germany in the opener of 2014 European Championships in Austria we, Team Finland, were to meet Sweden only 40 hours later in a game that would decide who would get to play for medals.

The game would also in many ways measure the work done in Finland to raise the National Team’s level of play back towards the top in the European competition. Germany had proven too much to handle, now the question was whether we still could compete in Group A, the best 6 in Europe.

In a yearly friendly contest between Finland and Sweden in Oct 2013 we had managed to beat them. That game was on their part considered merely a practice or warmup before meeting France a week later, not a real contest. Based on how we had fared against Germany less than two days before the kickoff that mindset propably didn’t seem far fetched.

Sweden has a high octane air raid offense led by two talented QBs and some top European level talent at WR. They had racked up 48 points against France in the fall, and would score 40 against Germany later in this tournament.

To make it short, we came up with the upper hand with the score 16-13. Looking at the game tape, the reason for Sweden only scoring 13 points lies very much in the performance of two Finnish defensive linemen.

 

While most players in the European Championship group A level have played the game of football for a long time, these days more and more often since kids, this was not the case with Team Finland starting DT Aleksi Aitala and DE Okko Outinen. Before this season, they had a combined career of 5 years in football, Outinen entering his 4th season and Aitala his 3rd.

Both played for Team Finland already last year. Both are very much what can be called Late Entry players. From our National Team’s point of view, we made the decision very early that these players should and will develop into EC starters by 2014. They both responded early, Outinen was the defensive MVP of Finnish Maple League (top level) in 2013, and Aitala was a solid league all star.

Again in short, both walked into football with strong athletic backgrounds, very good combination of size, power and quickness and will to learn the game fast.

Heading to the game

We run a 43 defense with a 2 shell look, Sweden runs a spread offense. The numbers and the matchups are most often clearly visible. Going into the game we knew that they would test us with several modes and concepts. They would run their big QB on us and then try to capitalize on passes, they would screen us with the smoke/bubble reads, they’d be looking for single coverage on their #1 WR and also hurt us elsewhere if we were to bracket him. We needed an edge.

Their QBs Philip Juhlin and Anders Hermodsson are both good passers at the European level, and Hermodsson is also a big strong runner. Their X WR, Fredrik Isaksson is a rare talent, tall, fast and skilled, a true gamebreaker. Sweden has a strong tradition in the field of team ball games, their athletes in general traditionally have very good ball skills. Their OL has size and experience. Their offense is well designed with shifts, fly motions and ’cheat’ RB releases to optimize the angles for derailing and offsetting defenses and executing with success. They run the Inverted Veer with their QB, use a lot of empty formation etc.

We thought our strength coming into the game defensively was our LB groups ability to both stuff the run and cover interior WRs. We had also studied Sweden a lot, which led to a gameplan that we hoped would give opportunities for our players to make plays. And this is the very subject, a scheme can only give an opportunity, the player still needs to make the play. For our back seven to play succesfully we needed a solid performance from our DL, they’d have to play the run and keep the OL off our LBs but also generate a lot of pass rush with just 4.

Game Footage

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywV5vFk4cow

Into the game: Sweden obviously had decided to establish their run first against our ’dime numbers’, 43, seemingly 5 in the box look with Apex OLBs vs the 10 doubles look We had chosen to blitz on the very first play to show that we will do it all day. In all clips you will find either Outinen at our right DE or Aitala at our left DT or both.

In clip 1, their first snap, Sweden runs a QB Power G to their left and this is where Outinen and Aitala started to excel right away. In our very common ’Toro Will ’ - call the DL crashes to the strong and the WLB rushes from the outside. Look at #90 Outinen blow up the blocking scheme and #70 Aitala recover from his initial called slant direction to chase down QB Hermodsson. We have given up on automatic ’spilling’or wrong shouldering a Guard pull but aim to hit and stop them straight up to deny a clean seal/kickout read. This is what Outinen does on the play.

In clip 2 Sweden runs their all vertical vs our ’Wide Midi’ scheme, two 3-techs, LBs up showing blitz, dropping to zone, DEs at Jet, a read stunt in the middle. The front and looks makes Sweden commit their slide protection RB to assumed Blitz threat giving Outinen a favorable 1-1 on the outside.

Notice Outinen’s speed upfield, the ability to dip the inside shoulder, turn the corner and accelerate to the QB.

In clip 3 you see Outinen in a 50-50 technique vs a zone read. We had noticed that Swedish RBs liked to jump to the midline and look for the cutback right away instead of creating a true 2-way fast flow with the QB and running back clearly to opposite sides. That makes sense with the vertical running lane, the natural C-G combo  on the 2i to MLB with the OT trying to slip to WLB. We asked our DEs to ’skate’ with shoulders square to make the QB give the ball but without gaining depth and width (to meet him if he keeps) and with that not to allow the RB a ’QB side’ cut running lane. Outinen does exactly that, he’s 50-50 on the QB/RB run. Then again, skating is no stranger to him.

In clip 4 many things happen. Sweden has maybe too many options to go to on the same play. Their QB always looks for #6 Isaksson for a coverage cushion and easy completion, this is here taken away by oue weak side shell jumping into a cloud technique at snap instead of staying in ’quarters’. In what appears a screen play on the field trips side and interior OL action Outinen gets a chance to beat the OT one on one and chase down the QB when he attempts to go late for the screen or run himself with the pass to X WR denied. A coverage sack in a sense, based on our DBs knowing the QB’s tendencies but most importantly Outinen making the play.

In clip 5 Sweden runs the outside zone to their left. Both Outinen and Aitala are caught by the initial sideways block, but Outinen turns the battle to his advantage not giving ground and eventually closing the outside and forcing a second OL to block him. Aitala accelerates and catches the RB from behind. Not bad for a man of 132 kg (290 lbs). And especially not bad for a player that plays with a fractured bone in the back of his foot, Aitala played all three games in the EC with the help of an anesthetic injection.

Clip 6 is a good example of a ’counter-move’, Outinen has beat his man outside all game, here in our rare 34 Okie call he has a 2-way on the OT and makes the most of it with a spin. Notice the speed rush steps upfield, the selling of an outside rip to make OT commit and the plant close to the body of OT when spinning.

Clip 7 shows the OT attempting a cut block in trying to stop Outinen, again the first two steps allow Outinen to avoid the cut , good speed, balance and body control. And forcing another inaccurate deep pass in a game decided by 3 points.

Clip 8 puts the focus on Aitala. Sweden runs their Fly Sweeper Read, an IV option G-load. Their RT is assigned to block down on our 3 tech. Look what happens. Aitala throws the OT in the air and takes out the pulling G also. This is where a 200 kg (445 lbs) bench press 1RM helps, whether it’s a football excercise or not.

Clip 9 features both Outinen and Aitala. Outinen works to QB ear depth with a galloping OT and plants to work inside. Aitala is a part of the ’Midi’ read stunt, reacting to the C’s blocking direction, again out of the wide blitz look. The idea is simple, both 3-techs take a jab step with their outside foot towards the OG while keying at C. If C blocks away the second step is directed to rip through OG’s inside arm (seen by #41 here), if C blocks towards, the second step starts a loop around both C and other side’s OG (hopefully still chasing the inside rip). There’s a bit too much air between the hip of Aitala and the players he goes around, but his quick feet take him to the QB and force an overthrow that is intercepted.

The last clip, #10 is the game ending interception. Again, we show the blitz look (and we had rushed 6 or even 7 occasionally throughout the game) and tight coverage on the WR, just to bail off and rush 4. Whether it is the change in coverage or the alarm ringing with Outinen one on one against the OT, the QB throws the ball hastily straight to our CB Pekka Rantala. Game over.

A look at the two players

What makes Outinen and Aitala stand out among our DL? They both play with a relatively high pad level, which is the most often critizized feature in European linemen, and they both are still raw and at times inconsistent in some technical aspects of DL play. But they both already constantly deliver big plays .

Aleksi Aitala (born 1989, 193 cm, 132 kg) was a big kid. He started lifting weights at the age of 14 and weighed 95 kg (210 lbs) already at the age of 16. He also bench pressed 135 kg (300 lbs) at the same age. But his main sport was floorball, ’innebandy’, an indoor stick game normally played by small quick boys. He got to men’s highest level in Finland at the age of 17. Typically, his first sports career came to an end around the time he went to the army, and at the age of 22 he was a big strong grown up man with no sport hobby. A friend introduced him to football and invited him to the Helsinki Roosters’ practice. The Roosters have a solid year-round program and knowledgeable coaching. We’re glad he did.

Okko Outinen (born 1989, 192 cm, 115 kg) played the big time sport in Finland, ice hockey, and reached the top A-junior level with HIFK, one of the most renown teams in Finland. Hopes for playing professional hockey had already started to vanish when he went to the army, and while in service he was introduced to American Football by a private in his platoon. He joined the Helsinki 69rs first to later move to his current team, TAFT Vantaa, another team with a year round sport mentality and capable coaches.

So both these men have a background of lifelong sports participation, weight training, a ’first career’ in sports ending around the age of 19-20, an interest to find a new sport and, luckily for American Football, someone who just happened to mention the sport possibly fitting for them.

In just a couple of years they’ve both built into international level defensive linemen, receiving interest from US Colleges also. Turning 25 this year, they both have many years ahead of them.

Late Entry

How many young men like Okko and Aleksi are walking the streets of different towns and cities across the continent? How could they be brought in to play football?

Ever since the 1980’s, at least here in Finland, all kinds of very talented athletes have visited American Football practices out of curiosity just to find the game too complicated, the practices not challenging enough for their taste physically etc and left. They’ve not liked what they’ve seen or felt. Luckily many teams are now focusing more on the athlete in a sport rather than a player in a game.

Through this the offseason workouts of many teams are these days something that a seasoned athlete but novice in football can relate to, physical training of fundamental football skills and abilities, good workouts in the modern training sense. This will help to keep players like Aitala and Outinen in the sport long enough for them to settle in and to be ready to play when it’s time to put the hand down on a game field.

Football is a Late Entry-friendly sport. You bring athleticism into the table, we’ll make you a football player. Defensive line is maybe one of the easiest positions to make use of one’s physical abilities fast, but that’s not to say it is only DL where Late Entry can and should be looked into.

A kid started playing safety here at the age of 17, a basketball player. He was a point guard that would intercept pretty much everything on defense but couldn’t shoot very well. Two years later he played SS on the IFAF World Team against Team USA. And went to college to play football right after. But that is another story.

Like said in the beginning, the reason for writing this has been two things. First, I strongly feel that these two players played a very significant role in our win over Sweden in the EC 2014. With any less effort and big plays by them, I feel Sweden would have been able to execute their offense for more than the 13 points they put on the board. Nothing taken away from our CBs, LBs etc, but anyway.

Like they say, it is not about the X’s and O’s but the size and speed of the X’s and O’s.

Secondly, I don’t think the value of ready made football physique, especially carried by someone who has a natural tendency of being fast, strong and explosive is appreciated enough in the football community. An athlete will surpass a non athlete in a very short time.

Football doesn’t get the best young athletic talent in any European country, that is a simple fact. While it is crucial that junior numbers keep growing, it is also essential to keep an eye on suitable ’dropouts’ from the major sports. The same reason that hinders a young man in some other sport could even be an assset playing football, too big, too aggressive etc. Or at least the reason for not reaching the absolute top can be  insignificant in playing football.

Looking forward to all feedback and discussion on the subjects touched here.

Thanks to Okko and Aleksi for a permission to use them as an example of the Late Entry athlete.

D-LINE!

Tuomas Heikkinen

Head Coach
Senior National Team Finland 

tuomas.heikkinen@sajl.fi

 

 

 

 

Atlanta Falconsin development-joukkueeseen asti edennyt sisempi
laitahyökkääjä Klaus Alinen aloitti lajin harrastamisen 18-vuotiaana Porissa.

Late entry – jenkkifutiksen erikoispiirre


Suomalaisen jenkkifutiksen junioritoiminta on kasvanut ja laajentunut merkittävästi viimeisen vuosikymmenen aikana. Meillä on aikuisiässä ensimmäinen sukupolvi pelaajia jotka ovat aloittaneet lajin hyvin nuorena lasten PeeWee-jalkapallosta. Joitain näistä nuorista miehistä on päässyt tai pääsemässä urallaan pitkälle USA:ssakin. Tämä on hieno asia, ja oma juniorityö sekä sen kehittäminen on lajin kasvamisen kulmakivi.

Samaan aikaan aivan yhtä korkealle on kuitenkin päässyt suomalaisia pelaajia jotka ovat aloittaneet lajin merkittävästi vanhempina, vasta aikuisiän kynnyksellä. Heidän saavutuksiaan ei voi vähätellä viittaamalla
lajin oletettuun heikkoon tasoon tai vähäiseen harrastajamäärään täällä, koska mittarina on kansainvälinen
menestys ja kyvyt verrattuna lajin emämaan pelaajiin. Nämä urheilijat edustavat amerikkalaisen jalkapallon
erityispiirrettä, jotain mikä erottaa lajimme valtaosasta muita pallopelejä. Tässä kirjoituksessa on tarkoitus
keskittyä heidänlaisiinsa ja avata käsitettä Late Entry.

Late Entry-käsitteellä tarkoitetaan yleisesti tavallista vanhemmalla iällä lajin piiriin saapumista. Joihinkin
urheilulajeihin voi tulla sisään jopa vasta aikuisella iällä ja kehittyä huipuksi. Kyseessä ei ole kuitenkaan
urheilun aloittaminen vasta myöhään teini-iässä tai aikuisena, vaan valmiina urheilijana uuteen mahdollisesti
sopivampaan lajiin siirtymisestä. Tässä kirjoituksessa Late Entry:llä tarkoitetaan nimenomaan Suomessa
amerikkalaiseen jalkapalloon lähes aikuisena tai aikuisena valmiina urheilijana tulemista ilman lajitietoutta
tai erikoistuneita lajitaitoja.

Late entry ilmenee lajin emämaassa USA:ssakin, joskin toisenlaisena, lähinnä varhaisen tai myöhäisen
erikoistumisen käsitteiden yhteydessä. Valtaosa amerikkalaisista lapsista ja nuorista on jollain tavalla
kosketuksissa amerikkalaisen jalkapallon kanssa. Moni kilpailee useammassa lajissa vielä lukioikäisenä.
Jotkut jenkkifutaajat vielä yliopistoiässäkin. NFL:ssä on ollut yhdysvaltalaisiakin pelaajia jotka ovat aloittaneet amerikkalaisen jalkapallon tosissaan pelaamisen vasta aikuisiän kynnyksellä, mutta pääsääntöisesti lajin valtamaan pelaajisto ei sovi tässä kuvatun Late Entry-käsitteen alle.

Myöhäisessä erikoistumisessa ja myöhäisessä lajiin tulossa on siis selvä ero. Suomessakin oli aiemmin tavallista että nuori harrasti vuoden aikana useampaakin lajia kilpatasolla ja teki päätöksensä ykköslajistaan vasta aikuisuuden kynnyksellä. Nuori saattoi kilpailla vielä 18-vuotiaanakin useamman lajin huipputasolla. Esimerkiksi Kanadassa amerikkalaisen jalkapallon kulttuurissa ilmiö on tiedostettu jo pitkään. Maassa on - samoin kuin Suomessa - erittäin vahva jääkiekon perinne. Kaikki hyvätkään urheilijat eivät lajin huipulle ominaisuuksiltaan sovi, ja seassa on sellaisia joille amerikkalainen jalkapallo lopulta sopii paremmin. Tällaisilla nuorilla on ’urheilijan eväät repussa’, eli lapsuus ja varhaisnuoruus on harjoiteltu monipuolisesti ja säännöllisesti.

Mikä tekee amerikkalaisesta jalkapallosta otollisen Late Entry-lajin? Kyseessähän on kuitenkin erittäin monimutkainen, tekninen ja taktinen pelipaikkaerikoistunut palloilulaji? Amerikkalaista jalkapalloa voi ajatella kahdella tavalla, onko kyseessä enemmän ’Athlete’s Sport’ vai ’Player’s Game’? Vai molemmat samanarvoisina? Amerikkalainen jalkapallo on laji joka vaatii jatkuvia kontrolloituja räjähtäviä lähtöjä, kiihdytyksiä, jarrutuksia, pysähdyksiä ja uusia lähtöjä keskimäärin 10x10 metrin alueella 4-7 sekunnin ajan tietyin väliajoin tietyn ajan. Samalla pelaajan pitäisi pystyä pelaamaan itse peliä pallollisena tai suhteessa palloon, omiin ja vastapuolen pelaajiin ja käymään ajoittain kovaakin fyysistä kamppailua. Yllä oleva pätee monelta osin lähes kaikkiin joukkuepallopeleihin, ainakin maali- ja linjapeleihin.

 

St. Louis Ramsin leirille selvinnyt hyökkäyslinjamies Karri Kuuttila aloitti pelaamisen suoraan USA:laisessa Lock Havenin yliopistossa 18-vuotiaana.

Laji vaatii voimaa, ketteryyttä ja hyvää kehonhallintaa. Erityisesti linjapeliin soveltuvat urheilijat joilla on isoon kokoonsa nähden tai siitä huolimatta poikkeuksellisen paljon edellä mainittuja ominaisuuksia. Jenkkifutiksen pelipaikka- ja tehtäväerikoistuminen tekee sen, että väkivahva kuulantyöntäjä tai judoka saattaa nopeastikin tulla joukkueelle arvokkaaksi puolustuksen linjamieheksi vaikkei sinällään lajin taktiikasta tai ’isosta kuvasta’ paljoa ymmärtäisikään. Tämän toki kaikki lajia pidempään harrastaneet tietävät. Lajin edellyttämiä fyysisiä ominaisuuksia kehittyy esimerkiksi yleisurheilijoilla, kamppailulajien harrastajilla, painonnostajilla jne.

Sama koskee muitakin pelipaikkoja, sopivalla valmennuksella yhden lajin taitaja saadaan nopeasti sovelta-maan taitojaan sellaisiksi joita amerikkalaisen jalkapallon hyvä pelaaminen vaatii. Jenkkifutiksen perus-pelaamisen valmentaminen Late Entry-urheilijalle on enemmän turhan liikkeen karsimista ja suorittamisen optimointia kuin talon rakentamista perustuksista alkaen. Kyseessä on siis jo olemassa olevan taidon ja kyvyn hiominen ja muuntaminen.

Kuvaavaa on, että parhaat nuoret palloilutaustaiset urheilijat päätyvät usein luonnostaan tukimiehen tai keskushyökkääjän pelipaikoille. Molemmat ovat luontaisen urheilijan tai palloilijan pelipaikkoja, ja molemmista on helppo hahmottaa aiemmin mainittu turhan liikkeen karsiminen ja tekemisen tarkoituksenmukaistaminen.

Lajin luonne on rajun fyysinen ja samalla kurinalainen, joillekin se sopii, joillekin ei. Pelkät fyysiset avut tai palloilulliset taidot yhdessäkään eivät tietenkään takaa menestystä amerikkalaisessa jalkapallossa.
Amerikkalaisen jalkapallon kasvavaan suosioon liittyy myös lisääntyvä Late Entryn haaste. Lajin näkyminen
valtamedioissa herättää kiinnostusta harrastaa sitä. Seuran pitää olla valmis ottamaan vastaan sekä juniorien
että miesten harjoituksiin saapuva kokematon uusi pelaaja jolla on kova urheilutausta. Jos harjoituksissa ei
mennä riittävän haastavilla ja yksinkertaisilla urheilullisilla harjoitteilla, katoaa uutuudenviehätys nopeasti.
Pahimmillaan fysiikaltaan ja yleistaidoiltaan ylivoimainen uusi harrastaja saattaa turhautua koettuun
hitaaseen tempoon ja tekemisen vaikeaselkoisuuteen ja jättää homman sikseen. Tällaista on tapahtunut ja
ollut myös itseltään kuultuna lähellä tapahtua muutamille lajissa nopeasti kansainväliselle tasolle nousseelle
Late Entry-pelaajille.

Suomalaisissa seuroissa on viime vuosina alettu panostamaan ympärivuotiseen harjoitteluun. Jos ja kun
offseason-harjoituksissa keskitytään erityisesti pelaajien lajinomaisten fyysisten kykyjen ja palloilullisten
taitojen rakentamiseen ja hiomiseen kovalla asenteella, on todennäköistä että mukaan tulevat valmiit
urheilijatkin viihtyvät, jäävät ja menestyvät.

Poikkeuksen Late Entry-malliin tekee lajissamme pelinrakentaja. Tai näin ainakin ajatellaan laajasti. Kansalliset tilastot tukevat ajatusta, kovin moni suomalainen pelinrakentaja ei ole viimeisen kahdenkymmenen vuoden aikana liiga-aloittajana mitalia pokannut, ja näitä harvoja yhdistää lajin aloittaminen varhaisessa iässä. Pelin-rakentajat tulisi löytää nuorena ja heidän tulisi aloittaa pelipaikan määrätietoinen harjoittelu ja päästä pelaamaan sitä junioripeleistä alkaen. Varhaisnuorten joukkueessa parhaan urheilijan sitouttaminen pelinrakentajan paikan harjoitteluun on vaikea päätös. Pelipaikka vaatii nuorelta pelaajalta poikkeuksellisen paljon lajin kokonaisymmärrystä ja erikoistuneita lajitaitoja. Aiheeseen liittyy myös heittokäden käsite, ainakin kanadalaiset ammattivalmentajat kokevat että on harvinaista saada luonnostaan parhaita heittäjiä amerik-kalaiseen jalkapalloon. Voisi olettaa, että näin on Suomessakin. Pelipaikkaan liittyy paljon positiivista imagoa, monen muun lajin urheilijan on helppo mieltää miettivän että jos pelaisin amerikkalaista jalkapalloa, olisin ilman muuta quarterback. Tilaus Late Entryhuippupelinrakentajalle on olemassa.

Kaikkiaan Suomen jenkkifutis tarvitsee Late Entry-pelaajia. Ikäluokat ovat edelleen lajissa pieniä, ja voi vain toivoa että seuraavan kahden vuoden aikana alle 19-vuotiaiden seuraaviin EM-karsintoihin rakennettavaan joukkueeseen nousee lajin sinä aikana aloittaneita huippulahjakkaita urheilijoita. Tämä on täysin mahdollista, miesten maajoukkueringissä on kahden viime vuoden aikana käynyt näin.

Maajoukkueen päävalmentaja Tuomas Heikkinen